Home U.S. Transit SystemsMBTA Great Moments in Other Mayoral Campaigns: 24-hour T service

Great Moments in Other Mayoral Campaigns: 24-hour T service

by Benjamin Kabak

In case you were afraid that New York is the only city where current mayoral candidates are offering laughable transit proposals, worry no longer. Thanks to our neighbor to the north with the far inferior baseball franchise, we have company. As Bostonians convene to elect a new civic leader, those hoping to inherit Tom Menino’s mantle are starting to promise the sky when it comes to the T.

As a variety of candidates take to the streets, transportation issues are front and center. This time, though, candidates are talking about money. They recognize the T’s limitations. It closes earlier; the MBTA is constantly scrounging around for state dollars; the city has little control over its own transit system. But the funding proposals are far more creative than anything we’ve seen in New York.

In The Globe, Martine Powers summarized the campaign:

Transportation is a frequent topic on the campaign trail, with candidates releasing detailed platforms coupled with gimmicky appeals to voters, such as three days of car-free campaigning.

In a Boston Globe survey answered by eight of the 12 mayoral hopefuls, many of the candidates’ visions for Boston’s transportation future aligned: Most they said they plan to push for 24-hour T service, will embrace technology to reduce gridlock in the city, institute major changes in the city’s taxi industry, promote biking, and encourage car-free commuting.

The differences in candidates’ platforms are in the details. Councilor Michael P. Ross said he would consider offering special late-night licenses to bars and restaurants that would allow them to stay open later, with the fees funding extended T hours, while Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley suggested that Boston sports teams and cultural institutions bundle CharlieCards with their season tickets and annual memberships, adding an influx of cash to the MBTA.

Beyond these ideas, certain mayoral candidates have also suggested that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority beg the region’s myriad universities for funding assistance or ask hospitals and corporations — those economic drivers with workers who need late-night transportation — to chip in. Of course, since the MBTA is a state-sponsored agency, these suggestions will be for naught, but they’re far better than the Triboro RX SBS route or Joe Lhota’s park-and-ride plans.

But while we can nod knowingly in Boston’s direction, something is driving this push toward outlandishly inane or inanely outlandish transit ideas in mayoral campaigns. Is it because cities should have tighter control over their transit systems? Is it because states and the feds aren’t adequately funding transportation investment? Are these zany ideas simply a cover for an unwillingness to do anything serious? I’m sure the answer is somewhere betwixt and between all of these questions, and the answers are rather uncomfortable.

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Larry Littlefield September 20, 2013 - 7:30 am

It’s the same thing that causes politicians at all levels to talk about things that are not their responsibilities — foreign policy Mayors, education Presidents, etc. — and release lots of studies.

Generation Greed has stolen the future from those coming after, and those coming after are going to be worse off in every way. But Generation Greed does not want to admit this. So campaigns are about not facing up to the reality.

Christopher September 20, 2013 - 8:02 am

Can’t imagine what purpose 24 hour transit would serve in Boston given the city all but entirely shuts down by 11 p.m. Also, even during rush hour the trains seem to run on the same schedule as the G train here does…would hate to think how long one would have to wait for a train late at night.

John September 20, 2013 - 9:09 am

That’s a chicken-egg thing… the city shuts down BECAUSE the T doesn’t run after midnight, not vice-versa.

Boston doesn’t need 24/7 subway service, but surely it’s feasible to extend Friday and Saturday service to 2 or 3am?

Ron September 20, 2013 - 10:03 am

Weekend service definitely needs to be expanded in Boston. Even DC extends their hours until 3am on weekends. DC definitely isn’t a 24 hour town. Boston should at least match DC.

Christopher September 20, 2013 - 11:27 am

I used to live in Tokyo, which is one of the most transit dense cities in the world. Trains stop running between midnight and 1 am, but the city itself certainly doesn’t, so I’m not sure it’s a chicken and egg situation here. (There’s talk of making it 24 hours, particularly with the Olympics coming in 2020.) I found riding the T to be such a shock to the system (slow, inefficient, frustrating) after Tokyo that I chose to bicycle or walk in Boston, unless the snow was particularly heavy. Based on my experience there, I would like to see them prioritize running trains more frequently during the hours they have service now, rather than extending service hours.

Isn’t New York the only city in the world with 24-hour subway service?

Ian MacAllen September 20, 2013 - 11:57 am

New York’s MTA and Port Authority PATH; Philadelphia-New Jersey’s PATCO, some lines in Chicago.

Stephen Smith September 20, 2013 - 5:52 pm

Driverless trains make 24/7 ops a lot cheaper (duh) and easier (more efficient and precise single-tracking for when you need to do maintenance). Copenhagen does it now, for example.

Kai B September 21, 2013 - 8:11 am

It’s expanding in Europe. Beyond Copenhagen being 24/7 with ZPTO, Berlin and Vienna are “24/2” (weekends). Finding time to do maintenance is the main obstacle.

JJJJ September 21, 2013 - 6:38 pm

Let me guess: Tokyo, like most cities, offers 24 hour bus service.

Boston does not.

