T details Foxborough, overnight pilots

T details Foxborough, overnight pilots

Officials discount fears of Fairmount disruption

THE MBTA OUTLINED on Monday the cost and benefits of pilot projects that would provide overnight bus service in the Boston area and extend daily commuter rail service to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough via the Fairmount Line. The T said its analysis indicated the Foxborough pilot would not disrupt service on the Fairmount Line or lead to Fairmount passengers being forced to stand on the way into Boston.

The overnight bus service proposals received strong public support at a meeting of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, but reaction to the Foxborough pilot was mixed. Representatives of the Baker administration, Foxborough officials, and businesses, including the Kraft Group, voiced support for the Foxborough pilot, while Boston residents who use and live adjacent to the Fairmount Line urged that the proposal be put on hold. Both proposals would expand T service at a time when the agency is struggling to rein in costs and improve existing service.

The proposed Foxborough service would extend eight existing Fairmount Line trains and one Franklin Line train from South Station to Gillette and back. Jay Ash, the governor’s secretary of housing and economic development, said the service was needed because it would open up more of the area around Gillette Stadium to development. Officials said the train service would also ease a parking crunch at nearby commuter line stations and provide another way for local residents to get to and from Boston.

Transit advocacy groups and residents who live along the Fairmount Line, which serves communities in Dorchester, Hyde Park, and Mattapan, said they feared the pilot would divert the MBTA’s attention from improving service on the existing line. One resident described the Fairmount Line as “our line” and implied she was uninterested in sharing it with residents of Foxborough.

Pamela Bush Miles of the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition raised the prospect that inbound trains could load up at Foxborough and have no empty seats left by the time they reached Hyde Park. Rafael Mares, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said the result could be residents of communities of color in Boston being forced to stand while residents of predominantly white Foxborough sit on inbound trains.

“The optics of that are terrible,” Mares said.

T officials said their analysis of the pilot proposal indicates there would be plenty of seats available for everyone, in part because neither the existing Fairmount Line nor the proposed Foxborough service would attract many riders at least initially. The officials said the Foxborough pilot would attract only 160 new riders to the transit system, and only about 150 would board each day in Foxborough. Three inbound morning trains would be less than half full when they arrive at South Station, while a fourth would be 79 percent full, T officials said.

The T officials estimated the Foxborough pilot would cost the MBTA $1.2 million. With fare revenue and an infusion of up to $217,000 from the Kraft Group, the net cost to the T would be $524,000, the officials said.

“The operation of the pilot does not reduce existing Fairmount Line stops, service, or frequencies,” the T’s presentation said.

The board also reviewed a proposal for overnight bus service that would allow Boston-area workers to get to their jobs or homes at night when the T is currently shut down. One proposal would provide service from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., when demand is the strongest, and then supplement the existing but largely unmarketed T service that runs from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. The other proposal would provide continuous service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

The overnight bus service is being pushed by Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville and the transit advocacy group TransitMatters. The overnight pilot proposals are vague on exactly which routes would be served and whether the T or some private entity would provide the service. A request for information on overnight service earlier this year attracted no interest from private bus operators and Uber and Lyft “were unable to meet the affordability, accessibility, and some of the fixed route requirements,” according to the T presentation.

Surveys and research conducted by the T found that roughly 96,000 people would benefit from an overnight transit service, most of whom are low-income workers in rapidly growing sectors such as health care, construction, hospitality, and transportation. As many as 46 percent of employers from 96 late-night businesses surveyed said their employees take ride-sharing services to get to and from work, while 39 percent reportedly drive by themselves.

The early morning pilot service plans to maximize the T’s existing early morning bus service, which translates to adding more early morning trips and focusing on promoting the service as the agency’s own expanded bus network. This is expected to not only increase accessibility for early commuters, but also combat overcrowding during peak morning hours.

Implementing the overnight pilots, however, will cost the agency. Depending on the final operating model, costs for the overnight bus service is estimated to be a little over $2 million annually, while the early morning pilot would cost less at roughly $1 million.

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Natasha Ishak

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About Natasha Ishak

Natasha Ishak is the editorial intern at CommonWealth magazine. Her duties include reporting and writing on the latest policy issues happening on Beacon Hill.

Before arriving at CommonWealth Magazine, she worked as a digital intern under NOVA/PBS at WGBH. She was a reporter in her hometown of Jakarta for four years, writing up stories at The Jakarta Post - Indonesia's oldest leading English-language daily, and as a production assistant on the popular news program, the Indonesia Morning Show.

Now in her second year pursuing a master's degree in journalism at Emerson College, she hopes to shed light on marginalized communities through stories related to politics, immigration, social justice and the environment.

About Natasha Ishak

Natasha Ishak is the editorial intern at CommonWealth magazine. Her duties include reporting and writing on the latest policy issues happening on Beacon Hill.

Before arriving at CommonWealth Magazine, she worked as a digital intern under NOVA/PBS at WGBH. She was a reporter in her hometown of Jakarta for four years, writing up stories at The Jakarta Post - Indonesia's oldest leading English-language daily, and as a production assistant on the popular news program, the Indonesia Morning Show.

Now in her second year pursuing a master's degree in journalism at Emerson College, she hopes to shed light on marginalized communities through stories related to politics, immigration, social justice and the environment.

The overnight bus service was applauded by nearly everyone who testified before the Fiscal and Management Control Board, including transportation advocates and restaurant industry officials.

“It’s such a huge problem for all the people that work in our restaurants,” said Steve DeFillippo, the CEO of Davio’s restaurants. “Let’s get it done.”