Advocates push T to restore late-night service

Advocates push T to restore late-night service

Supporters say there’s demand and need for 'transportation equity'

MBTA OFFICIALS CONTINUED to take a slow approach to rebooting late-night bus service over concerns about cost despite a detailed plan from advocates and pleas from state and local officials that such a service is a matter of equity for low-income earners rather than a convenience for millennial barhoppers.

State Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston said he did an experiment by taking three different means of transportation from his district through the tunnel to see what the cost is to minimum wage earners in his neighborhood. Taxis and ride-hailing services cost eight to 10 times what a transit ride costs, he said. Madaro said a minimum wage worker whose hours end after MBTA service stops would spend 18 percent of his pretax earnings to commute home five times a week without public transit.

“It’s a threat to transportation equity,” he told the Fiscal and Management Control Board about the absence of late-night MBTA service.

State Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville said residents of her city rely on the T because her district has the fewest number of cars per household and Somerville has the lowest percentage of in-city jobs, forcing them to rely on subway and buses to travel outside.

Transit Matters, a riders’ advocacy group, presented a plan to the fiscal board back in March, several days after the T canceled a pilot program for late-night service because of high costs and low ridership. The plan calls for eight bus routes running all night from a hub in the city to outlying neighborhoods, at an estimated cost of $3.4 million a year, based on an estimate of 843 paying passengers a night.

But T officials have different estimates and say there is no solid data available to predict ridership. Brian Kane, the director of operations analysis, says MBTA projections show an estimated 550 riders a night, resulting in a subsidy of $17.48 compared to a little over $2 per rider on regular service. In addition, Kane said, the proposed 75-minute wait between bus trips – called “headway” in transit circles – may discourage people from using the service if they have to wait out in cold, dark streets in the early morning hours.

“No one knows what the current need is for transportation services,” Kane told the board. “It is also possible we will find out 75-minute headways are too long a wait at night. We just don’t know.”

While advocates continued to cite the need for the service, T officials intimated the cost is difficult to justify, especially with the agency facing an $86 million deficit, aggressive expansion plans, and constant need for infrastructure and equipment repairs and updates.

“There may well be a time when the T can focus on service expansion, large and small, but it’s not now” said Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, which represents the 175 cities and towns that are affected by the public transit agency. “But it’s not now.”

Board member Monica Tibbitts-Nutt said she’s frustrated by the slow process, though she indicated she doesn’t see the demand for the service to justify the cost.

“I’m just troubled by the fact that there doesn’t seem to have been any movement since the last time we heard this presentation,” said Tibbits-Nutt. “We’re being asked to consider this without any data at all, which is a little crazy to me.”

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Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Transit Matters, including James Aloisi, a former transportation secretary and a member of the group’s board, have laid out their plan in CommonWealth and elsewhere. Aloisi recently followed it up with a piece about the cost of shutting down E line service at the end of the night, which he said costs the agency $3.8 million a year, enough to pay for late night bus service.

Jeff Gonneville, the MBTA’s chief operating officer, has disputed that figure, saying the shutdown cost is closer to $500,000. But, he said, he and other T officials will meet with Aloisi and other advocates on Wednesday to begin discussions about how their plan could be implemented and where the money night come from.

“Some of the questions they raised are good questions,” Gonneville said after the meeting. “I think what we’re going to find is that there may be some kind of consensus of what type of changes need to be changed to that [shutdown] procedure and what the cost savings are. Are we in complete agreement of the costs? No, we aren’t. But what we are committed to is we definitely want to sit down with these guys.”

  • Shirley Marquez Dulcey

    The biggest problem faced by the late night T service that it wasn’t given enough time or enough certainty to succeed. The existence of transit changes the patterns of people’s lives. They take jobs that would have been inaccessible to them without it. They move to places that are well served. They sell their cars and build their lives around the availability of transit.

    It takes ten years for those changes to fully unfold. We have seen that dynamic in places that got rail service in the relatively recent past: Porter and Davis squares on the Red Line, Wellington and Malden on the Orange Line. People don’t move or take new jobs on the spur of the moment. New businesses don’t form overnight.

    But people were never given assurances that the late night service would last long enough for them to make life decisions based on it. So they didn’t do that and the service failed. If we want it to succeed, we must make a long term commitment to it. We can’t just build it so they will come; we have to keep it going so they will keep coming.

    • bluishgreen

      I’ve been saying this as well, in that it takes time to change culture. Although all the “trials” thus far have been somewhat bogus, since they were only for the weekend — anything that isn’t 7-days is largely useless if they are truly doing it for workers.

      Something that isn’t popular with some, but I’d love to see as a compromise (at least temporarily) is a higher-tier T pass supplement for late-night, to offset the higher overnight costs. The new MBTA tech head from MIT is replacing the entire payment box & Charlie Card system so that, among other features like direct credit card payment, it can also charge fees based on distance and even time (much of the world outside the US already does this). Commuter rail already charges more the further out you are, to cover the extra costs. Charging extra for late-night is a similar way to cover less ridership (i.e., less revenue) at night.

      Of course, some people will always complain, claiming “egalitarian” arguments, and take the “all-or-nothing” attitude that always leads us to the “nothing” option. However, as someone who has actually worked for years overnight, I’d easily pay an extra $25/mo or whatever for a higher-tier T pass supplement vs. $500/mo or whatever to maintain a car (parking fees sometimes at both home and work, insurance, gas, upkeep, etc, even if the car is already owned/paid-off, and even worse if not paid-off yet). Paying for a taxi/uber five days a week is somewhat better, but is still a lot of money. While not perfect, paying a bit more for a late-night T pass supplement is still easily more egalitarian than the costs of owning a car or everyday taxi/uber.

      And getting back to the “time” point — after several years of this, the culture will change, and there will likely be more people using late night service, and thus more revenue, so that the supplement cost can be reduced or even eliminated after awhile. But as said, it takes time to change the culture. The problem is that too many people take the “all-or-nothing”, “no-compromise” attitude, and we always end-up with nothing. A late-night “supplement” could be a foot-in-the-door for actual long-term change, and a better solution than having only a handful of bus lines every 75 minutes.

  • bluishgreen

    I read an interesting article today regarding Paris’ transport org’s recommendation to not extend metro service overnight, as it is 1) too expensive, 2) not used much after midnight, and 3) they need the night closures in order to do maintenance. And this is in a country that invests huge amounts of tax revenue into infrastructure/transportation vs. the US. It’s kind of funny — if you replace “Paris” with “Boston”, it reads like all the late-night T articles. And yet, no one accuses Paris of being “small-town” and certainly not “Puritan” because their metro closes around 1am. Same with Montréal — I can’t tell you how many nights I walked 20+ blocks home from clubs in the dead of winter because the metro closed by 1am. Same with the BART in SF. Same with London, who only recently is testing overnight on the weekends-only.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m 100% for finding a way for late-night T (both subway and bus), being both a late-night worker and late-night reveler — the result of being a lifelong insomniac. But I think people unjustly dump on Boston as being this “embarrassing outlier” because the T closes around 1am, when this is actually quite normal, at least for the subway part (buses are another story…).

    The article’s in French, but here’s a Google Translate attempt:
    https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=fr&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lefigaro.fr%2Fconjoncture%2F2016%2F09%2F30%2F20002-20160930ARTFIG00150-le-metro-de-paris-ne-devrait-pas-rouler-toute-la-nuit.php&edit-text=