Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Robust, equitable and efficient all-night transit for Boston

Do you think that the T should implement real, useful 7-day-a-week late night service? Make your voice heard! Email latenightservice@mbta.com by April 4. More details here

A more condensed version of this proposal can be found at Commonwealth Magazine.

The recent post regarding the T's early morning routes has been one of the top three most popular ever posted to this page, surpassing 5000 views (and much more quickly than any previous post). But if you thought that I'd just discovered the early morning routes, you'd be wrong, I've known about them for some time (yet never had need to ride one). However, what piqued my interest was the fact that these routes could be used for something much larger: actual all-night service for the MBTA service area.

In the aftermath of the MBTA’s decision to cancel its recent late night service program, it might be useful to consider some facts that are not well known, and that may provide the pathway toward establishing a robust late night transit service that is regional in scope, that responds to clear needs, and that does so affordably. Of the top 15 transit agencies in the country, only three—Boston, Houston and Atlanta—fail to provide some overnight service. The plan laid out in this proposal is built upon the T’s current early morning service, but rather than serving only Friday and Saturday nights, it is geared primarily toward getting people to their late night and early morning jobs.

The MBTA currently runs approximately a dozen early-morning trips, originally geared towards fare collectors and now oriented more towards early-morning workers (they were not shown on public schedules until 1999). These trips are shown on published schedules—often with just a small schedule notes—but otherwise not publicized (although this page described them in some detail). These trips arrive at Haymarket around 5:00am, with connecting service via the 117 Bus to Logan Airport

A study of early morning service conducted by CTPS (MassDOT’s Central Transportation Planning Staff) in 2013 found these services to be well used. Indeed, there was extreme overcrowding on one route: the single 117 trip (Wonderland-Haymarket) carried 89 riders. In response, the MBTA added two additional trips as well as earlier trips on Bus routes 22, 23, 28 and 109.

This map shows ½ and 1 mile buffers of the proposed late night
network superimposed on the T's current route map.
See a full-size map here.
This proposal would use these trips (with some minor changes) as a baseline for a new, more robust “All-Nighter” service. This would allow the use of current MBTA bus stops and routes, and be mostly an extension of current service, not an entirely new service. It would provide service to most of the area covered by MBTA rail and key bus routes. The changes include:

  • The primary connection point would move from Haymarket to Copley. This significantly shortens many of the routes and avoids time-consuming travel through downtown Boston to Haymarket, allowing a single route to operate with one vehicle instead of two, thus keeping costs down. In addition, Copley is somewhat more central to late night activity centers.
  • The current early-AM routes provide good coverage near most rail and “key bus” corridors with the exception of the Red Line in Cambridge and the Orange Line north of Downtown. (This plan does not address the longer branches to Braintree and Newton which serve lower-density areas which would have lower ridership and higher operation costs.) To fill these gaps the Clarendon Hill route would be amended north of Sullivan Square to follow the route of the 101 bus serving Somerville, Medford and Malden. A new route would be added following Mass Ave along the Red Line/Mass Ave corridor to serve Cambridge, then run through Davis Square and terminate at the Clarendon Hill busway.
  • A separate service would be run from Copley to Logan Airport. It would follow surface streets from Copley to South Station and the Seaport making local stops, use the Ted Williams Tunnel to the airport, and then terminate at the Airport Station, where it would allow connections to the 117 bus, which would terminate there rather than Copley. This bus could be operated or funded by MassPort in partnership with the MBTA, much like the Silver Line, since it would directly benefit the airport. This service could be through-routed with the 117 bus to Wonderland via the airport, which wouldn’t require additional buses and would eliminate a transfer.
  • Hourly service would operate on all routes, with a “pulse” connection at Copley. (What's a pulse? Here's the answer.) All buses would be scheduled to arrive at approximately :25-:28 past the hour and depart at :32-:35 past, allowing customers to transfer between the various lines at this time. A dispatcher could hold buses to make sure passengers could connect between lines. With hourly headways, a timed and guaranteed connection is required to provide any network effect and allow access between routes. 
  • Cities served by these routes could set traffic lights to “flashing yellow” for the routes between midnight and 5 a.m. to best accommodate schedules (this is already the case on many of these corridors).
  • Buses to the airport would allow employees to arrive a few minutes before the hour, in time for shift start times, and would then make a second loop through the airport to pick up employees finishing shifts a few minutes past the hour.
  • Airport buses would also allow overnight travelers to make their way to downtown by foot, bicycle, Hubway, taxicab or TNC (Transport Network Companies like Uber and Lyft), and make the “last mile” to Logan on a bus. This is especially important for late-arriving flights to the airport at times when there are often few cabs available. The MBTA could explore public-private partnerships with TNCs or other providers to bring customers to Copley Square to access all-night service.
  • The :30-past pulse time would allow workers finishing shifts on the hour to access buses to Copley, or walk to Copley itself, for connections to their final destination.
This service, based on current late-night and early-morning published schedules, would require 10 vehicles for four hours (approximately 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.), or 40 hours of service per day (with an extra hour on Sundays). At this time, the MBTA operates approximately 10 hours of service covering the early-AM routes, so the net hours of service would be 30. In addition, these trips could be added to existing shifts, so rather than a deadhead trip between a terminal and garage at the beginning or end of service, they would utilize a bus already in service, saving an additional 6 hours (approximately) of service, so the net hours per day would be 24.

