Starting at the end of March, all trains in Boston and 15 of the most highly trafficked bus routes will begin operating until 3 a.m. in order to service the many residents who have requested late-night transit.
No specific date has been decided for when late-night service will start. This service will be tried for one year, after which the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will decide if the ridership is worthwhile to continue. A similar program, the Night Owl Service, stopped running in 2005 because it was not heavily used.
“We’re presenting it not as a permanent change in service but as a pilot program,” said Kelly Smith, an MBTA spokesperson. “We’ll do it for one year and if it’s viable, we’ll continue it. Ridership is really the only benchmark. If people aren’t using it, we lose even more money. We hope it’s popular and that people use it but it really is ridership, which translates into revenue as well. ”
The T will operate late on Fridays and Saturdays. This includes all trains and 15 of the most heavily trafficked bus routes, including the 57, which runs up and down Commonwealth Avenue through the Boston University Charles River Campus. The commuter rail and the ferry will not operate outside of their normal hours.
“It’s something that we’ve been hearing from customers as well as business leaders and members of the community,” said Smith. “Boston is one of the most vibrant, young and innovative cities in the country and the world. One of the things that has been a complaint about the city is that we close early and are not that conducive to nightlife and the social aspect of it.”
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced the trial program last December, emphasizing that this will cater to a more active city.
“A vibrant economy demands a public transit system that caters to the residents, students and tourists it serves,” he said in a Dec. 3 press release. “Extending service on weekend evenings will allow the public to enjoy the many attractions and restaurants the region has to offer and give workers a more cost-effective option for getting home late at night.”
Smith said Boston’s nightlife must be functional for it to grow.
“Part of the reason we did that is the economic impact this will have on people who work at these bars and restaurants so that they can get home and it is more affordable and convenient for them,” she said. “Service workers will not have to pay for taxis, which is more money in their pocket, which will help grow the economy.”
Smith said she anticipates that the extended hours will improve safety by decreasing the incentive for people to drive under the influence.
“Drinking and driving is a dangerous problem,” she said. “We are happy that the hours we are implementing can help prevent that. We hope people play it safer and take the T instead of driving.”
The program is expected to cost $20 million annually. However, during this first year it will not incur any extra taxes. Although the Patrick administration has allocated enough money to cover the expenses of the program, Smith said the MBTA is looking for corporate sponsorship to relieve some of the burden.
Some residents said they see the good effects that the service will have, but also see the underlying problems it could cause.
“People have things to do late at night,” said Angel Pimentel, 26, of Jamaica Plain. “[They] can’t afford a taxi and need to get home. The last bus now is usually at 12 a.m. and that ruins their plans to get around. The crime rate [might] go up just slightly since there are going to be more people around in the streets.”
Iva Folseich, 37, of Dorchester said he is more concerned with the possible increase in taxes.
“There’s always a catch,” he said. “They’re probably going to raise the taxes a little. I think it’s worth it though … [Depending] on how much they raise taxes.”
Adarius William, 24, of Brighton said this would be beneficial for the many people that work late into the night, despite the potential raising of taxes.
“Clubs and everything else like that, the people need a way to get back home,” he said. “I didn’t know [taxes] would come into play, but I still think it’s a good idea.”