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A lone bicyclist riding in a protected bike lane on a bridge and there are buildings in the background. Boston Globe via Getty Images

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How to get around the Boston area if you don’t own a car

With Bluebikes, the T, ferries, buses, e-scooters, the region’s famed walkability, and more, it is possible

CityLab in late September named the Boston area as the second best large U.S. metro area to live car-free, second only to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Boston at large finished in the top five among all cities and towns that CityLab analyzed for shares of commuters who bike or walk to work—or take public transit—and the share of households that don’t have access to their own vehicle.

With this in mind, here’s a guide to getting around the Boston region just so as of October 2019. Also, if someone is inclined to think, “but mass transit/biking/etc. will take forever,” let them never forget that driving in the Boston area is no speed trip.


The T

The main mass transit option is the T, which features four major lines and their branches.

The T—the oldest subway system in the Western Hemisphere—snakes into every major neighborhood in Boston and Cambridge and into several in Newton, Brookline, and Quincy among other locales.

Operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the T services, too, the region’s major commercial areas, including downtown Boston, the Financial District, Back Bay, Kendall Square, and the Seaport District.

There is the matter of having to go in to go out, as the T was designed in a hub-and-spoke way. But for relatively cheap—a standard one-way subway or trolley ride is $2.40—you can travel to and from these dense areas.

The T also includes tentacular bus service (a standard one-way fare is $1.70). And one of the major lines—the Silver—is itself essentially a bus, though in places it has its own dedicated lane. The Silver is by far the best and cheapest option for getting back and forth from Logan Airport. In fact, it’s free from Logan Airport, with its final stop on that route South Station—a major train and bus hub.

Speaking of Logan, not only can riders who take the Massachusetts Port Authority’s Logan Express bus from Back Bay Station get a voucher entitling them to a quicker trip through the airport’s security lines, but the bus is free from Logan back to the station (it’s $3 to Logan).

The T is the best car-less option for those who want and can live in the Boston region’s more centrally located areas. It runs weekdays from the early morning through the late evening and on weekends; and there is a major expansion underway into Somerville and Medford.

Also, much of the T is handicap accessible, though not all of it. Finally, military personnel ride for free, and kids 11 and under ride free with a paying adult (up to two kids per adult though). And reduced fares are available for students.

People waiting on a subway platform as a train zooms in. Shutterstock

Commuter rail

There are 12 commuter rail lines in the Boston region operated though the MBTA, not including special-events or seasonal ones.

The trains travel farther out into the Boston region and beyond, and have two main inbound terminuses: North Station and South Station. Commuters can then pick up the T at both.

Commuter rail is a bit clunkier and less frequent than the T. But the trains do run fairly regularly along each line from early morning to early evening on weekdays. One-way fares run from $2.40 to $13.25, and, like with the T there are a variety of ways to pay and ways to obtain discounts.

One such discount is a special $10 weekend commuter-rail pass. That pass works for unlimited trips Saturdays and Sundays in all commuter-rail zones—except to and from Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots and the Revolution (and sundry other events).

Bikes

The Boston region is one of the best in the U.S. for getting around by bike. Though safety is always a concern, largely because of the region’s notoriously dense vehicular traffic, the infrastructure is improving and there are a lot more options for renting a bike than there used to be (if you not only don’t want to own a car but a bike as well!).

The region’s conventional bike-share—where riders pick up and return from kiosks—is known as Bluebikes. As of late 2019, there are more than 3,500 Bluebikes on the streets via 325 stations. Annual Bluebikes memberships are $99, and provide for unlimited 45-minute rides over a 365-day period, according to the bike-share. There are also discounted memberships available.

Then there are Lime and Ant, both dockless bike-shares. That means that riders use an app to lock and unlock the bikes.

Lime is available in 13 cities and towns in the Boston region: Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Lexington, Malden, Melrose, Needham, Newton, Revere, Watertown, and Winthrop. The operator in 2019 transitioned its entire fleet of between 1,200 and 1,500 vehicles to electric pedal-assist bikes, or e-bikes, that go up to nearly 15 miles per hour.

A Lime e-bike. Getty Images

As for Ant, there are about 1,000 of those dockless bikes throughout the region, mostly in Lynn, Wellesley, Ipswich, and Swampscott—municipalities with which the company has formal arrangements—and on some private properties in Boston and Cambridge. Ant also has bikes deployed through agreements with Boston University, M.I.T., and Harvard.

Finally, if you have your own bike, storage at home or at the office should not be a problem. Bike-storage rooms have become de rigueur at residential developments during the past decade, and many commercial buildings also offer storage for employees of office tenants.

The RIDE

The RIDE is the MBTA’s service for those with physical challenges. It services 58 municipalities through the region, and keeps operating hours similar to the T and buses.

Use requires pre-approval, and the vehicular trips can be scheduled from one to seven days in advance. One-way rides per customer start at $3.35.

Ferries

A ferry entrance, with awning over the platform leading to the ferry on the water. Boston Globe via Getty Images

The MBTA operates three ferry routes year-round, including to Long Wharf and Rowes Wharf on the downtown Boston waterfront, the Charlestown Navy Yard, and Logan Airport (where shuttle buses take you to terminals). There are also connections to the towns of Higham and Hull on the South Shore.

The Long Wharf north and south stops are near the Aquarium stop along the T’s Blue Line. An added bonus for ferrying to Logan: A voucher entitling riders to pass through security faster.

Standard one-way MBTA ferry fares run from $3.70 to $9.75, and all terminals and boats are handicap-accessible. The ferries run from early in the morning to early in the evening on weekdays, and have truncated hours on the weekends.

There are also private ferry options, most prominently a route from Lovejoy Wharf near North Station to the Seaport District. Seating is limited and the fares for the general public run higher than those for MBTA boats.

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