Could college students fund late-night T service?

TransitMatters links us to a proposal by the MBTA Ridership Oversight Committee for a college-student pass system to help pay for overnight T service.

Under the proposal, colleges in the MBTA district would buy monthly, unlimited-ride T passes good for all of their students. Even with a 50% discount, the income from the 250,000 students the program would cover would be more than enough to pay for resumption of overnight service; the committee says even if only half those students had passes bought for them, the T could still afford to bring back the old Night Owl late-night bus lines on weekends.



Free tagging: 


Pro: funding, no more

Pro: funding, no more habitual student fare evasion, greater service hours, more students using transit instead of driving.

Con: the entire system becomes the BU bus section of the B-Line. Students overcrowding, delaying trains and buses, to ride ONE DAMN STOP.

Now why isn't BPS forced to do the same for all their high-school students?

Ideally, under this new

Ideally, under this new system, the MBTA wouldn't have to be so neurotic about opening all doors at above-ground stops, since the majority of "fare evaders" near NEU/BU would now have involuntary monthly passes - thereby, the awful front-door system wouldn't slow down affairs so much.

Potentially, new money flow and demand could also prompt more frequent trains, or upgrades to the line such that 3-cars can be run more frequently without shorting the current.

Sounds good to me

A great idea. The devil's in the details though. Is there / would there be enough demand to run all four subway lines? Would there be bus service, too? Who would decide what runs and what doesn't? The Green Line makes the most sense, obviously, but then you have people squawking about not being able to take the Red Line to Ashmont or Orange Line to Oak Grove.

Also, let's be honest. This is a tax. It's clever, I'll give them that. It basically charges all students for something only some (or, few?) will use - transit after midnight.

Blue Line

It's the Blue Line that needs something like this the most. For example, if a BU student is stranded in the theater district after a night of drinking they can drunkenly walk home to campus dorms if they have to. But with no T or no car or cab you can't walk on water to East Boston.

Why Turnpike and Tunnels Shutdown Every Night

That's the same reason why they shutdown the Turnpike and the Harbor Tunnels every night. There's very little demand in the middle of the night, and it would cost more just for electricity to power the fans and lights than would ever be recouped in tolls during that time. So, it makes more sense to simply send the toll collectors home and shutdown those roads overnight. The few drivers that might otherwise use the Turnpike and tunnels seek alternate routes after midnight, or they just wait until morning.

No turnpike tolls pay for

No turnpike tolls pay for keeping the road open 24/7; but you are right, in the wee hours of the morning the users of the turnpike do not pay what it costs to keep the road open just for them. However, the daytime turnpike users appreciate that having the road always open is important for their communities so they do not begrudge paying a little extra to support a few nighttime drivers.
That T riders could learn as much.

Why not force all the bars

Why not force all the bars and restaurants to buy passes for their employees, considering theyre the ones that have to get home at 2:30am?

Why not force all the hospitals who have stuff coming and going at all hours?

And while were at it, we really need to close all the highway tunnels from 11pm-5am. Theyre not bringing in enough revenue during those hours.


We could take away the terribly lucrative property tax exemption status of the schools in Boston and bring in 10 times the revenue here. It would also have the added benefit of removing a perverse incentive for the universities to dump money into very expensive city real estate, rather than teachers and students. Real estate that is often underutilized for what it is (check out the parking lots and practically empty office buildings down commonwealth).

Granted, there might be a few students that never use the bus or subway, but $30/month for train and bus service is probably much less then they use monthly as is. Plus they get the added benefit of later service. Pretty sure back in the day PVTA service was part of UMASS tuition, and it was great even if it was vastly underutilized by the students out there.

Alternatively Boston could

Alternatively Boston could look like Detroit as all the universities leave, taking the hospitals and tech companies with them, to areas with cheaper real estate and lower taxes. Though I agree with you that land shouldn't be tax exempt if it isn't being used for academic purposes. BU & Harvard are sitting on way too much undeveloped or underutilized property right now because it doesn't cost them a dime after the initial acquisition.

Just pointing out

That universities get very lucrative tax breaks up and down, and something like this pales in comparison on a per student basis if the city / state asked for all those breaks back. Still you're right. The tax break we gave to Liberty Mutual could have funded this service for years as well.

Tax breaks cost us something, and there's a reason infrastructure spending as an inflation adjusted percentage of GDP is at it's lowest point in 50 years. Even as we rely more than ever on the economic benefits of these systems that are crumbling.

