The MBTA Revamps the CharlieCard!

MBTA CharlieCard

A few days ago I wrote about my experience with the transit system in the Netherlands:

I seethed with envy as I rode around the Hague on the trams and buses and as I took trains between Amsterdam, the Hague, and Schiphol. The trains run every few minutes! You just tap your phone when getting on and off to pay! The trains always run on time! I get that the T in Boston is the oldest subway in America and has unique problems. But there is no reason why we should not have what the Dutch have, and I believe that if we had it, people would choose to take advantage of it. If you build it, they will come.

Apparently the T is reading Letters Blogatory. Today, reports that beginning in a few weeks, riders will be able to pay for the T and the bus by tapping their phones when they board, without having a CharlieCard. This is a big step into the 21st century for Boston transit! The CharlieCard system was never great, since you had to tap your card at a station fare machine to reload it even if you added money to the card online.

Unfortunately the new system won’t help everyone right away. For the Commuter Rail, the new system won’t arrive until 2026. For riders like me who live in the gray area, where taking the Commuter Rail and taking a bus and the T are roughly equivalent options,1 that apparently means I’ll still be tapping my Charlie Ticket to board the bus and the T on days when I commute that way. The new system also won’t change things for folks who have monthly passes on their CharlieCards. That seems pretty dumb. I hope the T will sort that out.

Next stop: solving the problem of service frequency and the enormous backlog of deferred maintenance.

By the way, if you are wondering why we have “CharlieCards” in Boston, it’s a reference to the old song, “Charlie on the MTA,” by the Kingston Trio. Charlie gets on the train at Kendall Square and is trying to get to JP, but he didn’t have the exit fare (which isn’t a thing on the T, but anyway!), so he got stranded, and his wife would come to the Scollay Square station (now Government Center) to hand him a sandwich every day as he passed by on the train. Be careful! As the song says, it could happen to you.

  1. Except in price! Extend Zone 1A pricing to the Parkway!

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