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MBTA Late-Night Service Begins March 28

BOSTON — Nine years after ending its Night Owl bus program due to low ridership, the MBTA is again set to experiment with late-night service.

The new late-night service will begin on March 28. The one-year pilot program will run all subway lines, the Silver Line and 15 of the T’s busiest bus routes until 3 a.m. on weekends.

Officials on Thursday announce the March 28 start date for the MBTA's late-night pilot program. (MBTA via Twitter)

Officials on Thursday announce the March 28 start date for the MBTA’s late-night pilot program. (MBTA via Twitter)

Gov. Deval Patrick and transportation officials announced the pilot program’s start date Thursday morning in Kendall Square. State officials had previously revealed that the program would begin this spring.

The program will cost about $16-17 million for the year, according to the MBTA, mostly in the form of salaries for T employees.

“We’ve had to do some hiring so that we could in fact wind up being able to support the service,” MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott said Wednesday. “So that’s going to be the operators that you see, but also our service personnel, our maintenance personnel.”

The MBTA does not plan to break even on the pilot program.

“If we were probably somewhere at the end of the day around 30 percent in terms of cost recovery, that would be doing pretty doggone well,” Scott said.

To make up the difference, the plan relies on funding from the state, as well as from corporate sponsorships.

One of those sponsors is the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Its president, Bob Luz, says the service is crucial, not only for his patrons, but also for his employees.

“Our establishments don’t necessarily stay open until last call,” he said. “So even folks that are getting off at 11 or 12 often have obstacles getting home. So making sure they can get home safely and economically is a great, great thing for them.”

Trains will run largely on a weekend schedule, Scott said, with trains arriving every 10 to 15 minutes.

Officials say support for the plan is overwhelming. Some 26,000 people responded to a rider survey last year, with nearly all in favor of extending the T’s operating hours.

More than half said they’d be willing to pay extra for late-night service.

The question is whether that support will translate into use. The T’s last crack at running late, an all-bus service called the Night Owl, was discontinued in 2005 due to lack of ridership.

But state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey says the addition of subway service, along with smartphone apps that track arrival times, will be the difference.

“With technology today, us standing here, we can figure out exactly when the next bus is coming, when the next Red Line train is coming,” he said. “So that kind of certainty I think will really make this a successful launch this time.”

Not everyone is in favor of the plan. By running trains later, the T cuts down on the number of hours it can repair the more than 100-year-old system.

Others call it a “cosmetic fix.” They say rather than straining the system to run an extra four hours a week, the MBTA should instead be shooting for 24-hour service.

Scott says the T has adjusted its maintenance schedule to handle the reduced time for repairs.

And as for 24-hour service, she says that’s the eventual goal, but it’s still a long way off, and would require a major investment in manpower and infrastructure.

“It’s all doable, but let’s go ahead and paint what that picture would be,” she said. “Because if you never do it, then you begin to bite off of it, I call it like Pac-Man: you don’t try to eat the elephant all at one time!”

The first step, she says, is making sure there are enough riders to justify the extra two hours on the weekend.

According to the state, the 15 late-night bus routes will be: 1, 15, 22, 23, 28, 32, 39, 57, 66, 71, 73, 77, 111, 116 and 117.

Thursday’s announcement comes days after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he’s appointing a late-night task force, with an eye toward extended closing hours for some nightspots.

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  • buderman

    Is late night or 24 hour coverage really the most important thing for the T? Possibly spending that 20 million a year on fixing crumbing infrastructure would be a wiser investment in the system. The question is why is 24 hour coverage so important if there is not demand for it and the overall sustainability and viability of the system is in question. What I see as much more important is improving transit times for mass and intercity transit connections so as for people going from suburban Boston to other MA and NE cities or from say Billerica to Downtown to not have to go through a logistical, time consuming mess to use mass and intercity transit, rather than making sure the barflies have trains.

    • mac319

      The idea isn’t just for “barflies” but rather for businesses to be better equipped to actually serve customers. I understand your perspective (most likely) as a man who commutes via the commuter rail from the suburbs, but Boston needs to retain more young talent. This is more than just an effort to satiate the late night drinkers, but rather it is a PR move to improve the appeal of the city to young professionals. With the amount of outstanding universities in the greater Boston area, it is alarming to see how many choose to leave the city post graduation. The Boston tech scene has fallen behind New York’s and needs to shed the reputation as a talent farm for other areas of the United States and this is a great (and fast) start to that process.

      • J__o__h__n

        The high rents are a bigger problem than early closing bars. Also, NY has happy hour which mitigates the overpriced drink costs (we have NY prices but no deals).

    • Lawrence

      You’re right. Of all the people interviewed on this issue, it’s the drinking businesses and those who like to party that are the most vocal.

  • Dorian

    why isn’t the 34 bus included in late night service? combined ridership on the 34, 34E and 40, which all share more or less the same route, is around 8,000 (which would put it in the top 10) – plus there are a bunch of other lines that run through Roslindale Square, with a total combined ridership that is way above what any Silver Line route sees.

    Can someone at the MBTA please explain why service through Roslindale (and West Roxbury for that matter – another place where 3 bus lines that share the same route) were completely neglected in this plan?

  • Guest

    I’m sure the taxi-drivers are thrilled.

  • J__o__h__n

    Why not charge $1 or $2 more to make the program more sustainable? It would still be much less expensive than a cab.

  • Fresh Mountain Air

    Our creativity, moral standards, learned customs, and traditions are four of the key differences between mankind and the other animals.

  • buderman

    what are you in 5th grade? C’mon man if you are going to be blunt and rude to someone by calling them stupid or dumb at least explain why you think the person is stupid in a thoughtful or reasoned way.

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