Put it another way, if this city allowed businesses to operate later, and we had reliable transportation later at night, there's be a heck of a lot more economic activity going on in this city. That more jobs for people, more income circulating, and more demand for housing and services. It also becomes an even more attractive place for people to live and business to operate using their education and social capital.

Rising tides and all, pushing for more everything after the 9-5 is a surefire way to grow Bostons economy. Especially since some of the major industries are Medical, Educational, and Biotech; which don't typically have strict 9-5's as is.

Not a tax break

They are not taxable under federal code, and only the educational portions get that treatment.

Tax giveaways - like Liberty Mutual negotiated - are an entirely different story.

Too easy to yak on about that which you clearly know very little, eh?

Keep dreaming

As much as I'd like to see Owl Service bought back. It won't come back.

It's not about the funding, the T made $$$$ doing so. I think their union had alot to say about employees working that late.

Come on, the old Night Owl was cash only, no passes accepted. And these buses were jammed packed. Don't tell me the T didn't make money or at least break even. They did, but a much stronger power had a stronger say about the matter.

Don't hold your breath on this one folks.

The Night Owl failed because

The Night Owl failed because it was one bus that was often hard to find, and impossible to know whether it had already passed.

The T should run the subways all night when possible and offer bus replacement service all night when not. At the very least, major bus lines and routes to the airport should be running all night.

The Night Owl failed because

The Night Owl failed because the bus driver's union didn't accept those hours as part of a regular shift and required drivers to be paid hefty overtime. The Boston Elevated Railway and its successor MTA ran 24 hour service along key routes until the early 1960s.

The Night Owl failed because

management wanted it to fail. First, by foolishly giving in to the union's demands for overtime. Second, because it was poorly scheduled and run (for example, having ONE bus serving all stops on the south end of the Red Line).

Running overnight service on the subway lines and key bus routes would be far more effective than having a few "special" bus routes trying to mimic each of the subway lines.


Does this union-bashing BS have a citation?

I can't for the life of me find any source that talks about the UNION THUGS making this decision. Apparently, it seems to be due to


The T did experiment with "Night Owl" bus service from 2001 to 2005, but abandoned it on account of the $7.53 per rider cost to the MBTA to keep the service open, five times the cost per passenger of an average bus route.

It not being profitable:

The Night Owl, which offers nine bus routes until 2:30 a.m. on weekends, cost MBTA $7.53 per rider, compared to $1.53 per rider for an average bus route. Cutting the program will save an estimated $1 million dollars next year.
City Councilor Jerry McDermott (Allston-Brighton) argued that these costs were inevitable.
"No one ever thought that the Night Owl would pay for itself," he said.

It mostly serving students instead of productive drones of the economy:

Pesaturo also noted that the main beneficiaries of the Night Owl service seemed to have been collegiate revelers rather than workers toiling into the early morning.

“There’s no doubt that the ridership was dominated by college students,” he said.

Francis, the late-night worker who rode the Night Owl, said that she remembered that ridership was comprised of “almost all young people” when she took it home from Jamaica Plain. She added that the whole bus was only about one-fourth full.

“This is not like New York, the city that doesn’t sleep,” added Pesaturo, who noted that the service was “sparsely” used. “This city does sleep.”

You want someone to blame, blame the people prioritizing cost-cutting over providing useful social services.

Politically appointment

Politically appointment management is kissing cousins with the unions (which are given financial incentive to vote for the politicians appointing the management). That's the problem! The public has no real representation at the table.

Stop blaming unions

Start blaming Western and Central MA politicians who fucked over the T with ridiculous debt while crying poverty every time a big storm washes out roads that serve far fewer people.

They need to be taught a lesson about who subsidizes whom!

Why is the T in the Red?

Have you actually researched this?

The T is in the red because they have a mountain of debt and a major source of their income (sales tax) not only is unpredictable, but bears no relation to any of the actual needs of the system.

Forward funding makes a lot of sense- before the current system was put into place there were no cost controls on the T- but the funding mechanism was and is a recipe for disaster.

Cost of labor

abandoned it on account of the $7.53 per rider cost to the MBTA

The union bit comes in because they demanded to be paid at 200% normal wage per hour for work during the hours in which the Night Owl runs.

This is substantially more than other cities.

And the primary component of transit operating cost is labor.

