28 March 2014

Last Bus Home

Tonight the MBTA begins a year-long experiment offering extended service on Friday and Saturday nights. Service on all subway lines, the Silver Line, and select "key bus routes" (the most heavily used ones) will run for approximately 90 minutes later than normal. This is long overdue, and I hope that it turns out to be viable, by which I mean I hope enough riders take advantage of it to make it worth the added cost to the T, and they decide to make it permanent.

For decades Boston has been mockingly referred to as "the city that always sleeps" because life and activity seemed to wind down soon after midnight, but that was due in no small part to the fact that once the clock passed midnight people had to start thinking about whether or not they would be able to make that last train or bus. (Some years back there was a half-hearted attempt to offer late-night service by running buses along the subway routes, but that was an inadequate solution.)

20 to 25 years ago I was frequently out late on weekends, going to see live music or late movies, and I know the experience of missing that last bus and having to walk 30 minutes or more to get home. There were occasions when I did not mind the walk, or even welcomed it, but those definitely did not occur during the winter months. I certainly would have appreciated being able to stay for the end of a band's set at TT the Bear's or Johnny D's, knowing that there would still be a bus coming along that I could take home.

These days I rarely go out at night, and if I do it's by car. And we have Uber now, which is great, but not everyone can afford to use such a service. When I was in college we would have been thrilled to have extended late-night service on the T, and I suspect that a lot of students will be making use of this amenity. I imagine it will also be helpful to those who work in restaurants, bars, and clubs, or even maintenance jobs, and it may prevent at least a few inebriated people from getting behind the wheel.

Extending T service has broader symbolic value as well. It indicates to those who live here already, and those who may be thinking of moving here, that the region is acknowledging that not everyone lives a 9-to-5 lifestyle, that there is life here after dark, that transit options need to be available in order to make this the sort of place where people want to live.

Civic leaders and business people like to use the phrase "world-class city" in describing Boston, and sometimes I think they are doing so aspirationally, as in "we would like to think of this as a world-class city, and we hope you will too." Viable late-night public transit, even it it's only offered on weekends, is one way to help those aspirations become reality.

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