Thomas Williams began what was probably the first chartered transportation service on the continent; a ferry from Chelsea to Charlestown and on to Boston. For almost the next two hundred years, sail and row boats carried freight and passengers on the three-mile run across Boston Harbor, from the foot of Hanover Street to Winnisimet Street, Chelsea. After the revolution, more settlers came to the Boston peninsula. Landfill projects began and bridges were built. In 1793, a stagecoach service began. In the 1820s, an omnibus, with lengthwise seats, could carry larger numbers of people.
In 1856, the first horse-drawn rail car service began, despite objections to laying rail on city streets. By the late 1800s, there were twenty different horse-car companies offering service. In 1887, they were consolidated into one company, the West End Street Railway. But taking care of 8000 horses, and the resulting manure became a city problem. So, in 1889, the first electric streetcar line began. Oliver Wendell Holmes even wrote a poem about it. And again, by 1911, they were consolidated into one company, the Bay State Street Railway. After bankruptcy in 1918, Bay State became the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway. It was taken over by the MBTA in 1972.
But Boston’s streets were clogged with streetcars. A debate raged about elevated railways versus subway systems. Eventually, the Boston Elevated Railway company was commissioned, and began operation in the late 1890s. The Boston “El” innovated the articulating or bending (in the middle) streetcar to handle the narrow, twisting streets in the Hub area. In 1922, Boston’s first motor bus route was established. This was followed in 1936 by the first trackless lines. The development of automobiles and better roads proved to rob them of ridership.
The Boston Elevated Railway was absorbed in to Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1947. In 1957, a rapid transit line began on abandoned Boston and Albany commuter rail lines. After years of changes, and challenges, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was formed in 1964. The authority expanded service from the original fourteen cities, to 78 municipalities. The “T’, with the help of Federal funds, began an aggressive capital expansion and improvement program. The system was strengthened by various legislative and Federally mandated programs. The MBTA remains the 5th largest mass transit system in the country.
So finally, here is the famous story of Charlie:
The well-known folk song about Charlie on the M.T.A. is actually entitled “M.T.A.,” which stands for Metropolitan Transit Authority, the predecessor of today′s MBTA. The song was written as a campaign song for the 1949 Boston mayoral race of Walter A. O′Brien, Jr. O′Brien was the candidate of the Progressive Party, and the song was meant to call attention O′Brien′s opposition to the recent fare increase, which saw subway riders charged an extra nickel to exit trains at stops above ground. That′s the reason that the last verse of the song goes:
Now, citizens of Boston, don′t you think it is a scandal / That the people have to pay and pay? / Join Walter A. O′Brien to fight the fare increase / Get poor Charlie off that MTA!
Most of the lyrics of the song were written by Jackie Steiner, a young, O′Brien supporter and classically trained vocalist who had just discovered folk music. Bess Hawes, another O′Brien supporter and member of a famous folk song-collecting family, contributed the song′s most intriguing verse:
Charlie′s wife comes down to the Scollay Square Station / Every day at a quarter past two / And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich / As his train goes rumbling through.
Hawes also chose the tune, setting the lyrics to the melody of a song she had sung as a member of the Almanac Singers called “The Train That Never Returned,” which itself was based on a Civil War song, “The Ship That Never Returned”. In 1959, the Kingston Trio recorded the song, and the album actually reached #1 on the charts.
Here are the lyrics to M.T.A.
Let me tell you the story of a man named Charlie
On a dark and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket and he kissed his loving family
And he went to ride the MTA.
Did he ever return? No, he never returned
And his fate is still unlearned
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston
He′s the man who never returned.
Charlie handed in his dime at the Kendall Square Station,
And he changed for Jamaica Plain
When he got there the conductor told him, ‘One more nickel′
Charlie couldn′t get off the train.
As his train rolled on through greater Boston
Charlie looked around and sighed
“Well, I′m sore and disgusted and I′m absolutely busted
I guess this is my last long ride.”
Now all night long Charlie rode through the tunnels
Saying, “What will become of me?
Oh, how can I afford to see my sister in Chelsea
Or my brother in Roxbury?”
“I can′t help,” said the conductor
“I′m just working for a living but I sure agree with you
For the nickels and dimes you′ll be spending in Boston
You′d be better off in Timbuktu.”
Charlie′s wife goes down to the Scollay Square Station
Every day at a quarter past two
And through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich
As his train goes rumbling through.
Now, citizens of Boston, don′t you think it is a scandal
That the people have to pay and pay?
Join Walter A. O′Brien and fight the fare increase
Get poor Charlie off that MTA!
The point to this long story is this. The MBTA is a great, easy to use, and handy public transportation system. Use it when you visit Boston, as there is no need to rent a car. Oh, and why didn’t Charlie’s wife just hand him a nickel?