Advocates urge MBTA to offer late-night bus service
A transit advocacy group is calling on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to run eight overnight bus routes in the Boston area to compensate for the loss of late-night rail and bus service earlier this year.
Transit Matters, which lobbies for improved public transportation, is backing an estimated $3.5 million plan to run overnight buses every 75 minutes. The expanded service would cater to early- and late-shift workers in the hospitality and health care industries.
“This latest proposal similarly addresses not the desire, but the need of so many businesses and workers across the city,” Michelle Wu, president of the Boston City Council, said Monday at the weekly meeting of the MBTA’s fiscal control board.
Transit Matters had brought forward a similar proposal earlier this year. While MBTA officials appeared more open to the latest plan, they still voiced some reservations.
Brian Kane, the MBTA’s director of operations analysis, said the agency must gather more information, such as whether people would be willing to wait 75 minutes for a bus, whether the MBTA could use smaller buses, and what the service should cost.
“No one knows what the current need for overnight transportation services is,” he said.
Kane said the agency will work with Boston officials to gauge demand for overnight service. Chris Osgood, Boston’s chief of streets, told the MBTA board that Boston would support expanding hours to help “third-shift” workers.
The proposed routes are combinations of popular bus lines in the region, and would take advantage of several early morning bus routes the MBTA already provides.
Transit Matters estimated that the MBTA could run the expanded service with 10 to 15 extra buses, and that it could provide nearly 420,000 rides per year. MBTA officials said the total would be closer to 200,200 rides a year.
The plan would represent another gamble on late-night service, which has failed twice in the past 15 years. The MBTA’s fiscal control board eliminated weekend late-night service in March after concluding the ridership didn’t justify the $14.4 million cost.
But those affiliated with Transit Matters, including former Massachusetts transportation secretary James Aloisi, say the $3.5 million proposal is more cost-effective because it relies solely on buses, incorporates existing routes, and can reach more workers running throughout the week.
“We’re not explicitly asking for an expansion, but a necessary service that was cut before its time,” said Marc Ebuña, a leader of Transit Matters.
The agency’s budget woes, however, may stand in the way. Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, told the fiscal control board that it must focus on improving its existing routes.
“There may well be a time when the T can focus on service expansion, large and small,” he said. “But it’s not now.”
Stephanie Pollack, the state’s transportation secretary, also said that the agency would need to talk to neighbors in affected areas to determine their support. “There are clearly people who do not want people driving down their streets at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday,” she said.
The MBTA also announced Monday that beginning Nov. 21, riders will face nearly 100 changes to weekday commuter rail schedules, which had already been changed in May. Officials will gather input on another eight changes before implementing them.
MBTA officials said about 25 of the changes had been announced, and another 38 are related to construction and expanding service, including adding trains to a new station in Fitchburg. Overall, the changes affect about 20 percent of weekday trains.
The board also addressed protests from the Service Employees Union International district that represents the MBTA’s janitors. The two companies that employ the janitors recently laid off about 50 janitors and cut hours for another 83, the union said.
Some janitors said their schedules were cut by a single hour so they didn’t qualify for health benefits. Janitors could go on strike as soon as Friday, the group said.
Brian Lang, a fiscal board member and the president of a local union that represents food and hospitality workers, said he found it “unconscionable” for companies to make hourly cuts to eliminate health benefits. He called for an investigation and suggested the MBTA could rebid the janitors’ contract if the allegations are true.