MBTA photography process

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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Postby CRail » Wed Jan 12, 2005 12:31 pm

Armed Robbery is a felony, and is commonly known as it is nation wide, AND there are clear morals as to why you shouldnt do it, Taking picures of inanimate objects is not against the law, however, and is not commonly known, and there is nothing wrong with it, so yes, a law like this, especially a new one, must be posted if it is going to be enforced. You would also think that people would know not to walk down the tunnels but still they have no tresspassing signs... All they have to do is post a sign, then they stand a little more ground. Although, look at my signature... do you think a little metal slab with words on it is going to stop me from enjoying my harmless and peaceful hobby? cuz if you do youre mistaking!
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Postby Ken W2KB » Thu Jan 13, 2005 12:44 pm

Yes, I agree that there is less likelyhood of an acquittal if there is actual notice by posting. Perhaps my felony example was poorly chosen. But petty disorderly persons offenses like spitting on the sidewalk, etc. are typically not posted and yet enforceable.

As to parking, etc. motor vehicle offenses, often the statute that establishes the offense specifies that it is applicable where marked or similar. That's why the signs are necessary. Constructive notice (published in statute books or regulation/code books available to the public) of criminal and quasi-criminal offenses are legally sufficient. The signs that transit agencies post are often placed to reduce the need for employees to inform citizens and to minimise arguments rather than legal necessities. Practicality versus strict legal requirements.

Note that an agency can only prohibit photographic activities taking place on its own private property like any landlord, such as rail stations, platforms and the like. Photography from public rights of way cannot legally be prohibited by the agencies. That would take legislative action which also would be held to a higher standard to determine if the legislation passes Constitutional (US and MA both in the case of the MBTA) muster.
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Postby pdxstreetcar » Thu Jan 20, 2005 4:21 pm

Here's the most up-to-date process for getting a photo permit (the photo application form I received was updated Jan 20, 2005):

1. Email jevans@mbta.com and ask for a "photo permit request form." They will reply back fast with an email including a Word document attachment.

2. Fill out form, they want to know why you want the permit, photocopy 2 pieces of ID (one govt ID, the other can even be a library card). Enclose form and photocopy of both IDs and mail to:
Attn: Photo Permit Request
10 Park Plaza, Suite 6720
Boston, MA 02116-3974

3. Allow up to 7 business days for permit, MBTA police will do a background check and verify info.

4. Pick up at MBTA office at 10 Park Plaza

Postby Robert Paniagua » Sun Jan 23, 2005 2:23 pm

Good, thanks for the updated info, just in case I plan on doing extensive videoing.
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MBTA photo permit requirement

Postby alanmoore » Wed Jan 26, 2005 12:33 pm

Does anyone know of an attempted or successful prosecution of anyone taking T photos without a permit?
Personally, I take offense to the assumption that photographers of public transportation are up to no good unless they go through a permit process to prove otherwise. It reminds me of being in the People's Republic of Poland in 1979 and being told by my Polish friend that I could not take photos of trains and trams, etc. He thought the reason was that I would show the West how "poor" public transit was in Poland. Little did he know that in terms of their network and (low) cost of public transportation, Poland was ahead of the USA.
President Bush recently spoke at length about spreading freedom around the world. Maybe he can start with the MBTA in Boston.

Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Wed Jan 26, 2005 1:25 pm

On the commuter side(away from S. Station and Back Bay), you might have better luck. I did not have any trouble when I went out to Needham Hts when I came to Boston on the Acela.
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Re: MBTA photography process

Postby NCIwebmaster » Fri Mar 11, 2005 1:31 pm

pdxstreetcar wrote:I am planning to go to Boston soon to take photos of the Silver Line Tunnel and after being questioned for photographing a trackless trolley on city streets I figured I better get a permit for photography on T property. Has anyone managed to take pictures of the Silver Line subway stations without a permit?

Destination: Freedom describes the lengthy process:
http://www.nationalcorridors.org/df/df0 ... #Following

Do I really have to...
-email press department
-wait 2 weeks for a photo pass request form by email
-send in form and wait about a week for a background check
-receive a phone call from Marketing Dept. telling of approval and where to pick up photo pass
-go to marketing department HQ and present official ID and SS cards (including going thru airport-style security)

And the pass is only good for 30 days??

It appears that this process takes about a month. Wow.

Just joined this board. Great site.

I just wanted to add that the article in Destination: Freedom at the NCI web site was based on my personal experiences with the MBTA.

At one time permits were good for 90 days, maybe even 6 months, but the events of 9/11 changed all of that and the MBTA police have flexed their worry muscles. As I see it, any person with a decent memory can memorize what they want about stations and trains. Interestingly enough, while you need a photo permit to take images on T property, there are no rules about sketch pads. Go figure.

When I went in for my permit the 30 day limit had just gone into effect. Prior to that it was 90 days. I got the permit to shoot the last trip on the Green line out of Lechmere. At the end of that month the permit ran out.

I was going to go back into the Park Plaza office to renew it but learned that due to the DNC coming to town all permit requests and renewals were set aside and none were to be issued until afterward.

I never went back.

After reviewing some of the threads here I have the following to add.

