Late Night Mitigation: Designing a Real Overnight Bus Network

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Wondering what to make of the T's late night mitigation proposals?

We at TransitMatters often talk about critical issues such as service hours, frequency, on-time performance and overcrowding. So we’re pleased to see the MBTA recognizes these problems. The specific proposals they have put forth are all good ideas and easy to implement, but they are only small tweaks (which should have been done long ago) and do not make a dent in the growing backlog of service deficiencies (the service that's needed but not currently provided).

We believe there is a better option: a limited overnight bus network as we originally discussed here, which would be an extension of the T’s existing, limited and little-known early morning bus service. This network would operate hourly all night, every night, and be geared primarily toward getting people to their late-night and early morning jobs.

Read all about our useful and affordable plan on the Amateur Planner and CommonWealth Magazine.

Want to know more about what the T has proposed?

Let’s look at the service deficiencies that have been identified:

  1. Service ends too early and starts too late. The proposed changes would not change the hours of service. They would push service a tiny bit earlier in a few cases to increase capacity, but you still can’t get to a 5am shift (or home from a 2am shift) in most of the city.
  2. Bus frequency and on-time performance (reliability) are woefully inadequate. Adding trips (frequency) can relieve overcrowding *if buses are on time*, but does not improve reliability. A comprehensive "bus service improvement plan" is needed to address the persistent underlying causes of poor service, such as traffic congestion, bus bunching, missed trips, outdated fare collection policies and the lack of on-street supervisors and dispatchers.
  3. Still relying on the published schedule? On a typical weekday, Route 111 (serving the overwhelmingly low-income and minority city of Chelsea), sees 1 out of every 15 trips cancelled due to insufficient staffing levels. If 13 scheduled trips are missed every day on one of the city's most crowded bus routes, how will adding more trips to the schedule solve this problem?
  4. Low-income workers can’t access early or late shifts. Even while the recent Late Night Service only ran two nights per week and did not reach everyone, it filled a critical need of low-income workers in the restaurant and entertainment industries. The lack of daily service was a major deficiency, but the latest proposals don’t even attempt to solve that problem. Our proposal would end this injustice.

The recently eliminated Late Night Service served 13,000 passengers per night or 26,000 per week (which greatly undercounts the beneficiaries because most people don’t use it every single day and almost every user also travels on regular daytime service). Even with all of the mitigation options combined, and if they operate as planned, only 5,000 passengers per week would see improvements.

All the options they're proposing still don't make a dent in on-time performance, capacity or the growing backlog of service deficiencies. It is clear that the need for early morning service far outweighs the level of service provided, and that service starts way too late. It would actually be simple and affordable to provide hourly bus service all night on a skeletal network with timed transfer points, and the T should pursue this option instead of working around the margins.

Read more on why all night service is needed, and listen to Podcast 26 where we discuss the overnight concept (as well as in earlier episodes). Head over to the Amateur Planner for all the details on our proposal.