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Photo Courtesy: Andy Ryan

Photo Courtesy: Andy Ryan

Expecting a crowd at your place for Thanksgiving?  Consider the job of the people who manage the transportation cornucopia that is Boston South Station, where 10 modes of transportation and more than 100,000 travelers and other visitors converge on a normal weekday.

Thanksgiving week is anything but normal. It’s the busiest travel period of the year, particularly in Boston, as students from dozens of area colleges head off for a break in the fall semester, only to return in droves by the following Monday.

Planning and coordination for the holiday begin weeks in advance.  The South Station Action Team – which includes representatives from all train, bus, subway, security, public safety, and facilities management entities – meet to plan every detail of the holiday rush. Recently their challenges have only increased, as ridership is up and the holiday travel period has expanded.

“Wednesday is still the busiest day of all, but over the last three or four years, the Thanksgiving week rush has expanded to include the Monday and Tuesday prior as well,” notes Stephen Squibb, who has managed the South Station bus terminal for the last 11 years.  Station management and the 10 inter-city bus carriers plan accordingly, with bus runs added and extra personnel on duty for cleaning, security, and customer service.

Amtrak makes similar provisions from the Sunday before through the Monday after Thanksgiving. Northeast Regional and Acela services are both increased, with passenger coaches added to the normal eight-car trains and additional staff of Red Caps, Assistant Conductors, and Customer Service Representatives available to help out.

Amtrak also redeploys personnel to assist customers, who increasingly are purchasing tickets with a smartphone. “Instead of just being behind the window, ticket agents now go out on the floor, helping those with e-tickets or who have other questions,” says Paul O’Mara, Amtrak’s Northeast Operations Superintendent.

The MBTA also offers additional rail and bus service in peak travel periods, including on the Silver Line to Logan Airport (a Silver Line ride from Logan to South Station is free).

More service, of course, means even more customers, so remember these tips if you are planning to travel through South Station during Thanksgiving week:

  • Plan, book, and arrive early: Purchase tickets in advance to ensure a seat. Many trains and buses sell out. Amtrak tickets cannot be purchased onboard, and tickets purchased onboard MBTA Commuter Rail trains include a surcharge. Allow extra time for getting to and through the station.
  • Use technology: Book tickets online or through the e-ticketing apps offered by Amtrak, the MBTA, and inter-city bus carriers (check individual websites). Check on-time status via the web, Twitter, or T-alerts.
  • Travel light: Baggage space is at a premium on trains and buses; avoid hassles by packing fewer items in smaller bags.
  • Meet at bus garage: The bus terminal parking garage, accessible from HOV lanes on I-93 and the Mass Pike, offers free 15-minute parking for passenger pick-up and drop-off and is open 24/7.
  • Think ahead: If you are an MBTA monthly pass user, carry both your November and December passes, as the new month starts on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Wishing you a safe and happy Thanksgiving!


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