SL3 could be solution to Logan’s access issues

Bus could provide service in early morning, late at night

THE MBTA HAS ADDRESSED some of the most pressing needs for more transit service at times of day when people need to travel by making early-morning and late-night service permanent. Significant gaps remain, not least those related to access to and from Logan International Airport.

Logan is one of the region’s greatest trip generators, a self-contained city that never sleeps. Access to and from Logan at all times of day, seven days a week, is a matter of critical concern for travelers, for those employed by Massport, the airlines and terminal concession employees, and for the adjacent East Boston community that bears the burden of growing traffic congestion and peak-hour gridlock. Better transit access to Logan is a matter of some urgency.

A multi-pronged strategy to deal with access would include connecting the Red and Blue Lines and implementing significant improvements to the Logan shuttle service (by having some buses proceed directly to the airline terminals rather than stop at the rental car facility, and the existing Silver Line service (by using the dedicated ramp into the Ted Williams tunnel).

Overnight transit service to and from the airport is still lacking. This is important given the large number of flights which leave Logan before 7 a.m. and which arrive after midnight. Slightly modifying certain trips of the Silver Line 3 (SL3) service to Chelsea would be a highly cost-effective approach to increasing early morning and late night service to and from Logan.

Currently, the early-morning and late-night service to Logan is provided as follows:

Early morning arrivals (weekday):

4:15 a.m.: 171 from Dudley

4:45: 171 from Dudley

5:17: 117 from Haymarket

5:55: Blue Line and 55 shuttle

5:57: SL1 from South Station

Frequent service beyond 6:00

Late night departures (weekday):

12:20 a.m.: Massport 55 shuttle to Blue Line

12:21: SL1 to South Station

12:36: SL1 to South Station

12:50: SL1 to South Station

1:02: SL1 to South Station

1:14: SL1 to South Station

2:34: SL1 to Dudley

There are significant gaps in both services. In the morning, there is a gap for arrivals between 5:17 a.m. (the bus from Haymarket) and 5:55 a.m. (the first Blue Line train) or 5:57 a.m. (the SL1), with the exception of the Logan Express buses which run from Back Bay. In the evening, there is a gap of more than an hour between the 1:14 a.m. and 2:34 a.m. bus departures. This means that the T is not a viable option for travelers who want to use public transit to arrive at Logan between 6:15 a.m. and 7 a.m., when there are approximately 32 flights taking off. Public transit is also not that useful for many workers with early shifts.

After midnight, air travelers arriving at the airport are often stranded because there are often few taxicabs or ride-hailing vehicles at the airport at that hour. Drivers do not want to make a trip without a fare through the tolled tunnels for an uncertain market at the airport. This frequently leads to driver shortages and high prices for those on planes which land in Boston after the last buses and trains run shortly after midnight. Silver Line service to South Station would allow passengers to access other transportation options (taxicabs, TNCs, even BlueBikes) where they are more plentiful, even if the core of the MBTA has stopped running.

The SL3 bus provides the opportunity to address both these issues. Because its early and late trips require buses to arrive from and return to Boston from Chelsea, there are earlier and later SL3 trips which already serve Airport Station. Instead of continuing straight into Boston, these trips could be routed through the airport terminals and operate as a combined SL1/SL3 service with very minimal impact to existing customers and operations (the few current riders of these buses would have a slightly longer ride). The SL3 bus could omit Airport Station as a stop, since the Blue Line does not operate at these times. For airport passengers, this service would run just like any other SL1 bus.

This would create the following schedule, assuming that the SL3 buses would require an additional 6 minutes to service the airport terminals, and that some or all of the late night service may depart from the surface at South Station. New service using existing SL3 trips is shown in bold.

Morning arrivals at Logan Airport terminals (weekday):

4:15: 171 from Dudley

4:35: SL3 from South Station

4:45: 171 from Dudley

4:50: SL3 from South Station

5:05: SL3 from South Station

5:17: 117 from Haymarket

5:20 SL3 from South Station

5:32: SL3 from South Station

5:38: SL3 from South Station

5:51: SL3 from South Station

5:55: Blue Line and 55 shuttle

5:57: SL1 from South Station

Frequent service beyond 6:00

Late night departures from Logan Airport terminals (weekday):

12:20: Blue Line and 55 shuttle

12:21: SL1 to South Station

12:36: SL1 to South Station

12:50: SL1 to South Station

1:02: SL1 to South Station

1:14: SL1 to South Station

1:17: SL3 to South Station

1:37: SL3 to South Station

2:07: SL1 to South Station

2:34: SL1 to Dudley

This service proposal does more to address the morning than the evening, although it remains imperfect for many travelers because a 4:35 a.m. bus from South Station assumes a person can get to South Station at that hour. (While some cost-conscious travelers might take a taxicab to South Station and a bus from there, most will stay in the cab through the tunnel.) The subway system is not operational that early, so the target ridership will be people who are airport travelers or employees with fairly easy or uncomplicated access to South Station. The larger point is this: there may come a day when our transit priorities expand Red and Blue Line subway service hours to respond to flight schedules, but until that day comes, since the T is already running SL3 service at those times, it ought to provide better bus service to Logan Airport.

On the late night side of the proposed service, an additional airport trip between 1:37a.m. and 2:34 a.m. would better fill that gap in the schedule (which could be provided by one of these Silver Line buses simply making an additional SL1 round-trip to the airport at that late hour, as shown in italics above). Otherwise, these trips could be added with a negligible operating cost of only a few minutes per day, the time it would take for these additional trips to loop through the airport terminals.

The cost of providing the additional service could be recouped from fares or, in keeping with the airport’s free transit services for people leaving the facility, from Massport. A public information campaign could be launched at the airport to let passengers know about this new service, which might be highly attractive to travelers arriving on late flights who could take the bus to South Station, where taxicabs and app ride/TNC vehicles are more plentiful. More importantly, it would provide a vital service to and from the airport for employees and passengers who currently have no other option than to drive.

Meet the Author

Ari Ofsevit

Transportation and urban planning student/Member, MIT/TransitMatters

About Ari Ofsevit

Ari Ofsevit is a transportation planner with the Charles River TMA in Cambridge, which runs the EZRide Shuttle. He has won hackathons examining data from Hubway, late night MBTA service, and MassDOT real time highway traffic.

About Ari Ofsevit

Ari Ofsevit is a transportation planner with the Charles River TMA in Cambridge, which runs the EZRide Shuttle. He has won hackathons examining data from Hubway, late night MBTA service, and MassDOT real time highway traffic.

If we are serious about advancing to a more sustainable transportation system, and if we are equally serious about responding sustainably to constant and growing demand at Logan Airport, then the MBTA and Massport must step up their efforts to provide people with attractive transit choices at all times during commercial flight operations. It seems silly to have empty buses passing through the Airport T station at a time when there is demand at the nearby terminals. Traveling to and from Logan by transit shouldn’t be confusing or inconvenient. Most great global cities have figured this out. We should, too.

Ari Ofsevit is a member of the TransitMatters board. Jim Aloisi, a former state transportation secretary and also a TransitMatters Board member, contributed to this article.