MBTA overseers urged staff on Monday to continue working on a plan to create an hourly bus circuit centered in Copley Square to provide transit service through the night around metropolitan Boston.
“I think there's strong interest here,” MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board member Steve Poftak said after an analysis was presented Monday.
T overseers earlier this year tabled a mitigation plan to increase service on certain bus routes, directing staff to investigate the viability of a plan pitched by former Transportation Secretary James Aloisi and others on the website of Commonwealth Magazine.
The board this year voted to end the extended-hours weekend service of subway, trolley and key bus lines known as “late night.”
MBTA Assistant General Manager Charles Planck said preliminary T analysis found the Aloisi proposal would cost three to four times the $1.1 million to $1.4 million annual cost he said the advocates outlined. Planck said the cost of transit services for disabled individuals was not factored into the advocates' proposal.
Eliminating the “late night” weekend service generated about $9 million in savings for the fiscal 2017 MBTA budget.
Laboring under budget duress for years the MBTA is relying on administrative reforms and a $187 million bailout to balance the roughly $2 billion fiscal 2017 budget and improve maintenance, and the transit agency aims to eliminate its operating deficit by next year.
Control board member Monica Tibbits-Nutt said she wanted more information before getting behind a pilot overnight service.
“I think $6 million to spend without understanding everything it's going to take to go into this, without understanding what populations are actually going to be impacted, without understanding whether that's going to meet the needs of either employees or people who are trying to go out for social life — I feel like there are a lot of questions unanswered for us to just throw $6 million at it,” Tibbits-Nutt told the News Service.
Tibbits-Nutt said an overnight service should also be addressed “in consideration” of an overall service plan, which the T board is scheduled to embark on this July.
Proposed by Aloisi, transportation planner Ari Ofsevit and Jeremy Mendelson, a founder of Transit Matters, the plan would send buses out from Copley on the hour along eight different routes stretching out beyond Boston's borders.
Planck estimated weekly ridership of about 4,600 and said two buses would need to run along almost all of the routes unless they were shortened. Planck suggested a premium fare, such as $5, could be imposed to boost revenues, and said the proponents raised the idea of switching traffic signals to blinking yellow lights along the routes, which would be for municipalities to consider, to improve travel times.
“This is not complicated service for us to implement,” said Planck, who said the T would want a “public process” as it determines how the service could be provided.
If the green light was given before July and the T opted to undertake an overnight pilot with its own staff, it could begin Dec. 31, according to Planck, whose presentation outlined a year-to-18-month timeline for implementing the pilot through a private vendor.
After the T board opted to discontinue its extended-hours service, the Federal Transit Administration notified the authority that it should have conducted an equity analysis, which the T subsequently completed. MBTA Chief Counsel John Englander told the board he believes the there is no obligation to provide mitigation for the elimination of “late night” service.