MassDOT Will Soon Discuss Fate of the T’s Late-Night Weekend Service

MBTA staff are planning to present information to the MassDOT Board of Directors for review and consideration.

Photo by Olga Khvan

Photo by Olga Khvan

The fate of the MBTA’s late-night weekend service is on the line, and transportation officials expect there will be a decision made about whether or not to recommend extending the pilot program, launched in April, beyond its one-year trial real soon.

“To ensure there’s a productive dialogue about the program’s future, MBTA staff will present information to the MassDOT Board of Directors for its review and consideration,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

He said that the pending presentation and open discussion with the board is currently in the planning stages, but a recommendation pertaining to the future of the late-night service, upon the scheduled completion of the pilot program, will likely be made “in the coming weeks.”

The one-year program, which is funded in part by corporate sponsors and the state, keeps rapid transit lines and select bus routes open until 3 a.m. on the weekends. The plan was rolled out in response to feedback from the public who encouraged the MBTA to offer later rides as a way to boost the region’s economy.

Since it launched last April, offering commuters the option of hopping on a train in the early-morning hours, after most bars close for the night, ridership on the late-night trains has fluctuated from month-to-month. Through last weekend, December 27 and 28, nearly 820,000 customers used the T’s late-night service between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Saturday and Sundays.

Pesaturo said in the last 10 months, the weekend ridership has been as high as 26,000 people coming in-and-out of the stations, to as low as 8,000 at times.

“Up until Thanksgiving weekend, late-night ridership was fairly consistent, ranging—on average—between 18,000 and 20,000 per weekend,” he said. “Since Thanksgiving weekend, ridership has been closer to 10,000.”

The lower numbers could be attributed to the fact that many students, who make up a large portion of the city’s population during the school year, head home for winter breaks, and don’t return until late January. Cold weather could also have played a role in the sudden dip in ridership, as less people are apt to venture out to walk around the city late at night when the frigid New England temperatures start to set in during the winter months.

“That is likely to emerge as the prevailing wisdom,” Pesaturo said.

Whatever the reason for the change in ridership numbers, the eagerness expressed by passengers making use of the new service when it was first introduced, a welcome change to hailing a cab outside of a restaurant or bar after 2 a.m., might be what’s needed to prove the program’s worth as the last few months of the pilot approach.