THE MBTA MOVED one step closer to restoring late-night bus service after members of the oversight board gave cautious support for subsidies because of surveys showing there would be an appetite for the service among overnight workers, airport passengers, and late-night revelers.
T officials conducted surveys of nearly 7,300 people in November and December last year and the data showed an overwhelming number of respondents said they would use the service if it was available. According to the data, of the 2,000 people who said they need transportation for work during the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. time period, 91 percent said it was very likely or extremely likely they would take public transportation if it was available. Of the 4,700 who responded who travel during those hours for non-work related trips, 81 percent said they would be very likely or extremely likely to jump on the bus.
“We do see evidence of demand,” Laurel Paget-Seekins, the MBTA’s director of strategic initiatives, told board members.
T officials have been contemplating several scenarios for restarting the overnight service after abandoning it last year amid opposition from low-income workers and others who said the service was vital to their livelihoods. Two transportation network companies, Lyft and Bridj, have submitted unsolicited proposals to offer service in some areas if the T would subsidize part of the costs, either through budget allocation or assessments on employers.
While the reaction to the data was mixed, several board members wanted more information on costs before committing to either starting a pilot program or restarting bus routes on a limited basis. Board member Brian Lang said the ride-hailing companies such as Lyft or Bridj, the bus-on-demand company, should offer the service before seeking subsidies.
“There’s nothing stopping them from implementing them,” Lang said. “I’m challenging them to demonstrate to us that it can be cost effective. If they can’t demonstrate it….without public subsidy, maybe it doesn’t make sense.”
But members agreed that the data was intriguing enough to warrant further exploration. The data showed distinct differences between the departure and destination routes for late-night riders. More than 27 percent of late-night trips originated in Boston’s Financial District, with Maverick Square in East Boston, Everett, Chelsea, and Revere being the more popular destinations. Early morning trips were more evenly distributed from around and outside the city, with the Financial District being the destination of 25 percent of the trips and Back Bay and Beacon Hill accounting for 10 percent.
The results from the self-reported surveys showed 82 percent of respondents took a cab at some point for travel while 43 percent said they walked where they needed to go. Interestingly, 14 percent said they used bikes and data collected from the bicycle-renting service Hubway shows a much-higher volume of use during the late-night hours compared to early morning.
Some of those who responded said they slept on the office floor until T service resumed in the morning while others said they did not make a trip because of the lack of public transportation options.
Board chairman Joseph Aiello said there still need to be questions answered as to what schedules and routes would be self-sufficient and how to implement a plan to use Charlie Cards if the agency partnered with transportation network companies.