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 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.
“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.