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Do Charlie Cards save money?

May 5th, 2012
transit, mbta

MBTA bus fare with a Charlie Card is $1.25 but it's $1.50 with a 'Charlie Ticket' (or cash). So you'd think you do better to use a Charlie Card. The readers for the tickets are much less robust, however, and are often broken. When they are, the driver waves you on. Even when they're working, drivers often wave on ticket-holders when there's a big line because the readers are so slow and they don't want to be late. I haven't kept track, but this might well be more than one out of every six trips. In which case you save money with the tickets.

(You would do even better to usually use a card but pull out the ticket when you see a big line or a broken reader. This seems kind of sneaky, though.)

This doesn't work for the subway because there are multiple turnstyles and they aren't ever all not taking tickets at once. It does work for the commuter rail in a different way, in that on some lines the conductor doesn't always make it all the way through the train each time and so you might do better with a 12-ride ticket than a monthly pass. Especially if you pay attention to the routine and choose where to sit based on their coverage. But again, that seems sneaky.

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