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Taxi! An insider's guide to getting around Boston

Posted by Karyn Polewaczyk  March 22, 2013 05:00 PM

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0215_cab.jpg(Photo credit: amador_emmanuel34/Flickr)

Earlier this year, I confessed my cab addiction to Boston.com readers—how honest, how humbling!—and assumed that placing my admission in public arena was just what the doctor ordered to kick my expensive (and not-so-environmentally-friendly) habit to the curb.

(Cough.)

I certainly didn’t plan on the slew of blizzards we’ve experienced since then (and the mass of icy, knee-deep puddles that have emerged after the snow’s melted), nor did I know just how handy Uber could be in particularly time-crunched situations (like, say, when I’ve overslept and am running late for work). But I digress. Using a variety of ways to get around—cabs, the subway, and yes, walking—is far easier (and less expensive) than owning a car in the city, which I did up until two years ago.

Not all modes of transportation were created equal, though; I’ve certainly made a number of mistakes in my day, including the time I took a Zipcar out to the suburbs on the Fourth of July and found myself barricaded out of Cambridge when I tried to return it; or when I miscalculated the last run of the T and wound up stranded in Somerville after a night at a jazz bar. Here’s a breakdown of what to take and when—and feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

Cabs

Let’s start at the very beginning with the nemesis to my budget: a classic hail.

Pros: Generally speaking, you can pick up a cab in the most densely-populated areas of the city with the wave of a hand—and if you’re near a cab stand, you’ve struck the equivalent of transportation gold, with cabs lined up a la the tuxedo-ed men in Madonna’s “Material Girl” video just waiting to whisk you away. Plus, it’s really fun to wave your fingers mid-hail if you’ve got a fresh manicure.

Cons: Convenience aside, Boston has some of the most expensive fares in the entire country—if not the highest—and has a handy blue law in effect, where Boston cabs can drop off, but not pick up, in Cambridge and Somerville, and vice versa. Boston cab drivers (begrudgingly) accept credit cards and will often argue for you to use cash; Cambridge and Somerville cabs aren’t required to accept cards, but some will—it's temperamental, and confusing. Cabs are also extremely hard to come by at closing time, when it’s raining (or snowing), and during rush hour.

The MBTA

Love it. Hate it. Ride it, because, well, you have to.

Pros: Hands down, the T offers the most bang for your buck when it comes to being able to scale the entire city and its surrounding areas. It’s also environmentally friendly, and depending upon if you take the subway or bus, you can bypass traffic. You can also read, knit, listen to music, or zone out and keep to yourself—it’s your choice.

Cons: The delays. The delays. And did I mention the delays? Aside from “disabled trains” (which always seems to be the reason why the Red Line is running behind) and never-ending construction diversions, if you do ride during rush hour, be prepared to pack in like a sardine and get very, uh, familiar with a new crop of strangers. (Breath mints are handy.) Trains and buses stop running well before most bars close, so if you decide to stay until last call, keep in mind that getting home might take awhile, or cost you a pretty penny—or both (see “Cabs,” above). The T is also a magnet for strange folks who like to ask rude questions and sit next to you when plenty of other seats are available; be prepared, be polite, and be ready to flee if someone gets into your personal space.

Uber

“Your own personal driver”—or so they say.

Pros: You’re the boss: pick a taxi, towncar, SUV or the elusive UberX (which I still haven’t figured out) from a tap of your smartphone, and depending upon your location, your driver, using GPS technology, will magically arrive—and call you by first name, to boot. Your credit card information is stored with your account, so drop-offs are no muss, no fuss (and there’s no arguing with the driver about whether or not you can pay with a credit card, or how much to tip—that’s included with your fare). Actually, scratch that. You're not just the boss: you fancy.

Cons: Uber taxis aren’t always available, and its towncar option is extremely pricey (I once paid $25 to go from South Boston to the Back Bay in a pinch, but did feel cool for half a minute when I rolled up to my date in a fancy car with tinted windows). I’ve experienced issues with billing and being double charged more than once, so if you do use this service, you’ll want to stay on top of your account for discrepancies. Customer service is managed via social media, which can be frustrating.

Walking

Pros: It’s free! You burn calories—so eat that burger, girl! And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of sashaying down a sidewalk to the tune of one’s own personal soundtrack (mine, depending on my mood, are Beyoncé’s Freakum Dress or Queen’s Killer Queen). Plus, you never know who you’ll pass en route to your destination, or what new-to-you bar or restaurant you'll discover. It's hands-down the best way to get to know the city, even if it means getting lost (on purpose).

Cons: Depending upon the season, you’ll need to carry a change of shoes—and if you’re wearing poorly-made footwear, you’ll find out sooner than you’d probably like. Much like there are bad drivers, there are slow walkers, and tourists, which means that some areas are clogged with well-meaning people who just want to know where the Freedom Trail is, and will you take their picture (they'll hold your dry cleaning/groceries/ego)? You'll also need to be more attuned to your surroundings, especially in unfamiliar territory, or late at night.

Zipcar

A car when you want it, where you need it, and billable by the hour.

Pros: Like Uber, you can pick from a fleet of available vehicles—except you do the driving. A reservation includes gas and insurance, and there are pickup/dropoff points scattered throughout the city. Book online, or from the ease of your smartphone. Plus, their customer service agents are extremely friendly, a rarity compared to the other options listed above.

Cons: Kiss Zipcar goodbye if you have a poor driving record: those with excessive traffic violations generally aren’t eligible for membership, womp womp. Reservations fill fast at peak driving times—mainly the weekends and holidays—so you’ll have no choice but to plan accordingly. As I mentioned above, late fees are hefty, and too many of them will also nullify your membership (book in an extra half hour to an hour, as I do, to cushion your reservation if you’re chronically late, which I am). If you’re a Peter Pan type in general, you may want to ditch this option entirely, since Zipcar works best for people who have some modicum of responsibility built into their DNA.

The Verdict

Like martinis and perfume, transportation is a thing that’s dependent upon season, mood, and personal preference. Boston, by comparison, is much smaller than other metropolitan cities; use it to your advantage, so that when you have friends in town, you can show off just how much you know about the best way to get from point A to point B. Or, just hail them a cab. It’s the easiest thing to do.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston, and believes that heading out into that good night, like any adventure, begins with the first step. Let's Go Out is a conversation about dating and nightlife in our notoriously chilly city, with first-hand tips from the trenches. Karyn's writing, which focuses largely on women's lifestyle topics, has appeared in the Weekly Dig, Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore Magazine and More.com, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @KarynPolewaczyk.

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