MBTA takes a run at overnight service
Pilot will use buses only, target low-income workers
THE MBTA, which scrubbed its previous incarnation of late-night service in March 2016, is trying again, but this time using a cautious, incremental approach that will rely exclusively on buses and target employees working odd-hour shifts at the airport, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and other businesses that work through the night.
The T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board voted on Monday to launch a pilot service in September that will add 282 weekly bus trips to ease crowding on buses between 10 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., add an additional run after 12:30 a.m. on select routes with high ridership, and add some limited service between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Combined with a separate pilot that added an earlier run on the T’s most crowded routes in the early morning, the new service will begin to offer a patchwork of service throughout the night.
“It’s not quite 24 hours a day, but we’re starting to get close,” said Luis Ramirez, the general manager of the T.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack acknowledged the approach is complicated, but she hailed it as “smart and scalable.” She added: “It’s a great way to build service and a great way to build ridership.”
The new service is the outgrowth of discussions that have been going on for nearly two years. The advocacy group TransitMatters pushed for overnight service initially, and was joined by the communities of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Revere, and Chelsea. A key pitch of the advocates was that the service should target low-income residents who want affordable transportation to get to and from jobs at off hours.
In October 2017, the T seemed to be leaning toward a single route running from 1 a.m. to 4:15 a.m. from Revere through Chelsea and East Boston, with stops downtown and in the Back Bay before heading through Roxbury, Dorchester, and ending up in Mattapan. Control board members raised concerns about the $2.1 million cost and the estimated subsidy per passenger of $27. Private transportation companies showed no interest in providing the service.
The new approach may end up costing about the same amount of money. The initial pilot project’s budget is $1.2 million on an annualized basis. If all goes well, the T has set aside another $660,000 to $800,000 to expand the service based on the results from the pilot.
“It’s more of an incremental approach,” said Laurel Paget-Seekins, the T’s director of fare policy and analytics.
Control board members, who set aside $2 million for the pilot in the fiscal 2019 budget, received no ridership estimates for the pilot and no estimates of the subsidy per passenger.
The initial $1.2 million annualized cost consists of $800,000 for operations, $50,000 for marketing, $100,000 for T police, and $250,000 for operation of the RIDE, the T’s paratransit service. The T is required to provide paratransit service within three-quarters of a mile of any route it is operating, and the $250,000 appears to be largely the fixed cost of operating the paratransit service, even if no customers call to use it during the overnight hours.Paget-Seekins said preliminary data from the T’s early morning bus pilot indicate adding an extra early-morning run has reduced crowding on later buses and helped build overall ridership. She said the hope is that the late night pilot will work similarly.
Finally, the T wants to begin to craft coherent service during the 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. period. T officials said they intend to publicize the existing route 171, which runs every day at 3:50 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. from Dudley Station to Airport Station at Logan with stops at Andrew Station and the airport terminals. The T plans to add Silver Line 1 service from Logan Airport to South Station and Silver Line 4 service from the airport to Dudley Station during the overnight hours and add one to two trips on Routes 15, 24, 104, 108, 109, 117, and 442 around 2 a.m.