Assuming a marginal cost per hour of service of $125 (since this service would require no new capital equipment or vehicle storage, because most of the bus fleet lies idle overnight, the full cost should not be used for these calculations), this would cost approximately $1,095,000 per year; assuming ridership of 843 per night (based on existing counts), the net cost would be $757,000, with a subsidy of $2.46 per rider, in line with existing bus subsidies—the cost might be slightly higher if the T needed to assign an inspector to the overnight service and extra police personnel, but they may already be on duty at those hours and could be shifted from overnight layover facilities.

Further, if Massport provided the link between Copley and the Airport on an in-kind basis (as they do for SL1 airport fares), it would reduce the cost to the MBTA by approximately 10%; if Massport through-routed such services along the route of the 117 it would reduce the MBTA’s expenditure by 20%. Thus the range of cost to the T would be somewhere between $600,000 and $1.25 million, between 7% and 13% of the cost of the most recent discontinued late-night service. This service would serve approximately 308,000 riders annually.

While “Night Owl” bus service was run from 2001-2005, it was perceived as serving very different population and purpose than this proposal, focusing on the “drunk college kid” demographic on Friday and Saturday nights only (the most recent late night iteration had the same issue, although the T's equity analysis showed otherwise). While that population would certainly benefit from overnight service, this service would be aimed directly at providing better access to overnight jobs—in addition to the airport, most routes would pass nearby major hospital clusters—especially from low-income areas.

These routes would (unlike the prior late night services) follow existing bus routes and stops, provide coverage to much of the region’s core neighborhoods—but not necessarily to each rail station’s front door. For example, the Green Line in Brookline would be served by the 57 bus along Commonwealth Ave and the 39 bus on Huntington Ave, within a mile of the B, C and D branch stations in the town, thus providing a similar level of service more efficiently (and obviating the need to create nighttime-only bus stops along the rail lines). Most of the densely populated portions of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Revere, Malden, Somerville and Medford would be within a mile of service, with additional service to parts of Newton and Watertown. 

In addition, by following normal bus lines, buses would use existing, known stops along major streets (rather than requiring passengers to search for nighttime-only stops adjacent to or nearby rail stations), and bus numbers could even match daytime routes (for instance routes could be named: N15/9, N28/SL5, N32/39, N57, N1/88, N93/101, N117) to provide continuity. The goal is to make the system both useful and easy to understand both for regular users and customers with less-frequent overnight needs. 
(Using existing routes would also reduce the start-up costs for such a service.)

The T’s current plans to mitigate the removal of late-night service are anemic, targeting a single line or a couple of trips on a single day. This proposal, on the other hand, would bring overnight service to much of the area which hasn’t had such service in more than 50 years. It would be a win-win solution. It would benefit the Fiscal Management Control Board by focusing on low income areas and job access routes while costing a small fraction of the recent late-night rail service, and by showing that its goal was to provide better service, not just cut existing trips. But more importantly, it would benefit the traveling public, by allowing passengers to make trips by transit to major job sites at all hours of the day.

