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End Of Late-Night MBTA Service Sets Off Jockeying For Alternatives

With the elimination of the service, the MBTA is looking at ways to mitigate the impact on customers. Meanwhile, private companies are planning to step in and offer discounts to late-night riders. (learydotmark/Flickr)closemore
With the elimination of the service, the MBTA is looking at ways to mitigate the impact on customers. Meanwhile, private companies are planning to step in and offer discounts to late-night riders. (learydotmark/Flickr)

It’s the end of the line for weekend late-night MBTA service.

The last late-night train will depart downtown Boston at about 2 a.m. Saturday. And then the T will go back to its regular closing time of 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. 

The MBTA’s late-night service was axed in a vote last month by the transit agency’s fiscal control board. The T said the service wasn’t cost effective and cut down on overnight maintenance work. Many riders said the service was important for young people and workers with odd hours.

With the elimination of the service, the MBTA is looking at ways to mitigate the impact on customers. Meanwhile, private companies are planning to step in and offer discounts to late-night riders.

On Tuesday, at the latest meeting of the T fiscal board, officials said they are looking at possible alternatives for late-night service — including a replacement that would only involve buses, and not rail service.

The move comes after federal regulators criticized the agency for not completing an equity analysis before cutting late-night service. That analysis has now been completed and, under one measure, showed a disproportionate burden on minority and low-income communities.

So the T is looking to mitigate the loss of service for those groups and find an option that’s cost-effective. Assistant MBTA General Manager Charles Planck said any replacement would also focus on helping people get to work.

“While late-night service certainly provided for non-work trips, and some of those may not be provided in the future, if we focus targeting this [replacement] service on trips that benefit work-related benefit purposes, we think that will have the most important impact on our customers and our population,” Planck said.

The T is accepting public input on the mitigation plan through March 23. Some possible mitigation measures the agency outlined include adding extra bus trips for specific routes or collaborating with private companies. (Customers can send their comments to latenight@mbta.com.)

A Lyft Glowstache glows on the dashboard of a car in San Francisco on Feb. 03. (Josh Edelson/AP Images for Lyft)
A Lyft Glowstache glows on the dashboard of a car in San Francisco on Feb. 03. (Josh Edelson/AP Images for Lyft)

Meanwhile, private bus service Bridj is hoping to partner with the MBTA to provide late-night service. The Boston-based company has outlined a plan that it says can provide “flexible, demand driven transit.”

“We’d be happy to provide a really vital service, not just to the folks who are going out to visit the restaurants and the bars, but also to the people who are the workers and the bartenders who need to be able to get to and from their primary means of employment late at night,” Bridj CEO Matthew George said in a phone interview.

In an email, Bridj said the price would be determined by the MBTA.

For now, ride-hailing companies are seizing on the opportunity to get more late-night customers by offering discounts starting this weekend.

Uber announced last week that it will offer $5 flat fares for late-night trips along subway lines from March 19 to April 9. The discount will apply to shared rides using the company’s uberPOOL service from 12:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Those rides typically cost around $9, according to Chris Taylor, the general manager of Uber in Boston.

"We want to help ease the transition for people who've come to rely on the late-night service,” Taylor told WBUR. “So if you picked up in Alewife and wanted to go all the way to the other end of the Red Line that would cost just five bucks.”

Lyft is also offering discounted rides using the company’s carpool service Lyft Line. Shared rides taken between 12:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. will be 75 percent off this weekend and then 50 percent off through about mid-April. The average Lyft Line ride is under $10, according to the company.

“Just because the T is cutting back doesn’t mean people don’t have places to go during those hours,” Tyler George, the general manager of Lyft Boston, said in an interview. “So we thought that we could do a special deal for this time … and get people on their way to work or on the way home from bars or whatever they were doing on the late-night T service.”

Even with the discounts, however, these ride-hailing prices are more than a standard MBTA bus or subway fare — which cost $1.60 and $2.10, respectively, when using a CharlieCard.

Taxi drivers are also looking to get people on their way during late-night hours, according to Donna Blythe-Shaw, the spokeswoman for the Boston Taxi Drivers Association.

“We’re eager to fill the gap that will result in the end of the late-night T service,” Blythe-Shaw said. “Our drivers will be eager to be out there to collect fares and provide late-night service as they always did in the past.”

Late-night T service was first introduced in 2014 to much fanfare. It was then continued in 2015 but with fewer bus lines and scaled-back hours.

The T’s control board has been looking for ways to cut a deficit for next fiscal year, which the T said Tuesday is now estimated at $80.3 million --much lower than two previous projections of $138 million and $242 million. Late-night service cost $14.4 million to operate last fiscal year and provided 1.4 million trips — about 0.4 percent of all bus and subway trips — according to the MBTA.

The T previously attempted late-night service with a Night Owl program that launched in 2001 and ran buses along train routes until 2:30 a.m. on weekends. That service was axed in 2005 due to budget issues and low ridership.

WBUR's Steve Brown contributed reporting.

Zeninjor Enwemeka Digital Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a digital reporter at WBUR, covering all things relevant to people in Greater Boston.

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