Riders on Late-Night T Service: ‘This Made Boston a City’
At 2:15 a.m., some trolleys were as packed as they would be during the daytime rush hour commute.
For the second time in the city’s history, Boston had itself a T party.
On a typical Saturday morning at 1 a.m., Beverly Scott, general manager of the MBTA, would be at home watching C-Span or binging on episodes of Game of Thrones. “I have to get myself all set up for the new season, that’s what I would have been doing,” she said.
But not this weekend. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Scott was instead standing on a platform along the Red Line at Park Street, wrapped in an orange shawl, waving as customers shuffled on and off of the trains at the downtown transit hub, all of them taking advantage of the first-ever late-night MBTA train service.
“This is such a big moment,” she said of the new one-year pilot program. “It’s exciting. It is. We are a destination city, and you have to be [open] a lot later than we have been. This is a big moment.”
The T first announced that they would offer after-hours service in December of last year. The one-year program, which is funded in part by corporate sponsors—with the state footing the remainder of the bill—will keep all rapid transit lines and select key bus routes open until 3 a.m. on the weekends. The plan was rolled out in response to feedback received from the public and members of the business community who encouraged the MBTA to offer later rides as a way to boost the region’s economy.
For Berklee College of Music students Josh Walker and Corbin Johnson, the extra trains running into the early morning marked the start of a new chapter for Boston. “This is awesome. This made Boston a city,” said Johnson, adding that if the T hadn’t extended its hours he’d likely have spent more money on a taxi. “Now people have an affordable way to get around and they’ll do more experimenting by going to other neighborhoods, because they won’t get stuck there.”
Encouraged by the later trains, Johnson said businesses will probably start holding more special events since there’s now a way to easily navigate the city. He said the excitement about the later trains was obvious during his first time making use of them. “We were just riding here and all the people on our train just broke out into a chant, and they started saying, ‘T, T, T,’” he said.
Catalina Schmidt also noticed a sort of camaraderie emanating from inside of the train cars, as strangers started talking to each other and mentioning their excitement for the new service. “Everybody is in a better mood because they’re not in a rush to get home from the bars,” she said.
Schmidt’s friend Taylor Christianson said his night would have been slightly different had it not been for the recently introduced transit option. “I definitely would have gone home a lot earlier if not for the service,” he said. “I’m really glad this happened, but I just can’t believe it took this long.”
Sitting next to Schmidt and Christianson, Erik Dulick said his friends hit the streets and scoped the bar scene just for this occasion. “People were out celebrating this,” he said.
While the program is certainly welcomed by many, not everyone is on board with the recent train and bus schedule changes.
Outside of Dillons on Boylston Street, cab drivers lined up against the sidewalk waiting for pedestrians to come tumbling toward them, asking for a ride home after last call. For Benym Sg, a cab operator, the number of trips he typically makes around the city will certainly taper off with the extended T hours in place. “I guess it will be a little worse,” he said, idling outside just minutes before last call. “Friday and Saturday is a lot of student business, and they will take the train now. I’m not sure how much it will hurt business, but between now and 3 a.m. I will lose two or three fares.”
But judging by the crowded platform at Copley station, where some riders begrudgingly gave up on waiting for the last trains out of the city due to the over-packed vehicles that rolled up, reminding them of the service during peak daytime hours, finding people who want cab rides won’t be so difficult.
“I’m not waiting, [expletive this],” one passenger said as she walked through the fare gates, exiting the station.
The confusion over the service hours was also cause for conversation during the first night of the later trains. What’s usually reserved for awkward moments staring at the ceiling or ground, to avoid eye contact with strangers, turned into idle chatter between passengers with the main topic of discussion centered around how the late-night program actually works.
Waiting for the final Green Line train out of Park Street, riders were asking one another about arrival times, and worried they wouldn’t make their connections to other trains.
As part of the program, the last trains home lingered at stations in the heart of the city, making sure that anybody relying on the service would make it back without incident. The stalled service made it feel like a typical daytime delay that riders might face when commuting to work, but passengers seemed less frustrated while stuck at the stations based on the reasoning behind the trains’ immobility.
“I was a little worried about missing a train, or it not showing up, but not that worried,” said Kalisha Holmes, after boarding a Green Line train at Copley, heading out of the city with friends after a night at the bars. “It wasn’t that confusing, though. And we’re just excited they have the service. It’s like Boston is in the running with New York because of this.”
To stay in the running, however, it’s up to riders to utilize the late-night trains and buses. The T’s administration has taken on a “use it or lose it” mentality for the pilot program, urging passengers to take advantage of the offering so that it doesn’t go the way of the Night Owl, a bus service the T axed nine years ago due to a lack of rider interest.
If late-night commuters continue to pack onto the trains like they did the first night of the late-night service, even more transit options could be in the future, truly putting Boston on track with other metropolitan cities. Scott said she envisions 24-hour transit service—someday.
“It will be a build. You of course will have a build up,” said Scott, as she continued to wave to riders at the platform. “But I think that will end up happening, you are going to start beginning to see just the city blooming on those Friday and Saturday evenings. We are going to just—we are going to get it together. And that’s how it just happens—it’s organic. This is how we do it here, this is how we roll. It’s just how we do, it’s how we move.”