Which T Pass is the Best Deal?

What You'll Pay to Ride the T in Boston

CharlieSignMBTA.jpg
Photo courtesy Eddie via Flickr Creative Commons

When I first moved to Boston, a T ride was one dollar. A bus ride was 80 cents. There was no difference in fares between peak and off-peak hours. Coming here from D.C., I was shocked at how affordable it was to ride public transit.

It’s still affordable compared to other cities, but the bus and T fares have risen considerably since I arrived back in 2000. And with the different types of fare classes and passes, it can be confusing to determine what you should pay – and how.

Here's my breakdown of what you'll pay to ride the T – as well as my recommendations for which type of pass gets you the best deal.

What’s the Difference Between a CharlieCard and a CharlieTicket?

CharlieCards are stored value: They’re a plastic card (like a credit card) that can be loaded and re-loaded, or treated as a monthly pass. They’re a good option for commuters who regularly ride the T, buses, and/or commuter rail. A CharlieTicket is a paper ticket, ideal for a single ride.

Which Offers a Better Deal?

Strictly going by price per ride, you’ll find it’s a cheaper option to get a CharlieCard.

Here are the latest prices if you’re commuting via Boston public transit. All prices are for adult one-way trips; to see fares for students and seniors, visit the MBTA website.

CharlieTicket (Single Ride):

  • Bus: $2.10
  • Rapid Transit/Subway: $2.65
  • Bus and Rapid Transit: $4.75
  • Inner Express: $4.75
  • Outer Express: $6.80

CharlieCard (Single Ride):

  • Bus: $1.60
  • Rapid Transit/Subway: $2.10
  • Bus and Rapid Transit: $2.10
  • Inner Express: $3.65
  • Outer Express: $5.25

Single or Multi-Day Passes:

  • Monthly Bus: $50
  • Monthly Link (Bus and Rapid Transit): $75
  • 1-Day Pass: $12
  • 7-Day Pass: $19
  • Monthly Inner Express: $115
  • Monthly Outer Express: $168

Which Pass is Best for Me?

Regardless of where you’re going and how often you ride the T, the CharlieCard option will save you money. The most dramatic savings is the single ride for bus and rapid transit together, where the CharlieCard saves you $2.65 compared to using the CharlieTicket.

Let’s do a little more math, though, to truly determine the best value:

In Scenario 1, a person who rides the subway twice a day (I'm counting weekends to do a true apples-to-apples comparison) would pay the following:

  • CharlieTicket single rides: $2.65 ride x 2 rides per day = $5.30/day, $37.10/week, $148.40/month
  • CharlieCard single rides: $2.10 ride x 2 rides per day = $4.20/day, $29.40/week, $117.60/month
  • CharlieCard weekly pass: Unlimited rides, $19/week or $76/month
  • CharlieCard monthly pass: Unlimited rides, $75/month

Best value: CharlieCard’s monthly pass saves more than $70 over the most-expensive single-ride option – nearly a 50% discount! The CharlieCard weekly pass comes in at nearly the same percentage of savings compared to the single-ride Charlie Ticket weekly cost equivalent.

Scenario 2: A person who rides the subway a handful of times per week (let’s say 10 times) would pay:

  • CharlieTicket single rides: $2.65 ride x 10 rides = $26.50/week or $106/month
  • CharlieCard single rides: $2.10 ride x 10 rides = $21/week or $84/month
  • CharlieCard weekly pass: Unlimited rides, $19/week or $76/month
  • CharlieCard monthly pass: Unlimited rides, $75/month

Best value: In this case, the CharlieCard monthly pass still comes out ahead – but not by much (just $1 over the weekly pass when looked at over the course of a month).

Scenario 3: A person who takes a bus/train combo twice daily over the course of a week would pay:

  • CharlieTicket Bus and Rapid Transit: $4.75/ride x 2 rides = $9.50/day, $66.50/week, $266/month
  • CharlieCard Bus and Rapid Transit: $2.10/ride x 2 rides = $4.20/day, $29.40/week, $117.60/month
  • CharlieCard weekly pass: Unlimited rides, $19/week or $76 month
  • CharlieCard monthly pass: Unlimited rides, $75 month

Best value: The CharlieCard monthly pass really shows its value in this scenario, saving the commuter 72% over the CharlieTicket single ride option.