MBTA vs. rental car for short Boston visit
April 7, 2016 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning a visit to Boston where I grew up but haven't been in a while. I don't like stressing about traffic and parking. Should I take the T or rent a car?

I am hearing that traffic is worse and parking is harder/more expensive than I was used to. All of my destinations are transit-reachable, although some involve a combo of subway and bus. My destinations are generally not urban core (or what I remember as urban core), but inner burbs like Somerville, Medford, Newton, etc. My travel times will be normal day, not late night.

I'm leaning towards getting a 7-day Charlie ticket and planning around transit time, maybe Uber as a fallback. Anybody got an opinion? Rental car cost is not the problem, traffic and parking stress are. I've been out West long enough that I've gone soft and am no longer a true Boston driver.
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think your instinct is right. The Charlie Card is the way to go, although you may want to substitute Uber for most of the bus rides. Even if you use Uber pretty indiscriminately it should be cheaper than rental + parking. And a lot less stressful.
posted by Kriesa at 11:37 AM on April 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Definitely get yourself a Charlie card. A couple things to note: The commuter rail is often late, and the T doesn't run late nights anymore.
posted by xingcat at 11:44 AM on April 7, 2016

Agreed re the Charlie Card, if your travels take you by the right place at the right time to pick up a Card; they're less finicky than the tickets, and if you calculate that you're not going to do enough T-riding to make the 7-day pass worth it, you'll save 50-55 cents per ride by putting cash on a Charlie Card rather than a Charlie Ticket.

Some of those bus trips might be better replaced with Uber/Lyft/etc rides, depending on the bus frequency/total travel time. But your instinct to avoid having to bother with parking and driving in the greater Boston area is spot-on. ;)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:46 AM on April 7, 2016

If you're not planning on being urban core, I'd consider a car as opposed to relying on transit. I don't use Uber so I can't comment on Uber vs rental.

Where will you be staying? Contact your hotel/AirBnB/friend/etc and find out what the parking situation is.

The MBTA question kind of revolves around what your trip will be like. Will you be out till late and relying on catching the last bus? (have you checked to see when the last bus is? some routes run rarely and stop early.)

I live in medium burbs (North Shore) and while I could do commuter rail plus T to many of the places I go (Somerville, Medford, Arlington, Brookline), the schedule for evenings and weekends is sparse enough that I just drive. With the notable exception of Boston proper (and often Cambridge) - I will avoid parking and driving downtown if at all possible.

But that's just parking. Driving and navigating? Yeah, that could be stressful. You can definitely do just MBTA; I thought I'd provide a dissenting voice saying driving/parking may not be as bad as you think (and MBTA may be worse) if you're not in the truly urban areas.
posted by aimedwander at 11:52 AM on April 7, 2016

I would definitely forgo renting a car. The buses run reliability, and the T, well, the T is the T. The whole area is also saturated by Uber/Lyft (last year we ubered from friggin' Saugus to Back Bay and it cost way less than you'd imagine).
posted by General Malaise at 12:00 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing to also add in might be use of the Hubway bikes, if they are available in/around your destinations. There appears to be good coverage in Somerville.

I am also going to add a bit to what aimedwander notes--if you are traveling burb to burb, it is be a real PITA, as the "ring" routes are limited both in number and frequency. Additionally, if you are traveling in to the city to travel back out to another burb via commuter rail, the train times will rarely be in your favor, particularly if you are going from a North Station to a South Station line or vice versa.

But, that said, uber is really good throughout the area, I am a fan, generally, of the T and commuter rail and there are some nice bike routes.
posted by chiefthe at 12:01 PM on April 7, 2016

I go into the city by car a lot and my determination is often based specifically on a few things

- how late I am staying out (public transpo is crappy at night)
- how likely I am to get rides with other drives if I am not driving (lots of people there drive)
- how bad parking is SPECIFICALLY where I am staying and where I am going
- whether I have to make any of these trips during rush hour
- if there is construction on any parts of the T which I need for travel

Generally speaking I am in favor of public transpo there and it's pretty straightforward. That said, some of the burbish areas are not bad at all for parking and if you hit any of the other "Public transpo sucks at this time" levels you might want to at least give it a thought. Other option: if you've never signed up with Lyft before, they have some specials for first time users and when I was in Boston that meant I had five ten dollar free rides which was pretty great for short hops that would have been excrutiating in a car.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2016

Count me in as someone else who hates dealing with traffic and parking stress. Echoing the above, I also recommend the MBTA 7-day T pass and Lyft; I am a regular user of both.

For the pass: I'd get it at a convenience store (I've never been to a 617-area 7-11 or Tedeschi's that couldn't do this) because they'll put it on a plastic card - the machines in the T stations always give me a paper ticket for the 7-day pass. Paper passes are technically just as good, but are more hassle to use because you have to physically insert them in the slot and they process more slowly.
posted by Signed Sealed Delivered at 12:29 PM on April 7, 2016

In addition to Uber/Hubway it might be worth thinking about a zipcar membership if you think you might want to have a car available.
You can buy a monthly membership for $7 and a 2 car rentals for a couple hours each might be about the same as 2 Uber round trips.
posted by bowmaniac at 1:11 PM on April 7, 2016

Another thing to consider is how well you remember the roads and how good your sense of direction is. For us, driving anywhere unfamiliar usually requires two people and a GPS, and half the time we still manage to wind up in Sullivan Square with no idea how we got there.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:13 PM on April 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

I live in urban-core Boston and almost exclusively rely on the T. I love it. I think the MBTA gets a poor rap, and it's really quite good. I even go out of my way to take public transit for environmental/idealistic reasons.

BUT, you're here on a short visit, where time is presumably at a premium, and you are going to be Medford and Somerville and Newton, which are not particularly T-accessible, and parking and traffic are really not bad in those towns outside of peak hours.

Although that depends on where you're going within those towns -- are they close to T stops? Close to T stops is usually where the traffic and parking are bad anyway. Don't count commuter rail stations (too infrequent) or buses (too unreliable).

I agree with Metroid Baby that directions are going to be more problematic than traffic. The roads make no sense, as you might remember.
posted by redlines at 5:42 PM on April 7, 2016

Take public transit and use Uber as back up.
posted by Toddles at 6:12 PM on April 7, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice! I'm still inclined towards T primary, Uber and Lyft secondary. I'll update post trip if I have anything useful to contribute after the fact.
posted by HaveYouTriedRebooting at 7:58 PM on April 7, 2016

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