It would be important, as well, to run this plan with discrete goals in mind; while the late night service was painted as a failure by MassDOT, by comparing the ridership to the previous iteration of late night service, it was an unmitigated success. The T's mitigation plans would add buses piecemeal to its early morning system with no specific performance metrics. Instead, it should look in to creating a better network with specific goals, and measure the efficacy of the system in providing better connections to people traveling at odd hours.


This plan is designed to be affordable and robust, serving real needs across the region, responding to social and mobility equity, and doing so without the need to turn to the private sector, which cannot and will not offer similar service at such affordable costs. Should it work, it would enable the MBTA to set a standard for quality 24/7 service—service which is provided in Philadelphia, Seattle, Cleveland and Baltimore, not to mention peer cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco—and the kind of service a city and region like ours both needs and deserves.

*****

Here are sample schedules, assuming a :30-past-the-hour pulse at Copley. Schedules are based on current early-AM service. These times would be repeated hourly at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. daily and 5 a.m. Sunday. Each route would require one vehicle unless otherwise noted.

Ashmont-Andrew-Copley (15 Bus, Red Line Ashmont Branch)

Dep Ashmont Station 1:02
Andrew Station 1:17
Arr Copley 1:28

Dep Copley 1:35
Andrew Station 1:46
Arr Ashmont Station 2:00

Mattapan-Dudley-Copley (28 Bus, Silver Line Washington)

Dep Mattapan Station 1:03
Dudley Square 1:14
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:35
Dudley Square 1:46
Arr Mattapan Station 1:57

Hyde Park-Roslindale-Forest Hills-Longwood-Copley (32 Bus, 34 Bus, 39 Bus, Orange Line, 2 vehicles)

Dep Hyde Park 12:50
Forest Hills 1:04
Longwood Medical Area 1:16
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:35
Longwood Medical Area 1:44
Forest Hills 1:56
Hyde Park 2:10

Watertown-Brighton-Kenmore-Copley (57 Bus, Green Line)

Dep Watertown Square 1:02
Kenmore 1:19
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:35
Kenmore 1:41
Arr Watertown Square 1:58

Clarendon Hill-Davis-Harvard-Copley (Red Line Alewife, 87/88/89 Bus, 1 Bus)

Dep Clarendon Hill 1:03
Davis 1:06
Harvard 1:12
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:35
Harvard 1:48
Davis 1:54
Arr Clarendon Hill 1:57

Malden-Medford-Sullivan Square-Haymarket-Copley (Orange Line North, 101 Bus, 93 Bus, 2 vehicles)

Dep Malden 12:49
Medford 12:59
Sullivan Square 1:07
Haymarket 1:17
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:35
Haymarket 1:43
Sullivan Square 1:53 
Medford 2:01
Arr Malden 2:11

Broad & Ferry-Sullivan Square-Haymarket-Copley

Broad & Ferry 1:00
Sullivan Square 1:10
Haymarket 1:17 (express via Rutherford)
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:33
Haymarket 1:41
Sullivan Square 1:48 (express via Rutherford)
Arr Broad and Ferry 1:58

Wonderland-Chelsea-Airport (Blue Line, 111 bus, 117 bus)

Dep Wonderland 1:31
Chelsea 1:44
Arr Airport 1:55

Dep Airport 2:00
Chelsea 2:11
Arr Wonderland 2:26


Copley-South Station-Airport

Dep Copley 1:32
Arlington via Boylston 1:34
Washington via Boylston 1:35
South Station via Essex 1:38
Seaport 1:41
Terminal A 1:45
Terminal B 1:47
Terminal C 1:49
Terminal E 1:51
Arr Airport Station 1:55
Dep Airport Station 2:04

Terminal A 2:04
Terminal B 2:06
Terminal C 2:08
Terminal E 2:10
Seaport 2:14
South Station 2:18
Washington via Kneeland 2:21
St James via Charles 2:24
Arr Copley 2:27


Alternate Copley-Airport-Wonderland through service (2 vehicles; this would provide better connections downtown but may not serve airport shifts as well from Chelsea and Revere):

Dep Wonderland 12:38
Chelsea 12:53
Terminal A 1:06
Terminal E 1:12
South Station 1:19
Arr Copley 1:25

Dep Copley 1:35
South Station 1:41
Terminal A 1:48
Terminal E 1:54
Chelsea 2:07
Arr Wonderland 2:22

9 comments:

  1. What about the Braintree branch of the red line?

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    Replies
    1. Braintree and the D Line are both cases where population densities are relatively low and costs for the longer-distance service relatively high. Neither is currently served by the early-morning routes, and Braintree has some early Logan service via Logan Express; perhaps MassPort could use those buses to serve stops in Quincy overnight.

