On the table, but remember, it’s a big-ass table
Charlie seems to be hitting his pubescent growth spurt. In January of this year, MassDOT announced plans to expand the Green Line, to increase the capacity of South Station, and to rehabilitate commuter rail lines. They also casually mentioned possibly expanding service hours so that buses and trains would run later than 1 a.m., which citizens of a city known for its drinking habits took to mean, “more schwasty fun times and less money blown on cabs.”
The MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, which is affiliated with the MBTA but “editorially independent” from it, according to their website, has launched a survey to assess when and where people would most use the late-night service, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it. However, despite the survey, no action to extend service hours can be taken until “the gorilla in the room of transit funding” is addressed, said Stuart Spina, an organizer with the T Riders Union.
“Legislators are saying, well, maybe we’ll give you funding and maybe not,” Spina said. “And the MBTA is saying, if we don’t get this [$25 million], we might have to cut more services.”
“Given the enormous strain on the MBTA’s limited resources, the Authority cannot even consider an extension of service hours before action is taken on the 21st Century Transportation Plan,” Kelly Smith, deputy press secretary for the MBTA, said in an email to the Dig. This plan, which includes mostly increased maintenance on current MBTA trains, buses, and rails, briefly mentions the idea of extending hours, but doesn’t go into detail.
Before 1960, the MBTA actually did run overnight service on streetcars and buses, an idea that was picked up again in 2001, according to Spina. The proposal for the new millennium was to begin overnight service on Friday and Saturday nights, to service the weekend revelers.
Even the most stalwart Bostonians will admit that, though the Hub gives NYC a run for its money, that 24/7 access to public transportation they’ve got does make for better nightlife, and no one is more aware of that than local musicians.
“A lot of events are rendered impotent because people just want to get down and howl at the moon, and you can’t when the Man is holding his curfew scythe above you,” said Jason Reyes, guitarist in Boston-area band Peach Pit.
A more vibrant arts and nightlife scene means you keep more creative talent and young professionals in the city, something that has been promoted by cultural organizations such as Future Boston Alliance. And while a hoppin’ city scene is certainly a plus of the proposed late-night service, for many people in the city, overnight transportation would be a lifesaver.
“So, what are you going to do the other four or five days you work? Take a taxi or get a ride from someone else,” Spina said.
“We have about 10,000 workers in downtown Boston, cleaning and being security guards for offices, and they often live in outlying areas as far away as Lawrence,” said Harris Gruman, Executive Director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council.
“Having T access 24 hours a day would be hugely important to them.”
The Union also represents home health workers and hospital workers, many of whom work night shifts and have to find another means of transportation home.
“I’m sure the Financial District appreciates their offices being clean, but even in life and death matters, they might have their life at stake,” Gruman said, referring to the possibility that a health worker should lack adequate transportation to reach work on time.
SEIU supports the governor’s proposal, Gruman said,
in addition to their own bill, called An Act to Invest in Our Communities. Sponsored by Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, the bill seeks to raise $1.9 billion in taxes to invest in “needed services,” such as increased T service, according to Gruman.
It would keep down tax increases for low- and middle-income families, mainly taxing higher-income individuals, by increasing the personal exemption to exclude people under median income from paying additional taxes.
So while legislators are locked in a budget battle, the MBTA is stagnating in moving ahead on the track to expanding service hours, stuck like a Green Line train at Boylston Station. And the people who are suffering the most are not the drunk brosephs dropping twenties on cabs, but people who can’t afford any other means of transportation.
“It’s essential to the lowest- and middle-income people. They can’t cut away services that people need,” Gruman said. “The T is really the life line of the city.”
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