Late-Night on the MBTA Is Dead. Can NightBus Resurrect It?

The proposal could be Boston's next and best attempt at 24-hour service.

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photo by Olga Khvan

The NightBus. Could it be Boston’s next and best shot at 24-hour public transit?

Advocates with Transit Matters seem to think so. The idea for a network of T buses running a limited schedule overnight has been kicking around ever since the death of late night service in February, and supporters of the proposal pitched it once again to the MBTA’s fiscal and management control board Monday. According to the Globe, it was at least marginally well received (there were concerns about uncertain costs and uncertain demand for the service).

The most recent iteration of the plan would see buses run every 75 minutes on eight routes from 1-5 a.m. and would cost, by advocates’ estimates, about $3.5 million. That’s more than the initial estimate in a Commonwealth pitch that argued it could cost as little as $1 million a year, but a fraction of the nearly $15 million the late-night rail pilot cost last year.

“Boston doesn’t stop working after midnight; neither should its transit system,” TransitMatters wrote in a statement after the meeting. “Our plan responds to the realities faced by people every day. Numerous people work late nights and early mornings in businesses and industries that make Boston attractive as a place to live, play, work and invest in: at Logan airport; at our great hospitals; at restaurants and hotels; in the innovation sector that competes globally and works around the clock. We are not responding to these needs and are not providing the mobility that other great cities provide their citizens.”

The T’s board says it will begin a process of reviewing the plan. TransitMatters says it hopes to convince the agency to launch the service by the end of the year.

Boston, of course, has not yet been able to make late night work. The most recent pilot (which only extended the T’s operating hours on weekend nights) suffered because too few people used it, and the cost-per-ride on the trains was too much for the belt-tightening FCMB to stomach. An earlier attempt to run late-night buses, called the “Night Owl” service, withered in 2005.

But the late-night trains were not nimble (unlike buses, they could only use fixed routes), and the “Night Owl” service came about before the era of Big Data. So don’t give up hope just yet.

Read more about NightBus here.

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Photo via TransitMatters