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    2. It might make sense to point that out in the article, which implies that the northern orange line and the Cambridge part of the red line are the only parts not served by the early morning routes and that this would be based on that.

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  2. Overall, this looks fantastic. There are a few gaps, though, that might be worth the extra bus or two to cover. Revere along the Blue Line, South Boston, and Coolidge Corner/Cleveland Circle/Comm Ave west of Washington are all fairly dense areas that I suspect have a fairly decent population of people needing overnight service. (I may be a little self-interested here... I have an apartment at Cleveland Circle specifically for the Green Line access, and this would put me a mile-plus walk through poorly lit areas away from service.)

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    Replies
    1. For this iteration, the idea is to keep the scope, and costs, down. A branch out Beacon Street to Cleveland Circle has two issues: one is that it's mostly redundant; the C Line is within a mile of the 57 bus (albeit barely) so there's only minimal additional coverage. The particularly densely-populated parts of Brookline and Brighton are a good deal closer to the 39 and 57 buses (see a zoomed-in map here). The second is that Beacon Street would require new curb-side late-night bus stops (you can't just stop a bus anywhere because ADA, among other things) which is an extra layer. If this system were successful, I think a C/D Line route would be a pretty logical step, as would a Braintree branch route and something from East Boston to the airport. But this plan pretty religiously follows the existing early-morning routes (filling network gaps, but not adding extensions) and we wanted to keep the scope tight.

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    2. There's actually already some service along the Blue Line to the airport, in the form of a Massport early morning employee shuttle. Opening that to the public and integrating it into this system wouldn't cost anything, and adding a couple of runs to get it up to full all-night service wouldn't cost very much.

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  3. I wrote a bit about this three years ago, prior to the latest incarnation of late night T. http://walkingbostonian.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/late-night-service-on-t.html

    At the time I thought the pulse system was the only way to make the costs reasonable. I have to say that the 2-year late night T program has made me rethink a bit. For the MBTA, I think it is more difficult for riders to shift from trains to buses compared to places like Montreal because the rail lines cut across the city street network in ways that buses cannot. The familiarity of using the usual T subway stations for late night service helped a lot with attracting riders.

    Having said that, if we've got to switch to buses, then your proposal sounds as good as any I've heard. My attempts at sketching out a late night bus network always centered around Gov't Center or Haymarket. But Copley does make a lot more sense and resolves lots of problems with using the downtown streets.

    And maybe now that so many people have gotten accustomed to the idea that the T should be open late, perhaps they will be more inclined to make these bus routes work despite the inconvenience. They'll be looking for them. Hopefully the T will learn a thing or two about putting up useful signs and pumping out information through many avenues.

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  4. Overall this is a good plan and it would provide much needed service to vast areas of the city. The two biggest flaws are for the Eastside of South Boston and Quincy/Braintree. Southie has some of the highest residential densities in the city and the #7 bus would be a fairly run from Copley to City Point. Quincy has densities that are comparable to (or higher than) Hyde Park, Watertown, Medford, and Malden, places that are served by this new system (here's a good illustration http://sites.tufts.edu/steven/files/2014/02/Density-2010.jpg), so there would likely be a base for service here. People who work late night shifts from Quincy/Braintree also have substantially higher substitute transportation costs (via app or traditional taxi) than other closer in parts of the city and there are large disadvantaged populations in Quincy where these costs could be prohibitive. Also, leaving Quincy and Braintree out of this would deprive this of vital political support, with the large Quincy delegation in the State House and the Mayor of Braintree sitting on the MassDOT board.

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    ReplyDelete