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MBTA Considering Extending T Hours

By Karen Robinson

MBTA officials and legislators are still considering the possibility of extending subway or bus service to early morning hours beginning with a pilot program in January.

If the program is implemented, the MBTA will likely extend service hours Friday and Saturday nights until 2:30 a.m. or 3:00 a.m., said Lydia Rivera of the MBTA Public Affairs Office.

MBTA officials have yet to decide whether a pilot extension to late-night T service will use subway or bus lines or both.

Extended hours would begin on a trial basis, Rivera said. “We have to weigh the cost with the ridership.”

Providing MBTA bus service is in most cases more cost-efficient than offering subway service, according to officials.

Another factor that limits the scope of the initial extension is the work of maintenance crews who use night hours to perform preventive maintenance on the rails, Rivera said. On the present schedule, the crews have about three hours to complete their tasks, according to Rivera.

Bill originates in late 1998

Senator Stephen Tollman of Boston, originated the late-night T bill in December 1998, said House Committee Member Sean McDonald.

The bill directed the MBTA “to see if it is feasible, costwise, and if the ridership is there” to justify extending subway and bus service hours, McDonald said.

When they passed the bill, members of the legislature advocated using buses for the pilot program both for cost and safety reasons, according to Tollman. Members deemed it safer to have people congregating above ground at bus stops rather than in underground subway stations, Tollman said.

However, if the subway does run, only the most cost-efficient branches will be in service during the extended hours. This includes B- and C- lines of the green line which have high late-night traffic. As another possibility, subway lines that are not cost-efficient to run during early morning hours may be replaced by more cost-effective bus-service during the extended time period.

Idea originates at UMass-Boston

The extended hours would be geared toward college students out late on weekends, Tollman said. “There are 100,000 students in the Boston/Cambridge area,” he said. “That’s a real issue.”

The impetus for this bill came when Tollman spoke at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, he said.

“The students said they need more options, to get home from clubs, bars, and so forth... you can wait up to two hours for a taxi,” Tollman said. “If that could be addressed by something as simple as running the T two extra hours,” it’s definitely something to consider, Tollman said.

When Tollman filed the bill he “didn’t expect anything more than a study,” he said.