Measured in terms of passenger trips and customer satisfaction, the MBTA's Late Night Service Pilot Program is a success. Measured simply in dollars and cents, however, it's a failure, expected to run a $10.7 million deficit during its first year. If things don't change, it seems likely the service will be cut back, or canceled entirely.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors will have the final say as to whether or not Late Night service will continue, basing its decision on what the MBTA’s Late Night Service Task Force recommends at the MassDOT board meeting on April 15th.
The MBTA's Late Night Service Task Force has been hosting a series of public hearings to gather riders’ feedback on their expectations and experiences, with two meetings already held (one on Tuesday evening; one last night) and another three scheduled for next week. They also held a Twitter Town Hall on March 2. (You can also email your comments until March 11th – [email protected].)
(The Boston City Council is hosting a hearing on Late Night Service, too. It's this evening, Thursday, March 5th, starting at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Enter on Congress Street after 5:30 p.m.)
In addition to soliciting feedback from the community, the MBTA Late Night task force has published an Interim Review of the program, which can be picked up at any of the meetings or downloaded (warning, PDF).
Briefly, the Late Night Service provides an extra 90 minutes of service Friday and Saturday nights (really, early Saturday and Sunday mornings, but you know what I mean) on all four subway lines, the Silver Line (it's a bus) (except SL2), the Mattapan Trolley, and 15 "key" bus lines. ("Key" bus lines according to the T include some of the most-popular bus lines: the 1, 15, 22, 23, 28, 32, 39, 57, 66, 71, 73, 77, 111, and 116/117 buses. Also, the RIDE paratransit service.)
The Late Night Service program appears to have been popular with riders - the T expects there will have been more than 1.4 million boardings by the end of March 2015, an average of 26,961 passengers per weekend (22,606 subway, 4,335 bus).
Of course, some lines/routes have been more popular than others: Park Street is the busiest station - ~1,700 passengers board there every weekend (this would include both Red and Green line riders, since there's no way for the T to track who goes where once inside the station), then State Street (Orange, Blue), Haymarket (Green, Orange), Harvard (Red), and Kenmore (Green). Not-so-popular lines/routes include the Mattapan Trolley, the 71, 73, 116/117 bus lines, and the RIDE.
In fact, during the 41 weeks, just 28 people used the RIDE overall (not per weekend; overall).
The T's Task Force sees these as options for raising more revenue:
- Eliminate late-night service at the end of the extended pilot
- Continue but with service changes
- Increase revenue from sponsorships
- Charge a late-night fare or fare supplement
- Other options suggested by riders
When the T talks about service changes, it means either reducing the frequency of some or all routes or dropping some routes, entirely (like, having the E Line end at Copley and having passengers transfer to the #39, which is almost the same route).
The T received $105,000 in cash from sponsors of the Late Night pilot program. It's not clear who would step up to contribute more money, or whether it would be significant enough to make a difference. Some people have been suggesting that bars & restaurants should contribute, since they are the ones, arguably, who benefit from the late night service. Others think that the colleges & universities should pay, since it appears their students are the ones using the T most.
Charging a late-night fare or having a surcharge seems to be an idea gathering steam. The T is considering having the CharlieCard not work at all, so that everyone has to pay to use the Late Night service. This would raise more revenue since right now, 59% of night-time passengers are using their CharlieCards and that doesn't raise anymore revenue. It's the 41% of people who pay at the turnstile who are bringing in the cash. (I'm simplifying.)
The T is also considering having a higher weekend fare and requiring CharlieCard holders to pay a surcharge to match the higher weekend fare - sort of like a CharlieCard Plus program.
Then there's the idea that the T raises the fare for anyone with a CharlieCard, regardless of whether or not they use the Late Night service, adding 2-4% (their numbers) to the LinkPass, for example (which costs $75 per month, currently).
The Interim Review goes into detail on what it costs to run the Late Night service, but it's too much to put here. You can download the report, or if you want, I wrote a lot more about all of this on my website, MBTA Late Night Service Pilot Program – an Interim Review report is released.
As mentioned above, the T is soliciting comments until March 11th and will then give its final recommendation to the DOT Board of Directors on April 15th. The Board will then vote on whether or not to continue the Late Night service beyond its scheduled June 19th end date.
Image above of dignitaries announcing the MBTA's Late Night Service on March 13, 2014 from the Mass.gov DOT website