So the $7.53/rider could potentially be a reflection of the extreme costs of labor.

It could also be a few other things: it's generally computed by taking overall estimated cost minus overall estimated revenue and dividing by the number of estimated riders. There's all sorts of ways those numbers could be off. That's why the T recommends that you do not use their numbers to compare cost/rider between them and other systems; internal use only.

As to why Night Owl could work better this time: assuming the labor issue can be worked around, then the next step is to design it properly. Night demand is not the same as day demand so it doesn't really make sense to use the exact same routes. Especially if you substitute shuttle buses for rail lines. Design the routes appropriately, publicize night maps, integrate NextBus predictions, and arrange timed transfers. Full article here.

That's how most other cities with successful Night Owl programs tend to do it.

MIddle and upper classes don't ride the T

The upper middle class and upper class don't ride the T, ten years ago when I was in college and hung out with BU girls they refused to take the T - cab only from their apartments that mom and dad paid for over to our Dorms.......same with professionals that make good enough salaries to pay for the parking space and the car...they drive so they don't have to rub elbows with anyone who might not be a well off as they are....we need a culture shift or a congestion tax to drive in the city to change things!

Huge declines in college grad car ownership

Hence all the bike riding. And increasing crowds on the T. People have stopped buying cars when they leave college because that often means another $20-30K of debt on top of their student loan debt.

Despite the default rate, many college grads who do have jobs are paying down their loan debt faster than predicted because they aren't pumping $10-15K into a car each year.

Bike Riding

I have to agree the rising student loan debt.** I'm sure it is affecting choices and it seems very logical that car buying is affected. It is one my major worries as part of the Millennials, we could be the first generation to see a decline in quality of life in comparison to the previous generations at the same age.

That said, I do want to qualify your statement. I don't think, as a generation, that if we had debt more in line with previous generations that we would just abandon bikes as implied. For example, riding within the city means the bike is quite competitive for commute times. With other functional reasons and some social (some cyclist may ride to be a hipster or some reason), and it is reasonable to arguing growth reflects multiple shifts than just economics.

**BTW, to spread the news to many as possible: Congress's current solution to the student loan doubling is now attaching it to US Treasuries. It brings it back to the original interest rate, but it will rise slowly in the future? A frog jumps out if put in a boiling pot, but fail to realize the danger when put in a pot that is slowly heated to boil.

I think you overstated

Are middle and upper classes taking the T less and more reluctant? I can see that.

Are avoiding the T to roughly to the scale they middle and upper "don't ride the T"? I believe that's an overstatement.

Plenty of BU people take the T (and I'm guessing in large enough numbers that it can't be only the students of poorer backgrounds of BU). Also there tons of well-paid professionals, pretty sure many take the T in substantial numbers. Though on some days they just take the car.


How much of that is reliability issues as well. Overcrowded rush hours and no guarantee that you'll get to anywhere on time kills the MBTA for many.

Many in middle management where I work could care less if people show up late, because they know the MBTA is a crapshoot.

(Notwithstanding the fact that a good manager isn't a clock watcher, but a "is the work getting done" person)

Why The Southeast Expressway Is So Popular

That's why so many people rely on the Southeast Expressway instead of taking the T to work in Boston. It's never crowded during rush hour, and accidents or other possibilities for delay happen so rarely that anyone who needs to be at work on time knows they can depend on the Expressway to get them there. The commuters who drive I-93 to and from work every day are very lucky! It's not just the fastest way into Boston, it's also one of the most scenic and relaxing drives in all of New England; a very lovely way to end a long day at work! It's easy to understand why those drivers would never wish to take a chance on public transit.

It's an idea ...

.. but it isn't clear to me that universities will be looking to have more upward cost pressure in exchange for the "benefit" of having their students out at 4am.

I'd rather fund late-night

I'd rather fund late-night service by having some existing inspectors drive the trains and buses.

What exactly are inspectors supposed to do all day? I know what they don't do: make sure buses don't leave early, or help people catch their connections when trains are delayed.

And the T should offer a 10% bonus for working overnight, not 100% like last time. If existing employees don't want the extra work at that salary, they don't have to take it -- someone else can do it.

No you are right.....

Most municipal type unions will get more money for working the night shift. 30% sounds a little high to me for public sector types, but sometimes it is a flat bouns ($1,000-3,000?). I guess that could add up to 30% for certain jobs though so I don't know.