Colleges should pay for late-night T service, report says

In the early 2000s, the MBTA offered a Night Owl bus service that traced subway lines through the city between 1 and 2:30 a.m. on weekend nights. That service was closed because of lackluster ridership. (Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff)
In the early 2000s, the MBTA offered a Night Owl bus service that traced subway lines through the city between 1 and 2:30 a.m. on weekend nights. That service was closed because of lackluster ridership. (Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff)
In the early 2000s, the MBTA offered a Night Owl bus service that traced subway lines through the city between 1 and 2:30 a.m. on weekend nights. That service was closed because of lackluster ridership. (Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff)

It’s perhaps the chief complaint heard from just-arrived college students in Boston: Why isn’t the T open past 12:30 a.m.?

Now, a T-affiliated group has a solution: If college students want late-night T service, colleges should pay for it.

In a report released Friday by the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee — a group of riders, advocates, and T employees who advise the transit agency — the organization proposed overhauling the T’s college discount program to provide the funds necessary to operate the subway system later into the night.

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The idea, based on the Chicago Transit Authority’s U-Pass program, requires that participating colleges and universities buy unlimited-use subway and bus passes for no less than 100 percent of their students. The passes would be discounted more deeply than the T’s current college pass program, which provides a flat 11 percent discount rate to students who opt in.

In exchange for buying passes for their entire student population, the colleges are assured that the revenue is dedicated specifically toward paying for late-night transit.

“The main reason for considering a revamped unlimited college student pass program in the Boston area is to generate revenue for the MBTA — potentially enough revenue to run overnight service,” the report said. “Providing overnight service in exchange for colleges buying into the program will make students and colleges more likely to accept such a program.”

If just half of the college students in the Boston area were provided with the unlimited transit pass at a 50 percent discount, it would bring in about $43 million in revenue per year, the report said. The Rider Oversight Committee estimated that running a late-night transportation service would cost the T less than $10 million per year.

Of course, there are other challenges hampering the T from operating late-night service. One problem is that the few hours the subway is closed each night are the only time T staff can make repairs on the aging system.

Still, the report might serve as ammunition for mayoral candidates who promise to push the T to extend nighttime service.