More than 85 percent of those who answered the survey said they would be willing to wait at least 10 to 19 minutes for a late-night bus or train. More than half said they would be willing to pay at least double the normal fare for night-owl subway service. [...]
The MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, volunteers who advise the T on customer service issues, will use the survey results to recommend possible late-night service strategies in the next few months. Reid Sprite, cochairman of the committee, said he and other members will identify which routes would be most popular with the after-hours crowd.These are good signs from a survey, and also from the ROC. There is no reason why night time service demand would necessarily match day time service demand. In many comparable cities, night time service is provided in a significantly different manner from normal service.
“We’re figuring out whether the current daytime routes meet nighttime needs,” Sprite said.
- For example, during the day, the MBTA's radial network is used heavily to bring people to and from the downtown Boston CBD. But as anyone who has walked there after dark knows, much of that same area is a ghost town at night.
- Many of the subway routes are not paralleled by roads and therefore are very difficult to efficiently replicate with a bus. Instead of going station-to-station, a similar, but more efficient bus route should be identified.
- The most important, and yet most expensive, aspect of service provision is frequency. That becomes completely unaffordable when the volumes are much lower -- such as at night.
- In order to save money, the agency may choose to operate routes at lower frequency, but this could make transfers terribly difficult. Nobody wants to get stuck watching the bus you need leave too soon, facing a 30 minute wait at night.
- The answer is to take a page from suburban transit services and use timed transfer points: all the intersecting buses come together and exchange passengers, and then all leave simultaneously to their next destination.
- Some additional operating cost can be made up with a fare surcharge. But only to a point, as you don't want to discourage ridership.
- When the MBTA ran night owl service in the past, it was discontinued due to cost. But it's not clear whether they could have saved money by adopting some common sense changes, and attracted more riders through better advertisement (not to mention the real-time tracking which is now available). And even for the cost that remains, I believe that even one drunken driving death avoided each year would be enough to make it all worthwhile.
But all of that is irrelevant. The real question should be this -- which is more efficient and effective: operating the subway later, or replacement Night Owl bus service? And I believe that the answer is the latter, for now. The capacity and frequency needs seem suited for bus service. It's easier to implement timed transfer pulses when all the vehicles can come together at the same place (the T does do a timed transfer between subways and buses currently, but it requires more personnel). Later subway service would probably require changes to maintenance schedules and some physical alterations, which may be a good idea anyway, but will have to wait until there's funding. And I think the most compelling argument for Night Owl buses is simply this: that's how other cities do it, including some big names like Paris and London, as well as more comparably-sized cities like San Francisco and Montreal.
Here's a set of map fragments to show some features from those cities' networks:
|Vancouver (Canada) TransLink sends out pulses of night buses from downtown until 3 a.m.|
|Austin (Texas) Capital Metro operates a set of night buses until 3 a.m., focused around 6th Street, of course.|
If the MBTA decides to take another shot at providing night time service, and I think they should, then they ought to take some cues from other agencies who already operate such networks successfully.