Thursday, April 18, 2024


Gov. Deval Patrick introduces a test of late-night T service March 13, 2014, alongside officials including MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott, right.

Gov. Deval Patrick introduces a test of late-night T service March 13, 2014, alongside officials including MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott, right. (Photo: MassDOT)

With all the focus on the frustrations of riding the T (or, rather, not getting to ride it) during recent snowfall, to what degree the aging system can handle more riders from Cambridge development and the question of whether getting the Olympics in 2024 might at least lead to improvements, it would be terrible to lose the most concrete improvement in years to our mass transit: late-night weekend service.

Opinion boxWe’re at risk of losing that in only a few months – June 19, to be exact. The test began March 28 and went all too fast (unlike the T itself).

“I am pleased that we were able to extend our weekend service hours through this pilot program,” said Beverly Scott, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. “Now we can take a hard look at the data collected over the course of the pilot, and take the time needed to chart out the next best steps. Continuing the pilot program through June gives us ample time to make decisions about the future of late-night service.”

Cambridge, which has plenty of young people, night owls and people obligated to work long hours, has benefited from the extended service, which adds 90 minutes to all subway and some bus routes on Friday and Saturday nights.

But those who benefited have to let Scott and other transportation leaders know, loud and clear, or the benefits will disappear. Maybe just until the Olympics arrive. Maybe for another generation. Maybe forever.

Ridership from the start of the late-night program through January has been about 1.1 million boardings, according to the T, but this is hardly a fair test.

Kendall Square Cinemas were fast to act on the extended hours, getting License Commission permission to stay open later and add showings and a special series of cult favorites perfect for late night, such as “The Big Lebowski” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

For many businesses, it made less sense to go to the commission for later hours and very possibly have to return in a year to roll them back, so it’s impossible to know if more businesses will stay open longer if late-night service becomes permanent, providing the predictability that allows for added staff or other needed changes. It’s a safe bet the 24-hour Clover eatery that is essentially ready to open this month in Central Square, according to chain founder and chief executive Ayr Muir, wants the service to go on.

Cambridge can best continue as an economic engine and entertainment, culinary and tourism leader with the flexibility to go all night – or, at least for now, for a little longer Fridays and Saturdays.

The MBTA serves about 1.2 million people per day, with much of that coming from Cambridge. It’s nothing compared with New York’s 24-hour subway system, with its 11 million riders daily, but not so far behind Chicago’s El, which serves 1.6 million people a day and has a core Night Owl service that runs all night.

And it’s way ahead of Washington, D.C.’s mass transit system, which serves about 750,000 riders daily and never shuts down, and 215 percent bigger than San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit ridership of 366,565 people per day, who suffer a midnight-to-4 a.m. gap in service. Like the MBTA, it has to shut down – for track maintenance. (All ridership data for these five biggest U.S. mass transit systems come from this University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graphic.)

We need and deserve a transportation system more like that of New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

And we get our chance to say that at a series of informational meetings held by the MBTA to discuss the future of the service. Cambridge’s meeting is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday – convenient for anyone who would otherwise be at or watching the day’s City Council meeting, which is canceled – in the Mount Vernon Room of the Sheraton Commander Hotel, 16 Garden St., Harvard Square. (Conveniently accessible by T.) Two other MBTA meetings follow in Boston.

Written comments are accepted through March 11 and should be mailed to the MBTA, 10 Park Plaza, Room 2310, Boston MA 02116 to the attention of the “Late-Night Service Committee.” They can also be emailed here. Comments are even being taken by phone at (617) 222-3200 or by TTY at (617) 222-5146.

For information about the public meetings, click here.