Less than two years after launching its weekend late-night service, the MBTA is considering calling it off.
Part of the reason why: T officials, who are grappling with a big budget shortfall, question whether the service draws enough riders to justify the cost of keeping the trains running until 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“It’s incredibly expensive. Not that many people are utilizing it,’’ MBTA control board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt said at a meeting last week. Added MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve: “There was a sense that ridership would be much higher than it has been.’’
But it’s not like nobody’s been riding the trains and buses past the T’s normal bedtime. The MBTA says it logs 13,000 late-night rides per weekend night.
At least three surveys in the last two years have sought to find out why people use the late-night T. They each found social or entertainment purposes as the most common, and the separate surveys each said between 20 and 31 percent use it for work-related reasons. The T has also said some of its most active stations during late-night hours are in student-heavy areas.
We spoke with some late-night riders on the subway early Saturday morning. Some of them depend on the service, others think it’s a nice option to have, and one said she hardly ever uses it at all.
Teague Lyons, Green Line B branch
“Where I work doesn’t really have a place I can park my car, so it’s just sort of the easiest back and forth. … I’m a baker. … Sometimes [the shifts] run long. And I say sometimes—it’s pretty often. …
“As I was looking at the clock tonight, I was thinking I didn’t know exactly when I was getting out. And if the train wasn’t available later, then I’d just be trying to get a cab or something, which is a heck of a lot more expensive. And those are the busiest days of my week, so that’s when it’s most likely that I’ll be out late.’’
Reydi Lopez, Kenmore
“I have a job in a restaurant, and almost every restaurant over here closes late at night. So if we don’t have the service—the train at those hours—we need to spend more money on taxis to go home. And some people, like me for example, live too far from here. … I need to take two trains. …
“It’s too expensive to take a taxi every day from here to my home. So, that’s why I think the train is necessary.’’
Ryan Mace and Alexa Burton, North Station
Burton: “It’s the cheapest way to get home. It’s the most convenient way to get home. We used to live in D.C. before this, and their [weekend] Metro service is until 3 a.m. So it’s kind of what we’re used to.’’
Mace: “It’s kind of what we expect in a way. … Uber’s nice, and all those other transit services. We would rather do that than a taxi. But we would prefer public transportation if given the option. … Mostly, [we use it] to see friends we can’t see during the week, going out and spending time with them.’’
Burton: “At least once a week. Once or twice a week. … If the T wasn’t running late-night, I think that would definitely hinder the amount we go out on the weekends. Or we would keep it closer to [home in] Brookline so the Uber rates wouldn’t be so much.’’
Tana Rogers, Park Street
“It’s so funny, I never take the train this late. I was out with my co-workers, and one of my co-workers needed to take the train. I usually Uber. …
“When I lived in New York, I loved that you could—literally any time, at 3 a.m. or something—you could just hop on the train and go home safely, and it would be running.
“When I moved to Boston, I knew that wasn’t really an option. And it was kind of disappointing, but it wasn’t really a deal-breaker for me moving here. … But I thought that does kind of separate a city that has good transit from a city that’s not really dependant on transit.’’
Wan Blackheart, Central Square
“I work in the nightlife industry. I take photos. … I work at nightclubs or lounges. Usually the night ends at 2 a.m., but in reality, the bartenders, they don’t leave until 2:30 a.m. As a freelance photographer, I have some flexibility about when I can leave. …
“I really hope they keep the late-night service. Personally, I wouldn’t mind paying more for it. … This is my only option, especially during the winter, when it really sucks to bike from Boston to Cambridge. …
“I’ve been telling people, if the fare doubles for late-night, it’s better than paying for a cab, or Uber even. For where I live, I’d have to pay $20 for a cab.’’
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