goodbye, tokens

token11.jpgRecently, the MBTA (Boston’s public transit system, also called the T) underwent some major changes, which can be boiled down to a single big change: you no longer use tokens. They’ve converted to a an electronic system involving the use of cards. Last week I mentioned that I got my first Charlie Card. Previously I’d unwittingly bought a Charlie Ticket. What’s the difference? Let me lay out the differences and similarities for you:

Charlie Card: Hard plastic, like a credit card. Very sturdy.
Charlie Ticket: Stiff paper, like a business card. Somewhat flimsy.

Charlie Card: Available for free, then you pay to add credit to it.
Charlie Ticket: Available for free, then you pay to add credit to it.

Charlie Card: Can be reused by adding credit to it.
Charlie Ticket: Can be reused by adding credit to it.

Charlie Card: Can be registered in case it gets lost.
Charlie Ticket: Can’t be registered. If you lose it, you lose. (Loser.)

Charlie Card: A T ride costs $1.70
Charlie Ticket: A T ride costs $2.00

tokens_3.jpgYes, this paper version of the MBTA card lets you ride the T for 30 cents more than if you take the same ride using the Charlie Card. Why would anyone want to do that? Why did I buy one? The short answer is cluelessness. I hadn’t even realized there were two different kinds of tickets. The Charlie Ticket is what’s available from the machines. To get your Charlie Card, you must know to seek out a distribution point and ask for one. Easy enough, as long as you know. The Charlie Ticket must be meant especially for newbies and tourists. A tax on cluelessness, as it were. Perhaps it should be called the Sucker Ticket, or the Clueless Card. But I suppose that would spoil the fun.

And so that this post won’t end up being just a rant, I should bring up some fun trivia that folks not around Boston may not know about. The name of the Charlie Card actually refers to a song: “The M.T.A. Song,” by the Kingston Trio, a song about a guy named Charlie who gets stuck riding around on the T. Funny thing is, it’s a song written in protest of a fare increase in the Boston T system, then called the MTA. (And by the way, all these recent changes to the T system have also been accompanied by a big hike in fare.) And here, how about a list. A list of songs that relate to my T adventures:

  • “The M.T.A. Song,” by the Kingston Trio (Also known as “Charlie on the M.T.A.”)
  • “Skinhead on the MBTA,” by the Dropkick Murphies (An updated punk reinterpretation of the Kingston Trio classic.)
  • “Ambition,” by Subway Sect
  • “The Metro,” by Berlin
  • “She’s got a ticket to ride,” The Beatles
  • “She’s got her ticket,” Tracy Chapman
  • “Brand New Sucker,” Jonathan Coulton
  • “Ain’t Got a Clue,” The Lurkers
  • “Loser,” Beck
  • 8 thoughts on “goodbye, tokens

    1. oh man… Ok, I grew up loving the Kingston Trio “Mta song.” my parents had it on viynal. yes, a record that spins… do you know how cool it was when I moved here and could recogonize all the places in the song. This comment could turn into more of a post if I’m not careful…anyway, the fare hike simalarity you mentioned is neat and also the point of reference comment above.
      I have my charilie card. some young boy handed it to me as I was getting off the long long long escaltor down into the Porter Square T stop- I had mine before they were so readily availabe…( but then again, I live in the city so that makes sense)
      you’re right- the ticket is stupid. good luck with all that. sell the ticket to a clueless tourist- not that I condone this sort of thing…
      anyway, yup, this is getting to be more of a post in length..

    2. “easy enough as long as you know” pretty much sums up the T. And when you don’t know.. you’re screwed.

      The Card also allows “them” to track your every move, at least if you register it or pay with a credit card. If you pay with cash, you can continue to conduct your nefarious activities incognito.

    3. My own theory about navigating at all in Boston or Massachusetts in general is this: everything is designed around the philosophy that if you don’t know where you are, you don’t belong there.

    4. to jwbates:
      Yes, I think your theory of navigational Darwinism applies particularly well to MIT (where I should probably admit I got lost even after working there for 6 years. So, yeah..)

    5. ericalee-
      Glad this brought back fond memories for you. And glad that living in the city has given you these additional perks.

      Yes, this “easy enough as long as you know” card thing is in keeping with T traditions. And yeah, I’ve also thought about the “them tracking my every move” business. (A little paranoia is a healthy thing.) I hadn’t even considered that paying with a credit card gave this possibility, too. Damn. Now I’ll have to get a second cash-loaded Charlie Card to use for my nefarious activities, and keep the credit card-linked card for my cover, I mean daily, commuting.

      “My own theory about navigating at all in Boston or Massachusetts in general is this: everything is designed around the philosophy that if you don’t know where you are, you don’t belong there.”
      So true. So very true. Too many street signs only makes outsiders feel welcome.

      That’s a beautiful term: “theory of navigational Darwinism.” I love it.

    6. Yeah, it’s way past February, but I thought I’d still chime in. They don’t even give you give you friggin’ Cards yet for the commuter rail, personally, I like to take the Blue Line from Revere but back in June, I just didn’t have the time to drive over from Lynn in the morning so I took the CR from Lynn (God I wish we had the Blue Line, but then again, my appointment was just down the street from the Garden so the CR is better, but it’s not much of walk to it from Bowdoin or Gov’t Center.)

      Anywho, of course, you can’t buy tickets at the station, at least Lynn. But anyways, on the way back, the jackass conductors have to surcharge you extra $2 fare unless you buy it at North Station, and what does the guy in the booth hand you as a Commuter Rail ticket, a friggin CharlieCard, and not long after you buy that card, they take it from, clip and take it with them, just great. I could have used that again jackass. Why you can’t get friggin card readers on your belt.

      Damn MBTA.

    7. They certainly save operation cost by plenty. It is also practical for the customers. I still have a can of my Timezone tokens, but still am glad that they decided to terminate the use of those tokens.

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