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Local residents expressed anger and frustration at a public forum where the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority introduced proposals that would significantly alter, or potentially eliminate, MBTA’s late night weekend service.
According to the MBTA, the net cost per-passenger is $1.43 during regular service hours compared to $13 per-passenger during late night hours due to the lower number of riders. The overall cost for the late-night service is $14 million, according to an MBTA presentation.
The entire system is struggling with soaring debt and public critique, public records have shown. At the meeting, held Wednesday night in Cambridge’s City Hall, MBTA Assistant General Manager Charles Planck offered two proposals to cut costs: provide service through a third-party contractor at a reduced rate, or eliminate the service entirely.
The removal of the late night program, known for its popularity among college-age residents, would lead to T service ending at 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The T currently ends service around 2:00 a.m. on weekends.
“There is consistent use of the service, but it is not growing,” said Planck, who facilitated previous meetings in the Greater Boston Area.
But many of the young adult attendees voiced concerns about cutting late-night transportation. Some worried for workers in service industries that rely on late-night transportation, the environmental impact of cutting public transit, and the potential threat to Boston’s perception as a bustling city.
“I think sometimes the city, when we make a step forward to becoming a major market city, we take two steps back,” local resident Jonathan Alves said “This excuse and this idea that we can’t come up with 14 million dollars to subsidize a service is ridiculous.”
Cambridge City Councillor Jan Devereux, who also attended the meeting, said she was unsure if the service should be cut despite the financial cost.
“I realize that from an economic standpoint, late night service isn’t paying its own way,” she said. “But I do question whether that’s the appropriate way to look at a public good, which is public transit.”
Others questioned the data Planck presented, fearing that the numbers were misrepresented.
“I think that you’ve cherry-picked information on the slides,” Susan J. Ringler ’74 said. She and other attendees argued that the city was not considering other low-traffic times.
Attendees also proposed several ways the MBTA could reduce its deficit, such as increasing the cost of monthly passes or more vigorously advertising the late-night service.
Late night service has a tumultuous history in Massachusetts. Under former Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, late night weekend T service was extended in 2014 to 3:00 a.m. in a pilot program designed to improve service for college students in the Greater Boston area. Just one year later, the program faced an uncertain future after city officials introduced similar proposals to shut down the program. Massachusetts Governor Charles D. Baker ’79 began the process of reforming the MBTA in May when he outlined options in a letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature.
Last month, a Harvard Kennedy School fellow offered his own plan to help the MBTA remain solvent, which included recommendations to cut late night T service.
The MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board will vote on the proposals in the spring. Officials will host future public meetings and online forums, where residents can comment on the proposals.
—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1
—Staff writer Mia Karr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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