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Back To The Midnight Ride: MBTA Kills Late-Night Service

A Red Line train runs in the early morning in 2014.
Edgar B. Herwick III
A Red Line train runs in the early morning in 2014.

The MBTA Fiscal Control Board came to bury its contested late-night service Monday, not praise it. And in a 4-0 vote, they did just that, sparing not one word of discussion before bringing the ax down on a service once seen as a key component in making Boston a more modern city and destination for young people with a.m. bedtimes.

The T's pilot program, which kept the entire subway and many key bus lines open until the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings, just cost too much, officials said.

"Late-night service, as it's been provided, the ridership just did not justify the investment that was being made," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told reporters after the vote.

Late-night service actually saw a decline in ridership since it began in 2014. By the end, only about 13,000 trips were made nightly over the additional 90 minutes of service.

These days, the T is looking to cut expenses anywhere it can. And unfortunately for bar patrons, college students and late-night restaurant workers, the T's board determined that keeping the trains running isn't worth it when the system faces a considerable operating budget deficit.

The vote Monday was unanimous to terminate the additional service. 

Even with the cut, Boston remains in fine company compared to other cities of similar, or even greater social stature. WGBH News recently ran the numbers to find that a 12:30 a.m. closing time is par for the course in cities like London, Rome or even the San Francisco Bay Area.

In a press release hailing the beginning of the service in March 2014, an MBTA spokesperson wrote that extended operational hours into the early morning "allows Boston to continue to compete among other world class cities that offer late night public transportation and make Boston an even more desirable place to live, work and play."

That same release sheds light on how the Deval Patrick-Rich Davey-Bev Scott-era MBTA planned to afford the costly late-night trains. The plan was to partner with local institutions that could benefit from later hours to hopefully float the subsidy needed to run a subway an extra few hours.

"The Boston Globe, Boston Red Sox, Dunkin’ Donuts, Suffolk Construction and the Massachusetts Restaurant Association have signed on as the first sponsors of the late night service pilot program. In total, sponsors are contributing over $1.5 million in support to help cover the estimated $16 million cost of late night service," the release read.

Those partnerships dried up quickly, leaving state taxpayers on the hook to subsidize the later rides to the tune of around $13.80 per ride, compared to around 70 cents a ride during crushed-to-capacity rush hour.

Copyright 2016 GBH

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