The future of the program extending late-night operation of MBTA trains and buses could be in jeopardy as state transportation officials look for ways to address a huge midyear state budget shortfall and to plan for next fiscal year’s budget.
The $13 million, year-long pilot program started in March 2014, extending service by 90 minutes on MBTA lines and 15 bus routes on Friday and Saturday nights until at least 2:30 a.m. The operation has drawn 850,000 riders since its inception, according to the MBTA.
“The service has been run so far as a pilot and we were always going to come back to the board with the result of that pilot, both utilization by passengers and financial performance,” said Acting Transportation Secretary Frank DePaola, after a meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board of directors. “So I think it’s too early to say it’s on the chopping block, but in the light of our current state budgetary issues, we do have to be fiscally prudent.”
Fiscal 2015 starts in July. At the board meeting, DePaola noted Governor Charlie Baker’s estimate, revealed Tuesday, that the current state budget deficit was $765 million. MassDOT will have to look for $25 million in spending reductions for fiscal 2015, DePaola said.
“I’d say it’s more of an important discussion for building our [fiscal 2016] budgets,” DePaola told the News Service.
Asked whether the late-night service was meeting financial expectations, MBTA general manager Beverly Scott said the agency will soon provide the board with a report.
Scott said preliminary data show that about 20 percent of the late-night riders were using the service for work commutes and about two-thirds of the riders already have passes.