Last March, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority began a pilot-program, set to expire this June, which has kept the T open until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights and until 1 a.m. the rest of the week. Now, Boston officials are debating whether to extend late-night MBTA services, and are planning to make a final decision about the program’s future on April 15. Two weeks ago, Boston city councilors supported a resolution urging the continuation of late-night services; final decision, however, remains with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors. We join the Boston City Council in urging the program’s extension, which will serve to affirm Boston’s commitment to developing a world-class transportation system commensurate to its global status.
As the nation’s fifth-largest mass-transit system, the MBTA sees approximately 1.3 million passenger trips per day. Over the past nine months, its late-night services have proved especially useful for professionals working irregular hours and, of greatest interest to the Harvard community, for students. Boston is irrefutably a college town. With more than 360,000 college and university students in the metropolitan area, Boston has the demand for late-night T service. The city and state would be remiss not to provide such a crucial public good for such key sectors of its economy.
In addition to its immediate practical benefits, late-night T service is a component of the modernization that Boston’s mass transit infrastructure desperately needs. This year’s snowstorms pointed out major flaws in the system, which took a month to get back on track, and showed that Boston’s public transportation system has serious shortcomings to address if it wants to be prepared for the hosting of the 2024 Olympics. Late-night T-service is a step in the right direction for a system yearning for modernization in many ways. “Every major city has [ways] for people to get around the city after midnight,” said Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu ’07, a co-filer of the Council resolution in support of continuing late-night service. “I think this past year’s pilot showed that late-night T service cuts across all sectors of Boston’s economy.”
Admittedly, the continuation of late-night service presents some downsides. The cost of the pilot year amounted to $12.9 million, only 16.5 percent of which was covered by revenues. The MBTA, however, has suggested increasing its fares (which, with a CharlieCard, are still lower than those of major cities such as New York and Chicago) and partnering with local organizations and universities. Ultimately, with options for funding available, the Department of Transportation should not nix the program solely because of cost concerns. Late-night transportation is essential to serving the region and demonstrating Boston’s commitment to modernizing its public transportation infrastructure, and the Commonwealth must find a way to continue it.