It is the promise almost every mayoral candidate has made: bringing late-night MBTA service to Boston.
Though they have bandied about ideas on how to help finance extended T hours — solicit money from universities, hospitals, and corporations or lobby state legislators for the extra cash — it would be a tall order for any candidate to deliver, because the T is a state-managed entity.
Transportation is a frequent topic on the campaign trail, with candidates releasing detailed platforms coupled with gimmicky appeals to voters, such as three days of car-free campaigning.
In a Boston Globe survey answered by eight of the 12 mayoral hopefuls, many of the candidates’ visions for Boston’s transportation future aligned: Most they said they plan to push for 24-hour T service, will embrace technology to reduce gridlock in the city, institute major changes in the city’s taxi industry, promote biking, and encourage car-free commuting.
The differences in candidates’ platforms are in the details. Councilor Michael P. Ross said he would consider offering special late-night licenses to bars and restaurants that would allow them to stay open later, with the fees funding extended T hours, while Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley suggested that Boston sports teams and cultural institutions bundle CharlieCards with their season tickets and annual memberships, adding an influx of cash to the MBTA.
Beverly A. Scott, general manager of the T, had a noncommittal response to the idea of working with the new mayor to get 24-hour T service: “The MBTA is open to exploring any ideas that offer a practical and realistic approach to funding late night service,” she said in a statement.
To reduce congestion, former health care executive Bill Walczak and Councilor Rob Consalvo said they want to increase enforcement of the city’s “block the box” laws, ticketing people who clog traffic flow.
As state Representative Martin J. Walsh suggested establishing an “adopt-a-roadway program,” Councilor at Large John R. Connolly wants to hold community competitions for designing innovative benches and bike racks. Community organizer John Barros would mimic a public art program in Portland, Ore., that invites residents to paint city intersections.
Local radio show host Charles Clemons, Councilor Charles Yancey, Charlotte Golar Richie, and Republican candidate David James Wyatt did not respond to the Globe’s survey.
Many of the candidates are expected to speak about transportation issues at a candidate’s forum on the topic, scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Boston Public Library.
Stephanie Pollack, associate director of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy and co-moderator of the forum, said transportation issues have been a prominent part of the mayoral campaign.
“Transportation has moved up on the radar screen a lot, compared to the last few mayoral elections,” Pollack said.
Candidates hope they can use public transportation to appeal to a wide swath of voters, especially younger voters and late-shift workers, who might be more interested in later T service.
In the past, Ross said it is possible he would use money from city coffers to help pay for late-night T service, an issue he has focused on throughout his campaign, talking about his role in the MBTA’s short-lived Night Owl bus in the early 2000s.
Connolly said he would establish public-private partnerships with corporations, citing the commuter rail station construction project financed by New Balance as a model.
Councilor at Large Felix G. Arroyo said he would push for late-night T service primarily by lobbying for funding from the state, asserting that “the Legislature dropped the ball” on ironing out a robust transportation finance plan earlier this year and should allocate more T funding.
It is a marked difference from Menino, who largely stayed quiet on the transportation finance debate that brewed in the State House earlier this year.
Walczak said he supports the idea of extending T hours, but did not detail any actions he would take to make that a reality.
In addition to advocating for late-night service, Conley said he would designate more of the city’s lanes exclusively for bus-rapid transit service that would form a ring around the city’s outskirts.
When asked about problems in Boston’s taxi industry, Ross said he would transfer oversight of the industry from the Boston Police Department to the city’s Transportation Department. Walsh and Barros said they would also consider that move.
In addition to addressing problems with the Police Department’s hackney unit, Connolly said, he would also embrace taxi hailing apps such as Uber and car-sharing companies.
In addressing perhaps the most-griped-about issue in Boston — the lack of street parking — Connolly and Ross said they would consider eliminating the minimum parking requirements for new housing developments.
“Reducing parking requirements, in appropriate places and with community buy-in, could be a key strategy for lowering construction costs and creating a true middle market for housing in Boston,” said Connolly.
Consalvo and Walczak said that for them, such a move would be off the table.
“Cars play a major role in many people’s lives, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon,” Consalvo said.
Most of the candidates provided only vague responses to their vision of bicycle infrastructure in the city, saying they would introduce cycle tracks — bike lanes with physical barriers separating them from cars — in undetermined locations, and that they would scatter new Hubway stations in underserved parts of the city.Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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