Boston 101: Getting Around




Public transportation is great in Boston. If you don’t have a car, a useful book to get is
Car-Free in Boston. You can purchase it from most bookstores or magazine stands. It tells
how to get anywhere and everywhere in Boston using public transportation.
The MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) is the subway, bus and commuter
rail system in Boston. It is referred to as the “T.” Subway fare is $1.25 for most destinations
on the four main lines: Red, Green, Orange and Blue. (Soon to come: the Silver
Line!) The Green Line subdivides into four separate lines. The Red Line runs through
Harvard and Porter Squares and also goes downtown. The T runs from 5:00 a.m. to
12:30 a.m. Check the MTBA website for “Night Owl” service. You can purchase tokens
in any station or, if you will be using the T frequently, you can buy a monthly pass (also
available for buses). Passes are available at various area stores, banks,
stations, or by mail. Call the MBTA for the retail place nearest to you.

Also, discounted passes are available through the Dean of Students’ MBTA Semester Pass Program.
Buses run all over the city. If you call the MBTA information line, tell them where you
are and what your destination is, the operators can tell you the bus route you need and
the times and places it stops nearest you. They can also send you route maps. Bus fare is
$0.90 on all routes and you must have exact change – drivers are not allowed to give you
change. Bus schedules can be found at the Harvard Square station and the Information
Booth next to Out of Town News in Harvard Square (when in stock); bus drivers may
also have copies of their schedules. But the best site for finding schedules is the MBTA
web page,

The commuter rail system consists of purple Amtrak trains, which go to the outlying
suburbs throughout the day. They connect with the subway at various stations including
Porter Square, North Station, South Station, and Back Bay (check the MBTA map).
Amtrak provides national train service from North Station and South Station (which is a
Red Line T stop). Amtrak’s number at South Station is 617-345-7460 or 800-872-7245.

Customer Service and Travel Information
Customer Relations (aka Complaints
Recorded Service Conditions
To get T passes by mail
By phone call

There are many cab companies in Boston. Here are a few to save you time looking in the
Yellow Pages. Keep in mind, however, that the cabs in this city can be a terrible expense
and hassle. Try to take the T or drive whenever possible; however, consider taking a cab
to the airport when you have no other option— traveling on the T with excessive luggage
is doable but tiring.

Zipcar (, 1-866-4ZIPCAR) provides a great service for those with a sporadic need
for a car. The system works very simply and they have cars located in random neighborhoods
all over the Boston area that are typically within walking distance from your home.

Owning a car in Boston can be a big headache, but after you have it insured, inspected,
and registered, you will enjoy having the extra mobility to visit the outlying areas of New
England. Dealing with Boston drivers is another story…

You must have your car inspected once a year to check for basic safety and emissions control.
Inspection costs $30.00 (cash) and can be done at any gas station that displays a big
inspection sticker (poster-size). The inspection takes ten minutes. Hopefully your car will
pass. Otherwise you must bring it up to the standards, and the cost can be up to 2/3 of
the value of your car! If it still fails the tests, then you will be issued a one-year waiver.

Registering your car in Massachusetts is required immediately upon assuming Massachusetts residency. This can be an expensive process, and many students insist that they are residents of their home states (not Mass) to avoid it. Auto insurance is mandatory to register a car in Massachusetts; the insurer actually prepares the registration paperwork. The rates are very high, which you will understand when you see how many fender-benders Boston drivers get into (coupled with a “no-fault” accident policy), and most insurers insist upon their fees up-front. The state of Massachusetts sets the insurance rate and requires all companies to charge it, so shop around for quality of service or for one of the few permitted discounts. Many insurance companies will go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and get your car registration for you, since they have to prepare the paperwork anyway. Take advantage of this offer; it’s free!
In addition to the cost of registering your car, all towns and cities in the state are permitted to charge you an excise tax after you register (and do). The tax is a declining percentage f the vehicle’s Blue Book value for the first four years of its life, plus a flat fee.
Since this tax can amount to hundreds of dollars a year for even a relatively inexpensive but new car, you must budget for it!

Driving in Boston can be of the most trying and frustrating things about living in Boston, but if you remember ONE simple rule, you should be fine. Many people will tell you that Boston drivers are aggressive or just plain bad, but the best advice you can follow is this: Boston drivers are incredibly UNPREDICTABLE. Some drivers are good, and some are bad, and some will pull some outrageous stunts, but the best thing you can do is drive with caution and expect the unexpected (and don’t be surprised if a Mass driver doesn’t use a turn signal—it rarely happens).

A major contribution to the challenging driving conditions is Massachusetts itself. The streets, roads and highways are poorly designed and maintained—there are different streets in the same town with very similar names and roads will suddenly change names in midstream…and change back again. Many streets are not clearly marked or marked at all. Lanes in roads will also merge or end without warning. And there are too many cars for the road to handle (a major route between Highway 93 and Cambridge is a single lane).

A big thing to look out for is Rotaries (also known as traffic circles). The rule is simple: if you are outside the rotary, you must yield to those driving in the circle. Once it is clear and you are in the circle (it’s good to enter when someone exiting is blocking those trying to enter), you have the right of way. You may exit when you wish and others are supposed to stop for you. But they don’t always stop, and the police will not punish those who transgress (or much of any other violation—another contribution to the unpredictable driving).

Some couples find that making the person riding shotgun the “designated swearer” keeps the driver calm and attentive, while other couples find that 4-letter words are inevitable for the driver. In any case, a good thing to keep in mind is that you’re yelling at the roads and the drivers, not at each other. A AAA membership is a must in this state. It’s pretty inexpensive, and one service call justifies the price.Call 1-800-222-8252 or log on to

If you can get your own parking space as part of your housing deal, it really helps (but unfortunately adds to your rent). If you park on the street, beware of parking problems. Make sure you know the street-cleaning schedule or if it’s permit parking only; otherwise, your car will be towed (Boston & Cambridge have very organized towing schedules).

Most street parking in Cambridge and Somerville is reserved for local residents who have a resident permit and sticker. Stickers can be purchased at the following city Parking and Traffic Departments:

BOSTON TRAFFIC AND PARKING 1 City Hall Square, Room 224, 617-635-4682. Bring proof of residency and your Mass car registration. The permit is free.

CAMBRIDGE TRAFFIC AND PARKING 238 Broadway, 617-349-4700. Bring proof of residency and your Mass car registration. The permit is $8. If you’ll have frequent visitors who will have a car you will want to consider a visitor parking permit, available at these same locations. After winter blizzards there can often be Snow Emergencies where you are required to remove your car from the street to let the plows clear the roadways. You can find out about declared Snow Emergencies by calling the traffic and parking office.