MBTA considers earlier trips on some bus routes
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is considering more than $562,000 worth of extra bus service for routes that predominantly serve low-income and minority riders in an attempt to make up for pulling the plug on late-night service last month.
But the MBTA’s fiscal control board on Monday postponed a vote on the extra buses, which means the changes may not take effect until fall — at least six months after the end of late-night service.
John Englander, general counsel for the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the MBTA staff did not intend to restore late-night service, which board members said they cut because of its expense. The service cost about $14 million in the 2015 fiscal year.
“The goal of mitigation is to mitigate any potential impact on minorities or low-income [riders],” Englander said. “It is not to return late-night service [to the schedule].”
Under the proposals presented Monday, officials could add more early-morning weekday trips on Route 116 and 117 from East Boston to Revere, for about $147,620. For about $120,000, the MBTA could also add more buses to Route 66, which runs from Dudley Square to Harvard Square. For $147,620, officials could add Saturday morning trips to Route 111 (Haymarket to Everett) and 109 (Sullivan Square to Malden), and for $147,620, it could add weekend morning trips for Routes 116/117, 426 (Haymarket to Lynn), and 455 (Revere to Salem).
But because board members also wanted to consider an overnight service proposal published in Commonwealth Magazine by transportation advocates, the T will come back in a few weeks with an analysis of those service changes before voting.
Under the proposal by public transportation advocates Ari Ofsevit, Jeremy Mendelson, and James Aloisi, a former transportation secretary, the T could provide overnight service by largely expanding on existing early-morning trips that run before the MBTA’s regular opening time. The service, which they estimated to cost about $1 million, would provide hourly trips throughout the night at certain hubs.
“We certainly recognize that there is interest in late-night or overnight service,” said Charles Planck, the T’s deputy chief operating officer.
Planck also told board members that they should vote this week so that the changes could take effect in June. But because they didn’t, any changes might take until fall because the MBTA would need time to change its schedules.
Rafael Mares, a vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, said he worries that would inconvenience the riders who need the service most.
“They could at least dull the impact on the populations that have been impacted disproportionately here,” he said.
The move to consider more buses on certain routes comes after the MBTA was rebuked by the Federal Transit Administration last month for moving to eliminate its weekend late-night service pilot program without considering the effect on low-income and minority riders.
The T completed an analysis after being forced to do so. One interpretation showed that there could be a disproportionate effect on vulnerable riders. According to federal rules, a service cut that disproportionately hurts low-income and minority riders would force a transit agency to adopt service strategies to help mitigate the effects.
Despite T officials previously saying the analysis showed “mixed results’’ about the burden on low-income and minority riders, Englander said Monday he does not believe that cutting late-night service would create a disproportionate burden.
“I don’t think there’s any obligation to mitigate,” he said. “This is being done on a voluntary basis.”
Also on Monday, the board approved a $2.02 billion spending plan for the 2017 fiscal year that relies on extra state revenue to balance the budget. Last month, MBTA officials touted their work reducing the deficit between projected revenues and expenses from $95 million during the 2016 fiscal year to $80 million during the 2017 fiscal year.