"M.T.A.", often called "The MTA Song", is a 1949 song by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. Known informally as "Charlie on the MTA", the song's lyrics tell an absurd tale of a man named Charlie trapped on Boston's subway system, until 1964 known as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). The song was originally recorded as a mayoral campaign song for Progressive Party candidate Walter A. O'Brien. A version of the song with the candidate's name changed became a 1959 hit when recorded and released by the Kingston Trio, an American folk singing group.
The song has become so entrenched in Boston lore that the Boston-area transit authority named its electronic card-based fare collection system the "CharlieCard" as a tribute to this song. The transit organization, now called the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), held a dedication ceremony for the card system in 2004 which featured a performance of the song by the Kingston Trio and then-governor Mitt Romney.
The song's lyrics tell of Charlie, a man who boards an MTA subway car, but then cannot get off because he does not have enough money for new "exit fares". These additional charges had just been established to collect an increased fare without replacing existing fare collection equipment.
When he got there the conductor told him,
"One more nickel."
Charlie could not get off that train.
The song goes on to say that every day Charlie's wife hands him a sandwich "as the train comes rumbling through" because he is stranded on the train. It is probably best known for its chorus:
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.
After the third line of the chorus, in the natural break in the phrasing, audiences familiar with the song often call out "Poor Old Charlie!" or "What a pity!"
In the Kingston Trio recording, after the final chorus, the song's lead singer Nick Reynolds speaks the words: "Et tu, Charlie?", an echo of Julius Caesar's famous "Et tu, Brute?" ("And you too, Brutus?")