The union that never returned?

The word on the street is “What’s up with the MBTA?”. The Mass. Bay Transport Authority, who runs the extensive and vital public transportation system on the Boston metropolitan area, is on the public eye. MBTA threatened to increase fares, cut down lines, and increased the number of employees and their benefits. Meanwhile, a cellphone ban was enforced (and violated) after an MBTA conductor caused an accident on the Green line while texting his girlfriend. The latest news is that a major restructuring of the system will make a monstrous Department of Transportation that will now oversee the MBTA. It is too early to tell what changes this will bring to the subway system, but the MBTA union feels very threatened. The MBTA drama will continue.

This mess is a perfect excuse to listen to some good music. I was able to track down the history of a song that is very close to Bostonian’s love-hate relationship to their public transportation.

First, the original song “The Ship that Never Return”

narrates how a ship on the east coast lacks the money to pay docking fees, and was unable to return home. This song was later adapted to the more familiar “Charlie on the M.T.A.” song.

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn’d
He may ride forever
‘neath the streets of Boston
He’s the man who never returned.

Charlie, the man who, according to the 1948 song, didn’t have enough money to pay the exit fare and was unable to leave the subway system (then called the M.T.A).

“This could happen to YOU” [banjo]

The exit-fare system was abolished after the introduction of the CharlieCard on 2006, card system named as a tribute to the song.

And of course, this song inspired a modern version by Boston’s own Dropkick Murphys titled “Skinhead on the MBTA”.

Author: minustwofish

I am a quantum physicist.

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