Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said cutting weekend late-night MBTA service could have negative long-term implications on public transit.
On Monday, members of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board made it all but certain they will shut down late-night bus and subway service early next year to save between $10 million and $15 million per year. Speaking to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio Tuesday, Walsh said ending the service would send the wrong message.
“We have to promote riding. And we have to keep the T open later to promote riding. That’s one of the mindsets we have to figure out here,’’ said Walsh, who has no power over the T. “Closing down the late-night service, I think, doesn’t help you long-term. I know it gives you a $13 million infusion of cash. We know there’s a financial issue there.’’
Walsh described the decision about whether to cut late-night service as a “tough one’’ given the T’s uneasy financial state.
“But at the other side of it, it’s about expanding the T and getting people out there,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of people affected by not having a late-night service. … The reason for the late-night service is that people who work in restaurants and hotels and want to come home, don’t have to spend the money taking the cabs home.’’
Late-night service attracts about 13,000 riders per weekend night, according to the MBTA. Past surveys have indicated riders mostly use the service for social or entertainment reasons, followed by commuting from work.
Late-night service began in 2014 as a pilot and was continued with some cuts in 2015. It keeps subway service operating until 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings, as opposed to the usual 12:30 a.m. closing time.
Officials have said the T expected more corporate backing for the service than it received.
Walsh said the MBTA’s various problems, highlighted throughout 2015 after February snowstorms stunted transit, are “ultimately a cash problem.’’ He said more state funding should go to the T, which is facing a steep budget gap of $242 million for next year and a massive repair backlog of more than $7 billion.
“You can’t reform or cut your way into having a good T service,’’ he said.
“I think the T has two problems,’’ he added. “I think it has a financial problem. From what I’m hearing, there’s a financial issue there. And then there’s also an infrastructure problem. And to fix the financial problem you also need money, and then to fix the infrastructure problem you need money.’’
The T’s control board, which was created by the legislature at the urging of Gov. Charlie Baker over the summer, has been tasked with closing the budget gap with a combination of cost cuts and revenue from internal sources like fares and advertising. It has also stated a goal of putting more than $750 million per year toward infrastructure repairs per year to tackle the repair costs.
Walsh lamented the outcome of a 2014 ballot question that saw voters shoot down a law tying the gas tax to inflation. The additional revenue was supposed to go toward transportation infrastructure.
If the question came up after the last year’s transportation woes, it may have seen a different result, Walsh said.
“If the voters voted today, I think that would pass today,’’ he said.
Later in the interview, Walsh said that for all its issues, the T is “really not that bad.’’