MBTA dithering on late night service

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which excells at finding excuses to not do any transportation, showed that its well of creativity has not run dry yesterday when it comes to late night service at the Fiscal and Management Control Board. They were examining the Night Bus proposal put together by TransitMatters, Ari Ofsevit and Jim Aloisi, in which eight bus routes with 75 minute headways would provide overnight service to much of the region, for around $3-4 million a year.

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A map of Night Bus routes, from The Amateur Planner.

As Board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt put it, “I’m disappointed in the lack of momentum on this. Absolutely nothing has happened between last time and now.”

The T’s Brian Kane said that staff analysis found that fewer than 4,000 people a week would use it, at a subsidy of $17.48 per trip. Board member Steven Poftak said that the subsidy was “dramatic”. According to the MBTA the subsidy for weekend commuter rail service last year was over $23 per trip, but it was late night service that got cut. It would be interesting to know why subsidizing transit for the rich passes without comment, but a high subsidy for the poor is “dramatic”. Moreover, as Ofsevit noted, the T’s subsidy numbers are all daily and so they include peak ridership times, with the actual per trip subsidy likely being much higher for offpeak hours before and after the rush hours.

Considering the last iteration of late night service carried around 8,000 people per hour, the ridership projection seems off. If the 1.4 million late night trips in 2014 were made with the Night Bus at $4 million a year, the service would have cost $2.86, or slightly more than the cost of a bus ride.

In comparison, the bloated and ridiculous South Coast Rail is projected to cost over $3.3 billion for 4500 daily riders — a cost per rider of $733,333. But again, no one is talking about canceling that project to invest in the core system, which Tibbits-Nutt gave as a reason to stop doing pilot projects.

Kane, annoyingly and disparagingly, kept saying “As we understand it” in reference to the proposal, as though it were very complex.

Numerous elected officials spoke in favor of the Night Bus project, including Boston City Council president Michelle Wu and East Boston state representative Adrian Madaro, both of whom talked about the importance of late night service to late working low wage earners.

“I want to emphasize that the Boston City Council has had extensive conversations on the neccessity of overnight service,” Wu said. “This proposal is a way to do more with less. Boston needs an overnight sevice to unlock our economy.”

 

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