The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is a quasi-governmental organization formed in 1964 that controls the subway, bus, commuter rail, and ferry systems in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Originally it was called the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or the MTA, as immortalized in the popular folk-protest lament "The MTA Song". It is known by the locals as just The T because of the logo it adopted back in the 1960s.
The subway system consists of the Red, Orange, Green, and Blue Lines. The naming scheme is a bit misleading, as two of the lines branch: the Green line has four branches, B, C, D, and E; the Red Line has two branches and also incorporates a separate trolley line, the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line. The MBTA Commuter Rail system has ten branches, all of which converge at two stations in Boston.
In 1985, the MBTA undertook an expansion of rail service on the Red Line beyond Harvard Square, into the west Cambridge and Somerville areas (see: Davis Square). The project resulted in the construction of a large parking structure and office park at Alewife, the junction with Route 2, where drivers from the western suburbs can park their cars and ride quickly and efficiently into downtown. This move has widely been seen a revitalizing areas further out from the city center and relieving traffic in Cambridge streets.
At the same time, the Orange Line (the elevated railway that was at the core of a transit-dependant corridor along Washington Street) was torn down and replaced by an underground subway a quarter mile (400 m) away (see Southwest corridor project). While the elevated Orange Line was regarded as noisy and ugly, it was located in a transit dependent neighborhood and its removal substantially extended the commute time from parts of the minority-heavy Roxbury area even though the residents had been promised "better or equal" levels of service.
In recent years, a BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) line known as the Silver Line began operating in the city in the hopes of replacing the service provided by the original Orange Line "el". In theory, these buses run in dedicated rights of way such as tunnels or bus lanes, thereby avoiding traffic of any sort. Due to constraints in existing construction, it was not possible to isolate the Silver Line BRTs from normal street traffic for portions of their operations, making them vulnerable to traffic in the downtown Chinatown and Financial District areas. Many riders still feel that the replacement Silver Line service both isolates the community and fails to live up to the promise of replacement service. Travellers must now exit in busy downtown streets and gain access to the Orange, Green, and Red heavy rail lines if they wish access to any place other than the downtown area.
The Silver Line will eventually offer a "one seat ride" from Roxbury to Logan International Airport, but the middle portion of the line has yet to be constructed; even the selection of the route remains a topic of heated debate. The portion of the line from South Station to South Boston opened December 17, 2004 with the further connection to Logan Airport promised for 2005.
The remainder of the bus system is identified by the color yellow, and the commuter rail purple; however, these lines are rarely actually referred to as the "Yellow" or "Purple" Lines.
The commuter rail service extends to outlying suburbs that would not otherwise be feasibly served by rapid transit without increasing wait times exponentially. Towns and cities at greater distances from Boston are also served, with existing interstate service to Providence, Rhode Island and the possibility of a service extension into Nashua and Manchester, New Hampshire.
In mid-2006, revenue service will commence on the Greenbush Line, an expansion of the commuter rail system, to serve Boston's South Shore. While it will follow the old right of way of the Old Colony Line, which ceased operations in the 1960s, much money has been spent in the purchase of abutting properties to establish right-of-way for the new branch of the rail system.
In 2006, the T expects to switch from tokens to a farecard system that will be called "The Charlie Card" in honor of the unfortunate hero of "The MTA Song". One of the rejected names for the farecard system was "The Fare Cod", a pun on both the way locals might pronounce "Card" and the fish that was once integral to the Massachusetts economy.
See each line for a detailed description and list of stations.
- MBTA official site (http://www.mbta.com/)
- The Silver Line (http://www.allaboutsilverline.com/)
- BadTransit (http://www.badtransit.com/), an MBTA transit watchdog site
- MBTA Riders Network (http://www.mbta.net/)
- MBTA Vehicle Inventory (http://members.aol.com/rtspcc/roster/MBTAroster.html)
- Boston Transit: The MBTA (http://world.nycsubway.org/us/boston/) Station by station history and photographs