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The great last train debate, and the first day on the job

Posted by Nichole Davis  December 17, 2012 06:38 PM

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It's not often that I run in heels, but when I do, it's usually to catch the last train.

While many don't (seemingly) have that problem, the fact that the T's subway service doesn't run past the later minutes of the midnight hour on both weeknights and weekdays is something of a pain in the rear to many. We've often heard the reasoning behind why that is - be it budget cuts, track work, or something else - but the call for later service continues to come from city dwellers, suburbanites and tourists alike.

I heard from Ed, a frequent reader, recently. He piqued my curiosity when he wrote in with this tidbit:

At least one person (in your 11/26 blog, which referred to the chat with the incoming T GM) said that Boston 'seems to be the only major city' that closes the subway system as early... If you look to even larger cities than Atlanta or Boston, I know from experience that both Toronto and Paris have similar operating hours to the T for their subway systems.

Paris runs their system from 5:30 AM to 1:00 AM daily (until 2:00 AM Fridays, Saturdays, and legal holidays). They run a nighttime bus service from 12:30 AM to 5:30 AM, though these buses run different routes than the subway lines and do not connect all of the subway stops overnight. Toronto runs their subway system (and streetcars) from 6:00 AM to 1:30 AM weekdays and Saturdays, and from 9:00 AM to 1:30 AM on Sundays.

Toronto's subway system is about the size of Boston's T in terms of stations, etc. (though it likely carries more people). Paris' subway system is much larger than the T (both in ridership and in lines/miles). Both presumably use the down time to do cleaning and maintenance, as do the T and MARTA.

Very good points. I was curious to see just how many cities around the nation shut down as early or earlier than the MBTA, so I went hunting. I found a very interesting infographic on a blog about transit in the Washington, DC area that lays out what time the last train leaves on the majority of the nation's largest transit systems. Check it out here.

It seems as if Boston falls right in the middle, with the absolute last train leaving at 12:53 AM. Of course, you've got the MTA in New York City that's 24 hours, but that's, well, New York, the city that never sleeps. Philadelphia's PATCO is also a 24 hour service. Chicago's CTA runs service 24 hours, but only on a couple of lines. New Jersey Transit cuts service for a few hours in the deep overnight, and both San Jose and Denver run their service until just about 2 AM.

If you think trains shut down here too early, check out the Sacramento transit system - their light rail shuts down at 10:30! We also beat Los Angeles (Celtics fans rejoice!) by six minutes, Seattle by 16, and Washington, DC by a whopping 47. So, imagine what people in larger cities have to say about the same issue.

So, what's the deal? I heard from Matt in Brighton. He gave me a heads-up from his father, who was an MBTA employee for 25 years:

New York has 4 tracks so they may do maintenance on two and keep the trains open all day and night. Boston, with its aging subway infrastructure, has 2 tracks, one each way, making work all but impossible to do while the train is running. Not to mention you are going to drive up costs of wages, benefits, overtime, police detail, safety detail etc.. by running them all night for the few people out at that hour.

Okay, I can see that. If they continue to cut into the overnight servicing time on the tracks, then that could possibly mean more weekend busing to be put in place, which is never fun. Then again, couldn't they just run limited service on one track and take turns? I'm not an engineer, but it would be interesting to see if the tracks are even designed for such a thing. Plus, there's that whole we-need-money problem that the T's got to balance. Where is the pay supposed to come from for all of the necessities? They're having issues running service the way it is now.

Don't forget that we had the Night Owl service here in the city for a while - just a few months, if I remember correctly - and that floundered pretty quickly. T spokesman Joe Pesaturo told Metro last year that “it wasn’t drawing ridership that some people suggest late night service would." There was a big push earlier this year to bring the service back, even with Mayor Tom Menino chiming in with support. However, the T continued to say it was simply unaffordable and would get in the way of repairs.

So, we're stuck between a train and a hard place. You've got late night workers, college students, working professionals, and travelers who depend on the MBTA. Cab fares can get pretty expensive if you have to go from Logan to outside the city of Boston (or even inside, closer to Brighton). Bars and restaurants around the city are starting to stay open later and later, and increased service could mean a boom for their businesses.

