MBTA approves targeted early morning, late night service pilot

Early-morning bus trips and more frequent late night trips are scheduled to begin in September under a $1.2 million pilot proposal that the MBTA Control Board approved on Monday.

The new service would primarily serve cities north of Boston, including Chelsea, Malden and Revere, and neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, including Dorchester and Mattapan, as well as East Boston.

The expanded service could transport people in the hospitality and medical fields, said MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez. He said, "We really want to give them an option."

The fare price would be unchanged for the pilot.

Boston Chief of Streets Chris Osgood praised the proposal, which he said would add service to the areas demanding it.

"This builds on some of the fantastic efforts by this body," Osgood told the Fiscal and Management Control Board on Monday.

The bus networks would "not quite" run 24 hours per day under the proposal, but it "starts to get close to that," Ramirez told reporters.

The MBTA previously solicited bids for a private vendor to run a bus service outside of the usual operating hours, but received no responses.

In 2016, the MBTA cited low usage rates in deciding to save $9 million by cutting late-night weekend service. That effort used subways and certain bus routes to serve riders after the usual close of service.

"There were times when the T was a little discouraged about whether there was a version of late night that would meet the various constraints that were being put on it. I think this is a great idea," said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who called the plan a "smart" game plan.

The project will entail hiring six more bus drivers and in total the pilot will add about 113 new bus trips per week, according to Laurel Paget-Seekins, director of fare policy and analytics. The program could be tweaked and enhanced through a second phase, which has a roughly $660,000 budget.

The September pilot would add service in three main areas. New overnight trips will be added along the Silver Line, and portions of other bus routes - SL1, SL4, 15, 24, 104, 108, 109, 117 and 442 - in the 2 a.m. time-frame. There will be one later trip added on certain days to several bus routes - 34E, 104, 109, 111, 116 and 442. Finally the T will improve the frequency of buses in the 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. timeframe for other certain routes - 34E, 66, 104, 109, 111, 116, 117 and 442.

For the pilot, the T sought to extend service where it is already needed by workers on early morning or late night shifts.

"It's really being driven by where we've seen demand on our existing late night trips, and also by the board's recognition that we really wanted to focus service on serving the needs of low-income workers," said Paget-Seekins. She said, "There's definitely room - since we have a second phase and we'll potentially continue this - for other areas to see additional service as well."

Route 111, which carries people between Revere and Haymarket, is one of the routes targeted that already has high late-night ridership. The median ridership on the 11:40 p.m. bus is nearly 50 people, according to the T.

The budget calls for $800,000 to be spent on operations, $250,000 to provide The Ride paratransit service along with the new bus service, $100,000 for T police and $50,000 for marketing.