The MBTA has had long standing rules on photography within its system. Among these are no tripods or monopoles because they fear people would trip on them. Also no flashes within the confines of the subway as that can cause temp blindness of a train operator or someone on a platform edge. These seem reasonable.

If you are on public property taking shots of passing trains is perfectly legal. At the same time people should be aware that some rail lists have reported any number of horror stories of railfans being stopped by local police and even detained until the FBI arrives to determine their intent of taking photos - even from public land. One report I read even had the FBI making serious queries into a notebook a railfan was carrying which was noting train movements and written in a shorthand that got the local agents really worried, mainly because they just had no grasp of railfans and how detailed some can be in noting their observations of train movements.

Photographers may want to avail themselves of the documents at this web site


This outlines the rights of a photographer on public property and was adapted by the attorney that writes this site from existing case law and a similar brochure from the ACLU.

That said, when and if I need to get photos from inside a T station, and I may shoot the SIlver Line one of these days, I will likely renew my permit. As I understand it, once you are in the system a renewal is a phone call away and a renewed permit can be ready in a day or two after the initial application has been handled. You will likely have to present 2 forms of ID again when picking up the premit. Heck, you need 2 forms of ID now just to get a reprint of your own lost driver's license (happened to my son).

Oh, and you need to show ID to get into the Transportation building at the 2nd floor security desk in order to get to the MBTA offices above that. There are other state and federal offices in that building so security is tight.

We might be inclined to argue one's rights to photo on public property or state controlled property (as the MBTA's is - somewhat) but testing the waters of that is best handled by someone willing to get arrested or ticketed and who has an attorney standing in the wings to move forward with a test case.

Standing on the street I'm OK, but once in a T station as noted in another thread, that little yellow card is gold, and you very well may be challenged by an MBTA police officer - uniformed or plain clothes - or even a T employee. I placed mine in a little badge holder that clips onto my shirt pocket where everyone can see it.

Last time it was on me, a few people saw it said "MBTA Photo Permit", and I was wearing a blue shirt at the time. They thought I worked for the T and I spent a few minutes giving directions on how to get to where they were going. It was sort of amusing.

For what its worth, I have repeatedly suggested to people in Joe Pesaturo's offices that press people like myself should be able to get a permit that lasts longer than 30 days. So far no one is moving in that direction. The Marketing people say they are driven by the MBTA police. It's the MBTA PD that wants the 30 day limit.

I remain curious as to whether major TV stations have to get a permit renewed every 30 days or have someone from the T accompany them on photo shoots (as their photo policy suggests). If they don't, then that would point to favoritism of major over minor press. Then again anytime the TV stations run a T story these days I seem to notice that they are either reporting from outside the stations (when there is a derailment or fire) or are running the same tired old stock footage - like the one they show of trolleys leaving Lechmere Station several months after it has closed.


Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Fri Mar 11, 2005 1:34 pm

On the commuter trains, no one really seems to care except, but I would be careful, especially at major terminals.
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Postby typesix » Fri Mar 11, 2005 4:33 pm

This afternoon a T operator reported a photog on public streets taking pictures of the train near Museum stop on E line and dispatch sent the street inspector to get rid of the photog, as heard on the scanner.
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Postby njt/mnrrbuff » Sat Mar 12, 2005 12:50 pm

I disaprove of operators doing that. Look at how many people take pictures in NYC, even the subway station entrances look very attractive there.
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Postby CRail » Mon Mar 14, 2005 7:06 am

anyone tries to get rid of my standing on a sidewalk i will simply laugh in there face and ask them to watch as i take more pictures of trains going by.
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Postby GP40MC 1116 » Mon Mar 14, 2005 9:25 am

I love how the T tried to come over to you and say.. you can't do this here. The thing they always seem to forget is nowhere on the MBTA system is their signs posted that say NO PHOTOGRAPHY. As far as taking photo of busses and other T veh's from streets, I can't understand how that is the MBTA's juristiction.. If us buff's can't photograph anything, god knows what the tourists have comming when they visit the city
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Postby pdxstreetcar » Mon Mar 14, 2005 10:45 am

Just thought I'd share this...

Not only is transit photography in Portland fine but its actually promoted.
Certainly Boston is a more high-profile & at-risk system with all the subway lines but at the same time Portland has a pretty decent sized system and includes a 3 mile long LRT tunnel with deep underground station inside.
Enter TriMet's Transit Photo Contest!
Submit your transit pics, past or present, and you could win a TriMet All-Zone Pass (a $62 value)

As TriMet celebrates our 35th year of providing the Portland area with excellent transit service, we are seeking your best photos showing how transit was and is part of the fabric of our community and essential to the livability of our region.

One prize will be awarded for each of the categories listed below. The prize will be a free TriMet All-Zone Monthly Pass (a $62 value). To enter the contest, mail or email your photos to TriMet by noon on Monday, March 28, 2005, in accordance with the Contest Rules below.

Contest categories
1.People and Transit—photos should contain at least one person on or around a transit vehicle or transit property
2.Places to Go on Transit—photos should show a Portland-area landmark as well as a transit vehicle or transit property
3.Humorous Transit Photos
4.Historical Transit Photos
5.People's Choice—visitors to TriMet's website between April 4 and 10, 2005, can vote for their favorite transit photo from TriMet's Online Photo Gallery of posted photo contest entries


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