Late night T proves costly

Subsidy per rider is 10 times regular bus service

MBTA OFFICIALS MOVED a step closer to approving a pilot late night bus service to launch next summer, running from Mattapan to Revere, but members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board expressed serious reservations about the estimated subsidy for each trip, which would be nearly 10 times what the agency pays for a normal ride.

“The net subsidy is higher than we want it to be, but fare payment is the only source of revenue,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told members.

According to estimates from T officials, the annual cost of the service would be about $2.1 million, with riders paying an average of $1.01 per trip for a total revenue stream of just under $38,000. That would leave the cash-strapped agency picking up more than $2 million of the cost. With a projected 75,000 late night riders, that averages out to a subsidy of $27 per passenger, though that includes roughly $5 per trip in fixed costs. The average subsidy for the system’s bus service is $2.71. A separate early morning pilot service slated to start in the spring will cost an estimated $7 per passenger trip.

“From my point of view, $22 per passenger is too high,” said board member Steven Poftak.

The late-night bus service would begin running next July, from 1 a.m. to 4:15 a.m., after regular night service ends and before morning service begins. The planned route right now would start in Revere and run along an existing bus route through Chelsea and East Boston, make stops in Back Bay and downtown before running along a different bus route that travels through Roxbury, Dorchester,  and Mattapan.

The route would be along a corridor that officials say would service about 150,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of the one of the stops, according to an update report presented to the board. Minorities make up more than 65 percent of the population along the corridor and more than 47 percent of the households have no vehicles.

The pilot program is being pushed by elected officials in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, and Revere as well as the advocacy group TransitMatters, which made the initial proposal more than a year ago. The MBTA had run a limited version of late night service, but it did not operate all through the night or seven days a week. The agency ended it when it declared the cost too high and ridership too low to justify its continuation.

A number of riders as well as business owners spoke in favor of the pilot, saying it would be used by many late-night workers who now have to pay for ride-sharing services that cut into their low wages.

“This is going to change people’s lives,” said Steve DeFillippo, owner of Davio’s restaurants. “There’s cities like Cleveland who are one-third our size that have 24-hour bus service. We should be able to do this.”

Patrick B. Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the added service would help businesses hire workers to do the jobs needed after the bars and restaurants closed.

“This is about jobs,” Moscaritolo told board members.

But the money is a sticking point for the board. In addition to operating the bus service, the MBTA would be required to offer access to its paratransit service, The Ride, because federal law mandates accessible transportation be available whenever and wherever regular service operates. That increase would cost about $200,000 more, an estimate some of the members said may be too low.

During the pilot run, the T said nine additional drivers would be needed and would be paid a late-night shift differential. While the estimates are based on bidding out the service to private operators, James O’Brien, president of the Carmen’s Union, told board members they should look in-house at his union to operate the service. Board chairman Joseph Aiello said he’d be open to keeping the operation in the agency.

“Would that trigger a night-run premium?” he asked, referring to any pay differential for T employees. “I’m indifferent about our bidding it out or doing it internally. This is an important experiment.”

Aiello, an East Boston resident, said T officials should look to Massport for guidance and information. He said that agency already runs all-night service for airport workers to northern Boston neighborhoods and neighboring communities and suggested the transit authority could benefit from their experience, perhaps even talking with them to integrate the service into what they already run.

But with money being a determining factor in all MBTA decisions, the cost could have an impact on how much support the pilot gets. Monica Tibbitts-Nutt, who has been among the most vocal supporters of late-night service among the board members, said there needs to be some way to figure out how to pay for the service without adding to the deficit.

“I continue to have concerns about using our existing resources, especially for something like this,” she said.

Meet the Author

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.

 

 

  • JFKWOULDROLLOVER

    It would be cheaper to pay UBER to drive workers home after the bars close….

    • casmatt99

      No, it really wouldn’t…

  • Aeroguy

    This is about
    (1) COST (bang for the buck) and
    (2) JOBS — for late-night workers (NOT for the already well paid T union members).

    James O’Brien, president of the Carmen’s Union, told board members they should look in-house at his union to operate the service. In response,
    Board chairman Joseph Aiello said “Would that trigger a night-run premium?” he asked, referring to any
    pay differential for T employees.

    James O’Brien said …
    What, did Jimmy say?

  • bluishgreen

    People often ignore the fact that services like Uber are still heavily subsidized themselves, even though Uber is far too old to be a “startup”. Uber is relatively cheap (but not cheaper) because it is _still_ in loss-leader mode, pushing the same mantra about expansion and market share over actual profits that has been the norm since the original dotcom bubble. But eventually the funding dries-up and they’ll either have to drastically raise their prices or go under. It’s a bit concerning how people keep wanting to tie core infrastructure into a company that could go out of business, taking-down crucial commuting in the process — unless it turns into another “too big to fail” and they are bailed-out because they become too entwined in everything.

    In any case, late-night service is something that takes time to change culture. We keep doing these “trials” like a couple years ago, or the badly-run “night owl” thing in the 90’s. Of course ridership will be low in the first couple years — especially when there is zero long-term commitment. Workers aren’t going to sell their cars and start depending on the bus or train just because the T announces a “trial” with only one year of funding, and is only available on weekends (last I checked, most people work more than two days a week). Until there is a true long-term commitment, it’s not a valid indicator. Once people see a true commitment, after time, culture will change and adapt to the late-night service, and ridership will increase (and subsidies decrease).

  • Charlie

    “The average subsidy for the system’s bus service is $2.71.”

    This is very misleading. This includes all bus service averaged together, including rush hours, when of course there are a ton more passengers per vehicle. Late night service will never come close to that number, by definition.

    What they should be looking at is what the subsidy per rider is at the times directly before and after late night service would run. If the numbers are close to that, you’re good. Of if they want to use the figure above, add the proposed late night subsidies in with all the others to calculate the average. I suspect it wouldn’t go up by very much. The T board seriously needs a math lesson. They seem to love to cherry pick misleading numbers to make their case however it suits them.