5 Things You Didn’t Know About The MBTA

February 7, 2013 6:15 AM


Turn on the news, and throughout the year, Bostonians will hear plenty about the MBTA: fare hikes, fare evaders, increased ridership, service complaints, crime, punishment, debt and expansion. But here are five things you don’t know about the MBTA.

(Photo Credit: Chris Wood via Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo Credit: Chris Wood via Wikimedia Commons)

1. The Nation’s First

The claim of Boston’s subway being the first in the nation is disputed. However, Boston is believed to have the first chartered transportation service on the continent. In 1631, before bridges connected Boston to surrounding communities, Thomas Williams began a three-mile ferry run across Boston Harbor from Chelsea to Charlestown and on to Boston.

Today, the MBTA is the nation’s 5th largest mass transit system. It serves 176 communities with a combination of 183 bus routes, 2 of which are Bus Rapid Transit lines, 3 rapid transit lines, 5 light rail (Central Subway/Green Line) routes, 4 trackless trolley lines and 13 commuter rail routes.

The two trains. (Photo courtesy: WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Kim Tunnicliffe)

(Photo courtesy: WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe)

2. Bending streetcars

Around 1912, Boston began using “bending” streetcars as a way to provide service on the narrow twisting streets. The Boston “El” took two 20-foot boxlike streetcars and joined them together to articulate or bend. The concept, which was a first-in-the-nation, is still used today on the Green Line, some buses, and trackless trolleys.

charlie 5 Things You Didn’t Know About The MBTA

3. Who’s Charlie?

The MBTA’s Charlie Card, a reloadable card used to pay subway and bus fares, is a reference to the well-known folk song “M.T.A.” The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) was the predecessor of the MBTA, which wasn’t formed until 1964. The words were originally written as a campaign song for 1949 Boston mayoral race. It was intended to bring attention to candidate Walter A. O′Brien’s opposition to a 5-cent fare increase:

Now, citizens of Boston, don′t you think it is a scandal; That the people have to pay and pay? Join Walter A. O′Brien to fight the fare increase; Get poor Charlie off that MTA!

O′Brien lost the race, became a school librarian, and later ran a bookstore up Maine. He died in 1998 at the age 83.

 (Photo credit: SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: SVEN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

4. Taking The “T”

As previously mentioned, the MBTA wasn’t formed until 1964. The ‘T’ nickname accompanied it, along with the letter T in a circle. The symbol was ripped off from/inspired by the Stockholm Metro’s symbol.

5. Skeletons in the Subway

Crews building Boylston Street and Park Street Stations in 1895 uncovered the human remains of about 900 people. The remains, believed to be those of British Soldiers, were moved to a mass grave in the cemetery at the Boston Common.