If late-night revelers try to catch the subway after 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, they will be sorely disappointed: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority planned to end its two-year foray into extended hours early Saturday morning.
For the last time, late-night subway trains were expected to depart downtown stations around 2 a.m. Saturday. The T then planned to resume its normal operating hours, with the last trains departing the downtown stations at 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Similarly, the last buses will now depart around 12:30 a.m.
The final ride for late-night service comes after months of hints from MBTA officials about how much the extended hours cost the agency — to the chagrin of advocates who say Boston needed the service to retain its reputation as a world-class city.
MBTA officials first launched late-night hours under Governor Deval Patrick in 2014, telling riders that the service’s survival was up to them and their ridership. Riders responded in kind, with more than 16,000 rides a night when it first started, and steady ridership in the months afterward.
But officials had also hoped that businesses would be able to help pay for the service with sponsorships. Companies provided just about $100,000, and the Boston Globe and the Red Sox provided about $750,000 worth of promotional services. But those were paltry sums, compared to the $14.4 million late night service cost the MBTA in the last fiscal year.
Ultimately, amid a slight ridership decline, the high cost of service, and complaints about how the late hours cut into MBTA workers’ overnight maintenance schedules, officials began hinting by early 2015 that the service could end.
After a disastrous winter and a new focus on reining in the agency’s costs, the service’s chance of survival seemed even slimmer. By February, the MBTA had eliminated late-night shifts from workers’ schedules, even before the agency’s fiscal control board officially voted to nix the service weeks later.
Officials will now have to consider ways to mitigate the effects of the end of the service on minority and low-income riders. Officials had tried to avoid a federally required civil rights analysis before ending the service but were later rebuked by officials for doing so.
The T wants to improve the quality of its bus service to help make up the service’s end, which could relieve overcrowding on early-morning bus routes that typically serve lower-income riders or provide more weekend bus trips on other lines. Officials have also said that they plan on exploring partnerships with private sector companies, such as ride-hailing services Bridj and Uber.