- Download our Moving to Boston Guide (PDF)
Since it's a relatively compact city, getting around Boston is fairly easy on foot or using public transport. Although driving is often the most convenient option for travel outside Boston proper, most residents choose not to drive around the downtown area due to the traffic congestion, high parking fees and the city's confusing street design.
New arrivals will find that there is a wealth of public transport options available in Boston, which will make getting to grips with the city much more manageable.
Public transport in Boston
Boston has an integrated public transport system run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It's convenient and relatively inexpensive. The MBTA comprises the subway, buses, water shuttles and commuter rail.
The CharlieCard is a contactless smartcard that forms the basis of the MBTA payment system. There are a variety of options that allow commuters to pick a suitable package for their needs.
Boston’s subway, or ‘the T’, is composed of four colour-coded rail lines and the Mattapan Trolley. This comprehensive network covers all the main areas of the city. If using a CharlieCard for one-way rides, commuters get free transfers on most subway and local bus routes. The subway service typically starts at 5am and stops at around 1am in the morning.
Newcomers will find that while bus travel in Boston may be slower than using the subway, a bus ride will often be cheaper and take them closer to their final destination. There are also express buses in Boston that travel over longer distances. These are pricier than regular buses.
The MBTA runs a commuter ferry service with eight terminal lines. There are also non-MBTA ferries and water taxis available at several ports.
The commuter rail system in Boston is primarily used for travelling to towns outside the city. Since these trains are infrequent, it's much faster to use the subway when travelling in Boston.
Taxis in Boston
Boston taxi fares are some of the priciest in the US. Unless one plans to share a taxi with a group of friends, it makes more sense to use the city's extensive public transport system.
Rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft operate in Boston, and like regular taxis, they allow for more specific routes at a more affordable price. As Uber and Lyft services are charged directly to a user's bank account, they allow for travel without carrying cash.
Walking in Boston
Boston is a relatively small and safe city, and many locals walk around the city centre. Walking allows visitors to see more of Boston than they would on the subway, although walking is not always easy in the winter months when the snow and wind can pose a significant obstacle to pedestrians.
Cycling in Boston
Bostonians love to cycle, and thanks to the city's small size and flat terrain, cycling is relatively easy (except in winter). Boston is a relatively cyclist-friendly city, though existing cycling infrastructure could use some expansion.
Driving in Boston
Navigating the streets of Boston is difficult for newcomers. Unlike other US cities, Boston’s streets do not follow a grid system or centre on a geographical feature like a river or lake. Many locals use public transport or taxis rather than driving, due to the traffic congestion in the city centre and the parking, which is both limited and expensive. Those who choose to drive will need to secure a local driving licence and budget for petrol, parking and vehicle maintenance fees.
Read Transport and Driving in the USA for more on securing a local driving licence.
►Learn more about Transport and Driving in the US
"Growing up in a country spoilt in terms of public transportation, adjusting to the American public transportation system was… interesting. I don’t mean to complain since I know that we’re relatively well-off in Boston with our bus and subway network in comparison to other places in the US. But still, certain subway stations and trains look like they haven't been touched since the '70s (which they probably haven’t)." Read more about Swiss expat Sandra's experiences in Boston.
Are you an expat living in Boston?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Boston. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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