Also, the MBTA continues to report rising ridership, so they have to find a way to cater to that ridership that might eventually want later hours of service. Traffic congestion through the city is still abysmal, and there's campaigns to park the cars and ride the T - but how can you do so if you're not sure you can curb your plans inside (or out of) the city to correlate with that last train that you may or may not make?

It's time for you to chime in: How would you like to see this handled? Do you think there is a good solution to this problem? Do people just have to suck it up and deal with it, or should there be more of a push for Night Owl service, at least? Would you be willing to pay higher fares for nighttime service? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

First day at the office

Beverly Scott's been General Manager of the MBTA for not even one day, and she's already been very busy.

This morning, Scott spent some quality time at the Chinatown station on the Orange Line, as well as the State station on the Blue Line. While there, she helped to unveil more of those new countdown clocks that have been rolling out across the Red Line for some time now. While she was there, it was announced that 24 more stations system-wide now have the countdown clocks, which brings the total of stations on the Blue, Red and Orange Lines covered by those clocks to 30. (Sorry, Green Line riders - still no word on when you'll get to experience the 21st century joys of GPS and smartphone apps.)

If you're expecting Scott to stick around for a long time, though, you may not like what she has to say about it. Scott told the State House News Service:

"I'm typically a start-up, fix-it, turnaround, transition manager. My typical lifespan at organizations is about a five-year period of time."

She'll have to jump right into a plethora of issues this week, including (of course), getting ready for a significant run through of funding for two big projects. The Green Line expansion into Medford is still looking for concrete funding, as we talked about recently, and officials over on the Commuter Rail side of things are hoping to expand service to the South Coast, with stops in Fall River and New Bedford.

One would think that starting these projects up before they've even got funding would not be the smartest route for an agency that's hurting on cash. Thankfully, there are some who agree with me, including Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr from Gloucester. He told the State House News Service last year that he was curious as to:

"Why wouldn't we consider postponing it or avoiding it until the folks who run the MBTA say they can restore it to solvency without extraordinary measures like tax increases?"

I wouldn't say tax increases are necessarily extraordinary, but this is not a financial blog and I'm not here to talk about my thoughts about taxes. I will say that, with an agency that is suffering from a significant deficit and a ridership still reeling from rate hikes and cuts in service, tacking on more projects may not be the best thing to do.

Then again, Scott was well known in Atlanta for her stark austerity measures in trying to decrease the MARTA deficit (as we also discussed recently). She told the News Service she understands the fiscal concerns, but that extension of some service is necessary:

"It's very simple to say, "Of course, we need to fix it first, and insist on preservation. We have a major asset here. But at the same time we're talking about offering economic prosperity and growth for a Commonwealth, for a region," Scott said.

Transporation Secretary Richard Davey somewhat echoed Scott's thoughts during today's hang-out session in the T. He says that extensions and add-ons, like the Assembly Square project, are going to be essential for the economic growth of the area as a whole. He says that offering access to areas that previously weren't easy to get to will help to boost job creation - ergo, the money will flow:

"Perhaps it's a question of philosophy, but we believe the administration believes that we will achieve that goal that legislators of both parties want, which is job creation and economic development."

This debate will carry on for quite some time, seemingly, and I'm curious as to what she will make her priority. For now, I am welcoming her with open transit-arms and am looking forward to her first experience with Sob Story Guy, as Scott is reportedly planning on riding the MBTA full-time.

You'll find slowdowns here... (Downtown Boston edition)

Expressway / O'Neill Tunnel Southbound

The Essex Street ramp to 93 southbound will be closed on Tuesday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

Three left lanes will be closed starting inside the O'Neill Tunnel to Albany Street on 93 south on Tuesday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

Tobin Bridge

The ramp from Rutherford Avenue to Route 1 northbound on the Tobin Bridge will close Tuesday and Thursday from 11 PM to 5 AM.

Mass Pike Westbound

The ramps from the Sumner Tunnel to the Surface Artery and 93 northbound will be closed on Tuesday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

The ramps from Congress Street and the Ted Williams Tunnel to 93 will be shut down on Thursday from 11:30 PM to 5 AM.

Leverett Connector Tunnels

The westbound connector tunnel, which carries traffic under Leverett Circle, will close each night Monday through Thursday from 10:30 PM to 5 AM.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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