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.

Photo bu Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

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.”

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Phoyo by Olga Khvan

Phoyo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

beverly scott

Photo by Olga Khvan

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  • Mark Miller

    The MBTA can now offer terrible service 2.5 hours more each day.

    • Bhall35

      Spoken like a true Masshole. There are far more positive than negative effects, but you choose to focus on the latter.

      • awesomerobot

        He probably cruises into work from Newton at 10am.

        • Mark Miller

          I take the C line daily, and not at 10am either.

      • Mark Miller

        As an MBTA customer/daily commuter for over 25 years (and still doing so) there is a significant amount of experience to pull from. The T is poorly run with a crumbling infrastructure, and little hope at resolving those issues or correcting funding. It’s employees (right up through management) are highly (over) paid, receiving perks that few in the private sector share. Not sure what you think all the “positives” are about extending for 2.5 hours because it is unlikely that it will be self supporting. Which means that it will be additional debt that commuters and taxpayers will support.

        • Bhall35

          Like I said, spoken like a true Masshole.

          • Bhall35

            Also, you do know that the city has partnered with corporations to sponsor this pilot program, right, Mr. Taxpayer?

          • Mark Miller

            as a proponent of public transportation I agree with your sentiment. That being said, do you think that a line between North & South stations (done say at the time of the big dig) might have been more in line with what you are referencing? And would have been a step in the direction of improving transportation in the city….
            And have YOU ever taken public transit to or from the airport? Those are the types of improvements that make a city world class & global….as opposed to giving a ride home to a few drunkards at 2am?

            The city “partnering with corporate sponsors” makes for good press but very little comfort to a taxpayer….

          • Bhall35

            One of the links above specifically mentions the economic benefit of extending service into late night. Might I humbly suggest you read it?

          • Bhall35
          • Mark Miller

            And when they think they are humble?
            Probably a douchebag….have you checked the mirror lately.

          • Bhall35

            I think we’re done here.

          • Mark Miller

            you might want to re-read your comments to see how early you started hurling the insults.

          • Bhall35

            Stick it in your scrapbook.

          • Mark Miller

            there is nothing humble in your commentary or your request.

          • Emma

            You have got to be trolling me.

            1. It was hardly “a few” people

            2. Who cares about “world class and global”. Many people work late shifts on weekends or just want to stay out late. Though since you do mention it, later nightlife is indeed something many people have come to expect as a perk to an urban environment and are dissapointed to find Boston lacks.

            But most importantly, 3. If it prevents even a single loss of life from a drunk driving accident the investment is well worth it

        • Bhall35

          “In a new paper set for publication in Urban Studies, Chatman and fellow planner Robert Noland of Rutgers University use concrete numbers to make the case that transit produces agglomeration. They report that this hidden economic value of transit could be worth anywhere from $1.5 million to $1.8 billion a year, depending on the size of the city. And the bigger the city, they find, the bigger the agglomeration benefit of expanding transit.”

          http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/08/public-transit-worth-way-more-city-you-think/6532/

        • Bhall35

          ‘Regardless of project costs, it’s clear that transit investments can drive economies in cities like Boston, while cities like Cincinnati that “pause” these forms of development are in danger of derailing their growth. Investing in infrastructure seems to delineate cities: those who want to be global, innovative cities of the future, and those who will continue to struggle in the face of underinvestment.’

          http://www.icic.org/connection/blog-entry/blog-could-the-fate-of-cities-be-tied-to-their-investments-in-public-transi

        • Emma

          Seriously? The entire city is out celebrating something we’ve begged for for years and you are whining about the added tax burden? Many people would happily pay a little more for this kind of visible and useful perk. Besides, the service costs 16 million a year to operate. If everyone in the Boston/Cambridge/Newton metro area (4.5 million people) Paid $3.50 a year we would break even. That’s less than a cup of coffee and hardly “burdening” anyone.

          • Mark Miller

            The entire city? Nice try. Clearly MATH is not one of your strong suits. But here are some real facts….

            the MBTA has a current debt of
            9 BILLION dollars. While no US public transit system turns a profit the MBTA has by far the largest debt in the country (and is not the largest system).

            NECN recently reported this about the MBTA upcoming budget deficit plans:

            “(NECN) – The possibility of more fare hikes or service cuts are on the table when it comes to the MBTA. The agency’s general manager, Beverly Scott, is here.

            MBTA’s deficit reduction plans for 2014:
            33-percent fare hike
            Bus: $1.50 rises to $2.00
            Subway: $2.00 rises to $2.60
            RIDE: $4.00 rises to $5.25″

            This will effect working people and commuters that are part of the DAILY ridership (a few more people than got on the train at 2am on a weekend) this group is about to be hit with a 33% fare increase. For MANY working people that means a lot. The last fare hike was 23% in 2012.

            As a regular commuter my concern (and it should be everyones) is improving the system that carries the majority of the people the majority of the time….not 2.5 hours on the weekend…..

            See some of us are “grown ups” and have real world responsibility and have to go to work and pay for our kids school supplies and our focus isn’t how we are going to stumble home at 2:30 while puking on our shoes. Maybe it is time to join the real world.

            As for drunk driving, this state has a very poor reputation for dealing with offenders. It is against the law to drive drunk….take a cab, call a friend, walk. We shouldn’t have to run train service to accomodate illegal behavior.

          • Emma

            Sorry, you’re right. By the entire city I should have actually said “only the subset containing all the residents who enjoy fun things and aren’t bitter about the lives and responsibilities they’ve chosen” because based on your attitude this clearly did not include you. Sorry other hard working people like to have fun on their night off.

            Actually the upcoming fare hike, while a large percentage increase for those buying single tickets, is pretty minimal if you (as most commuters do) instead purchase a monthly pass. The fare is going up from $70/ month to $75/ month. That’s only a .07 percent increase and again, clearly minimal even to someone on a budget. Later night service actually helps many people in low wage jobs save a ton of money, because even paying slightly more for your T pass will save you alot more than regularly having to rely on an absurd $20 cab fare every time you need to get home from work. (which is the case for many restaurant workers living on minimum wage and tips. Work just three shifts and you’ve basically just doubled your monthly transit cost). Also “Daily ridership” means the entire day open to close (5am-midnight) which already includes unconventional travel times, not just rush hour. Infact, many of the last night trips seemed just as packed as they were during rush hour so they had to run additional trains. And It’s not like adding this service makes day time ridership any worse, especially considering that some of the money was privately floated anyway.

            Yes drunk driving is illegal, but that doesn’t prevent it from happening. Providing an alternate mode of transit means the burden of “Am I OK to drive” falls off of the individual so the risk isn’t even taken in the first place.

            We all have jobs and responsibilities here, I don’t know why you would think otherwise. I’m sure many parents will also make use of the late night service if they can grab a sitter for the evening. This isn’t just for college kids but also serves a quickly growing population of young professionals and anyone of any age who wants to do something late at night like enjoy a dinner party or catch a late movie. I myself even used it to come home from work even later than usual. And actually I’m a scientist so I take it my math skills are quite OK.

  • ASliney

    The extended service will also help push down the cost of Uber late at night because the demand will be less.