The MBTA wanted to know what its riders thought about starting late-night service and whether they would wait longer and shell out more cash for a postmidnight lift. They figured that maybe 500 would answer an online survey. Instead, nearly 26,000 did, almost all in favor of extended subway and bus hours.
Desire, however, does not always translate into results, especially for the perennially cash-starved transit agency. But the survey’s creators hope the flood of responses will provide a road map for night-owl service if legislators choose to pay for it.
More than 85 percent of those who answered the survey said they would be willing to wait at least 10 to 19 minutes for a late-night bus or train. more than half said they would be willing to pay at least double the normal fare for night-owl subway service.
Their desperation was evident. “This would literally be the best thing ever,’’ wrote one.
“This would change the nightlife in Boston,’’ added another. “It would make my life so much better!’’
And a few went for the dramatic. “Please, for the sake of all mankind, do late night subway service,’’ one wrote, in all capitals.
The MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, volunteers who advise the T on customer service issues, will use the survey results to recommend possible late-night service strategies in the next few months. Reid Sprite, cochairman of the committee, said he and other members will identify which routes would be most popular with the after-hours crowd.
“We’re figuring out whether the current daytime routes meet nighttime needs,’’ Sprite said.
ironing out details of a late-night service plan is not high on the list of priorities for officials at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, given a gaping budget deficit and the prospect of dramatic fare increases if the Legislature does not approve giving the transit system a jolt of cash.
But late-night service is one of the promises that appear in Governor Deval Patrick’s transportation funding plan, which salts away $25 million in the T’s supplemental operating budget for “modest service improvements’’ such as extended hours, that could make night-owl service a reality.
“We realize it’s something a lot of people would like, and it’s something we want to explore,’’ MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said. “But we can’t do that until we stabilize our finances.’’
New York’s subway has 24-hour service, while Chicago’s L keeps two of its primary routes running around the clock. but MBTA officials have said that extending hours on the subway — lines stop running about 1 a.m. — is difficult because repair crews need time for maintenance work.
From 2001 to 2005, the T tried an after-hours bus service that ran along the most popular bus routes and traced subway lines. The service, which ran from 1 to 2:30 a.m. weekend nights, was canceled because of scant use and budget constraints.
Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey
said in January that he expects night-owl bus service would be more popular now because of smartphone apps that provide real-time data on bus locations.
The lack of late-night mass transit and Boston’s propensity to shut down early have often been cited as proof of the city’s stodginess, something that makes it inhospitable for young professionals.
More than 75 percent of people who answered the survey said they would be willing to use buses for their late-night needs.
Admittedly, oversight committee members said, the survey, which was publicized on Facebook and Twitter, was unscientific. But they were stunned when they received 25,791 responses.
Some results were unsurprising: Late-night service on Friday and Saturday proved most popular, and nearly all of the respondents said they would use the service to enjoy local nightlife.
But 60 percent said they would also use the service on Thursday nights. And 35 percent said they would use night-owl buses or trains to get home from work, while a similar number said they would use it to get to or from school.
The survey left space for comments, and thousands took advantage of the opportunity to fire off passionate pleas, some expletive-laced, or peppered with the same words, over and over: “Please!’’ “Yes!’’ “Finally!’’
“It must be done,’’ wrote one.
“It would change Boston from a sleepy, boring, frustrating town, to an accommodating and safer city!’’ said another.
A review of hundreds of the comments could find nary a discouraging word about the prospect of late-night service.
Some students said extended T hours would allow them to stay later at the library, while others relayed horror stories of missing the last T service at night. One person talked about sleeping overnight in an ATM vestibule to wait for the next morning’s first train instead of paying cab fare. A few urged T officials to make sure that the agency takes special measures to ensure safety on buses late at night.
Others made not-so-favorable comparisons between the Massachusetts transit system and 24-hour service provided in other cities.
“Even Philly has a ‘Night Bus,’’’ commented one, “and they haven’t even done away with the ancient subway token yet.’’
The service, another wrote, would attract many: “College kids! Young professionals! People who might otherwise move to New York, like myself!’’