In 1949, the American folk group, Kingston Trio, released a song dubbed M.T.A. Written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes, the jingle was also referenced as “The M.T.A. Song” or “Charlie on the M.T.A.” It shares the fate of a sad Bostonian man named Charlie who finds himself trapped on Boston’s transit system due to exit fees to compensate for increased fares.
The famous lyric clip referring to these “exit fares” is:
When he got there the conductor told him,
“One more nickel.”
Charlie couldn’t get off of that train.
Sound a little familiar?
The name might be different, the MBTA was then known just as the MTA, Metropolitan Transit Authority, but it was still giving riders trouble. Today, Bostonians are vocal about transit frustrations- from a lack of reliability to poor, aging infrastructure and 15-minute commutes lasting nearly one hour.
The song became so entrenched in Boston culture that it would be sung everywhere. The chorus of M.T.A goes:
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.
Check out a full performance of Charlie on the M.T.A:
Birth of the CharlieCard
When Boston went electronic and introduced its first subway card in 2004, it was named after Charlie from Charlie on the M.T.A. The Kingston Trio performed the song at the CharlieCard launch celebration.
Although released in 1949, the song blew up a decade later. Making the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 at the peak of number 15 in America. In 1998, Boston-based punk rock group, Dropkick Murphys, released a spinoff of the song, Skinhead on the MBTA.