College and University Student Guide to the T
Each fall, more than 150,000 students arrive in Boston for the new school year. Many of these students use the T—an expansive network of trains, buses, and ferries with stops near dozens of colleges in the Boston area. And, in most cases, it’s more affordable and convenient than having a car in the city.
Whether you’re meeting up with friends, volunteering, or going to work or class, this guide will help you navigate the T like a pro.
Getting to Know the T
If you plan on taking the T to class or work, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the basics of the system. Here are some of the most important things you should know.
The MBTA is the 4th-busiest public transit system in the United States and one of only 2 transit agencies in the country that operates all 5 major modes of land and water transportation.
- Local rail: 5 subway routes, including the Red, Orange, Blue, and Green lines, and the Mattapan Trolley
- Bus: 177 bus routes, including local, express, and crosstown service
- Bus Rapid Transit: 5 Silver Line (SL) bus routes that sometimes travel in dedicated lanes and sometimes on public streets like regular bus routes
- Commuter Rail: Regional rail to 137 stations in the Greater Boston area and eastern Massachusetts
- Ferry: Commuter ferry service with 8 terminals connecting downtown Boston to the North and South shores of Massachusetts
- Paratransit service: The RIDE, a door-to-door shared ride service for residents and visitors with disabilities
Did you know? The MBTA subway line colors weren’t random choices! The Green Line travels through Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system; The Red Line travels to Harvard University, where the school color is crimson; the Blue Line travels along and under the ocean; and the Orange Line travels along Washington Street, formerly named Orange Street.
Hours of operation vary, but most bus and train service starts around 5 AM and ends around 1 AM.
There is no late-night or overnight train service in Boston, though more than 50 bus routes start service before 5 AM and/or run past 1 AM.
Schedules vary by mode of transit and day of the week. Generally, service runs more frequently on weekdays than on weekends and off-peak hours. Subway service is the most frequent, running every 10-15 minutes most of the time.
Our trains and buses can get crowded during peak commuting times, so we ask everyone to be aware of their own personal space.
We also ask riders to follow some common public transit rules:
- Always allow people to exit vehicles before you enter.
- Walk as far into the vehicle as you can so more people can board.
- Take your backpack off and hold it between your feet or at your side.
- Keep phone calls to a minimum and listen to music with headphones.
- Offer your seat to seniors and people with disabilities, especially if you’re sitting in a priority seating area.
MBTA Customer Support representatives speak Spanish, Haitian French Creole, Cape Verdean Creole, Cantonese Chinese, and Mandarin Chinese. They also have access to interpreter services in 240 languages. For assistance, call 617-222-3200.
If you’re at a station, the MBTA Transit Police and Transit Ambassadors also have access to translation services.
While we do our best to get our riders to their destinations on time, a few things can impact travel time, including weather, mechanical issues, or planned maintenance work.
All service disruptions are posted on mbta.com/alerts. Some are announced and displayed at affected transit stations.
Every MBTA staff member is trained on emergency procedures and preparedness. You may also see MBTA Transit Police officers in and around stations. They have the authority of a full police agency in Massachusetts.
How to Take the T
The MBTA might feel overwhelming at first, but it’s a lot simpler than it looks! Here are the main things you need to know to feel confident taking the T.
Terminals and Transfer Stations
There are 3 major train and bus terminals in Boston: North Station, South Station, and Back Bay. These transit hubs connect the Commuter Rail, subway, and bus to each other and to other regional transit systems. You don't need to be at one of these stations to transfer to another line or mode though—there are stations and stops along each route that provide convenient mode-to-mode transfers (these are sometimes called intermodal stations).
Depending on where you live, you may need to make at least 1 transfer during your trip. Generally, your first fare payment includes a transfer—going from 1 line to another at a subway station is free. And when you use a CharlieCard, your subway fare includes a free transfer to Local Bus.
Planning Your Route
Before you decide which T pass works best for you, we suggest figuring out which modes and routes you’ll be taking most often.
The easiest way to figure out your route is to work backwards. See which line your school is on first, and find a nearby stop or station. And use our Trip Planner to get line and mode recommendations for your most common trips.
Here are some convenient stops and routes near Boston-area schools.
- Berklee College of Music - Hynes Convention Center
- Boston University - Boston University Central
- Boston College - Boston College
- Emerson College - Boylston
- Suffolk University - Government Center
- Massachusetts College of Art and Design - Longwood Medical
- Northeastern University - Northeastern University
- New England Conservatory of Music - Northeastern University
- Simmons University - Longwood Medical
- Wentworth Institute of Technology - Museum of Fine Arts
- Berklee College of Music - Route 55
- Cambridge College, Boston - Route 92, Route 93
- Cambridge College, Cambridge - Route 1
- Emerson College - Route 43
- Fisher College - Route 43
- Lesley University - Route 77, Route 96
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology - Route 1
- Simmons University - Route 19
- Tufts University - Route 80, Route 94, Route 96
- Wentworth Institute of Technology - Route 19
How to Pay
You can pay your subway and bus fares with a CharlieCard, CharlieTicket, or cash. Most people who live in Boston use a CharlieCard—a reloadable plastic card that’s valid on all subway and bus lines. They’re great for frequent T riders because:
They’re easy to manage: Load online and at select subway and bus stations
They save money: Discounted one-way trips on subways and buses
They save time: Quickly tap into stations and vehicles to pay your fare
CharlieTickets, on the other hand, are best for riders who only use the T occasionally or who transfer to other modes, like the Commuter Rail or ferry.
Choosing Your T Pass
Once you’ve determined what routes and modes you’ll use the most, you’ll have a better idea of which type of pass will work for you.
Want to try before you buy? Load a 1-day or 7-day pass on your CharlieCard for unlimited travel on all subway and bus lines. If you have a CharlieTicket, you’ll also be able to travel a limited distance on the Commuter Rail or Charlestown Inner Harbor Ferry.
1-day passes are $12.75, and 7-day passes are $22.50
Tip: You can load 2 7-day passes back-to-back for 2 straight weeks of service.
Most colleges in the Boston area offer Semester Passes that are discounted by 11% or more. Check with your school’s student affairs office to find out how to get one. There are several types of passes, but these 2 are the most popular:
- The Semester LinkPass goes on a CharlieCard and allows unlimited subway and bus travel.
- The Semester Commuter Rail Pass goes on a CharlieTicket and allows unlimited Commuter Rail travel (up to the zone distance you purchase), plus unlimited subway and bus travel.
Monthly passes are a great way to save money if your school doesn't offer Semester Pass. If you think you’ll be taking the T a lot, these passes are likely the best fit for you:
- Monthly LinkPass, $90.00: Unlimited travel on all subway and bus lines. If you have a CharlieTicket, you’ll also be able to travel a limited distance on the Commuter Rail or Charlestown Inner Harbor Ferry.
- Monthly Local Bus Pass, $55.00: Unlimited travel on all bus lines and Silver Line buses SL4 and SL5.
- CharlieTicket Monthly Commuter Rail Pass, $90.00 – $426.00: Depending on your pass zone, you’ll have unlimited travel on all modes of transport.
Tip: Sign up for Auto-pay to get a monthly passes that automatically reloads on the first of every month—so you never need to stand in line to renew it. Just pause your pass for the months you aren't in Boston, like summer or winter break.