Cost of all-night bus service put at $5.8m

Despite higher pricetag, T board still interested

THE MBTA ESTIMATED on Monday that a proposal for all-night bus service in metropolitan Boston was three to four times more expensive than the $1 to $1.4 million estimated by a trio of transportation advocates, but the higher price tag didn’t automatically deter members of the agency’s oversight board.

It was the second time the MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board had bucked its own staff and decided to continue investigating a proposal outlined in CommonWealth on March 30 by three transportation advocates – Ari Ofsevit, a transportation planner; Jeremy Mendelson, the founder of TransitMatters; and James Aloisi, a former secretary of transportation.

The three advocates suggested expanding an existing bus service for early-morning workers to provide all-night service every day of the week. Buses would travel on an hourly basis along eight routes into Boston’s Copley Square, where passengers would either disembark or hop on another bus taking them in a different direction. The advocates said the service would target people who work at night or during the early morning hours and estimated the cost on the order of $1 million.

The proposal surfaced just after the MBTA had canceled a late-night, weekend service in March, and as the T was considering expanding some existing bus routes to mitigate the impact of that cancellation on low-income and minority riders. Comparing the $500,000 cost of expanding the handful of bus routes to the possibility of offering all-night service for $1 million, the control board opted on April 11 to investigate the all-night service.

Charles Planck, the deputy chief operating officer of the T, told the board he met twice with the advocates to go over their proposal. He said T staff concluded the true overall cost of the proposal was nearly $5.7 million, or $5.2 million net of fares.

Planck said cost projections rose because a single bus couldn’t run the routes on an hourly basis; he said two buses would be needed on seven of the eight routes. He also said the cost of paratransit service, transit police, and other expenses had not been included in the advocates’ proposal. The advocates predicted 5,901 people would use the service each week, while the T put the number at 4,604.

MBTA overnight routes

Even with the much higher cost estimate, the control board opted to keep investigating the advocates’ proposal.  “There’s strong interest here in trying to figure out a viable path for this,” said Steve Poftak, a member of the control board. Brian Lang, another board member, agreed.

But board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt said she thought the nearly $6 million price tag was too high and warned against launching a pilot of the service. She also said it was unclear who the service was targeting – night-time workers or late-night revelers.

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who in April had predicted the price tag for the all-night service would be much greater than $1 million, also seemed skeptical. John Englander, the legal counsel for the MBTA, raised the possibility of funding the $500,000 mitigation plan developed after the cancellation of late-night weekend service, but the board, without taking a vote, decided to table that discussion again.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

In his presentation, Planck said a number of steps could be taken to pare back the cost of the service. Operating across a much smaller service area or increasing the time between bus trips from 60 to 75 minutes would lower the price tag to nearly $3.9 million, he said. He also said a premium fare for the service, as high as $5, could be charged.

Planck said if a decision was made on the all-night service by July it could be implemented by Dec. 31 as long as the T uses existing equipment and staff. If a private contractor is hired to provide service, Planck said, the project could take 12 to 18 months to implement.