David Brown September 20, 2013 - 9:02 am

There are a couple of reasons for this. 1: Politicians are looking at a narrow range of voters, so they are tailoring their message towards them ( even if it is destructive to the Majority ( see Christie Quinn on Crime)). 2: Sound Bites
and Photo Ops are easier than coming up with real solutions (Di Blasio getting arrested over the shutting down of Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn may look heroic, and perhaps he is right. But IDing the problem, and coming up with solutions to make sure it does not happen again ( which he said he had), is not so easy).

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 11:25 am

Surprising coming from you. Christine Quinn on crime is fairly indistinguishable from Joe Lhota or Mike Bloomberg on crime.

SEAN September 20, 2013 - 4:03 pm

As compared to Rudi?

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 4:56 pm

I don’t know that Rudy would disagree with them, but he’s not a contemporary politician at this point so I wasn’t really thinking about him.

Alon Levy September 20, 2013 - 10:33 pm

Giuliani endorsed and campaigns for Lhota.

David Brown September 20, 2013 - 5:28 pm

Quinn never had her own position on crime (she tried to parrot Bloomberg), then she moved extreme left, in (as it turned out) a vain attempt to win the election. That is exactly what I mean by “Sound Bites & Photo Ops” (no matter who is hurt (and the crime statistics bear this out)). You can apply the same thing to MSG. This is exactly why she would have been another Dinkins (getting steamrolled by everyone). It goes without saying I am 180 degrees Polar Opposite from Di Blasio on how to solve problems. But at least he has guts, and understands there are problems and has a few different ideas (unlike Obama & Quinn), and once he tries the hard left approach (and it fails), he will not double down on those mistakes, and not end up as embarrassment like Obama is (see Syria), or give the store away to Municipal Unions like Lindsay did.

Karm September 21, 2013 - 3:38 pm

yeah – if de Blasio gets elected and his policies fail – he’ll have to do whatever his donors that are paying $75k a plate to his fundraisers tell him to do… just like the president making the insurance companies happy with the healthcare bill.

R2 September 20, 2013 - 9:13 am

It would be nice if the last outbound T services should coordinate with the typical closing of the bars on weekends (not long after 2am). Service ends way too early otherwise. Outside of that, “night owl” buses should suffice. Of course, the taxis won’t be thrilled.

Ian MacAllen September 20, 2013 - 11:56 am

Boston cab drivers are the creepiest. The worst stories of cab drivers taking advantage of drunk women come from Boston.

David Brown September 20, 2013 - 9:49 am

The reason why politicians make promises like 24 Hour Transit in Boston ( even if it is not needed), is because it makes a great photo op and Sound Bite. Coming up with suggestions on how to pay for it…. Not so easy. It reminds me of Christie Quinn on her grand transportation plan to move MSG and build a new Penn Station. She got all of this prase and publicity for standing up to ” Big Bad Cablevision.” But where did it get her? More importantly, how much will the Project cost ( assuming of course, it gets started)? No one has a clue ( unless one wants to accept the ” In A Perfect World” scenario dreamt up by the Municipal Art Society). Until the media starts to become more critical and objective, about transportation and many other issues ( please no more Miley Cyrus coverage) , politicians will not change.

Mike September 20, 2013 - 11:04 am

“Is it because states and the feds aren’t adequately funding transportation investment?”


Spendmore Wastemore September 20, 2013 - 11:20 am

Is it because the T is a patronage dumping ground, with a union that enforces low performance in its ranks?

Yes. The only sin within the T is doing the job right.

I can remember one that actually made it into the Globe: a T maintenance worker actually thought his job was to do 8 hours worth of fixing subway cars in an 8 hour day.
The other workers hounded him then administered a beating when he didn’t take the hint.


Christopher September 20, 2013 - 11:31 am

Actually a traffic demand management plan might very well have fees for large employers (and sports stadiums) to cover the cost of transit or whatever. Or ask them to provide shuttle buses. That’s not a terrible idea nor unheard of.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 11:53 am

Agreed, I didn’t see a lot that seemed that absurd here. Expecting users to pay their own way at least a little is fine.

Not sure Boston can support 24/7 transit, but I just don’t know the local circumstances there that well.

Ian MacAllen September 20, 2013 - 11:54 am

24 hour subway service would help distinguish Boston from many of the other second tier cities in the country, and might help offset the horrific climate. If they pull this off, Boston will finally be a grown-up city.

Karm September 21, 2013 - 3:39 pm

Boston is very much a grown up city… i’m not sure what you are saying. it’s cold – but its a real city.

geep9 September 20, 2013 - 12:28 pm

1) Check the baseball standings…
2) When it comes to transit, Boston can’t do worse the Menino, so it’s all positive.

JT September 20, 2013 - 1:40 pm

24 hour T service can’t happen. We don’t have express tracks, and maintenance needs to get done at some point. Later weekend service would do a lot of good though.

Stewart Clamen September 20, 2013 - 1:59 pm

PATCO (a single-line, two-track operation) supports maintenance and 24/7 service by reducing frequency and running trains “the wrong way” on segments. All stations are central platform.

Chris C September 20, 2013 - 3:35 pm

yes and they really love that single track operation with vastly reduced frequency on the DC Metro

Tower18 September 20, 2013 - 3:55 pm

You can have overnight service while doing either single tracking, or just closing certain lines, a la FastTrack. It’s not like people expect the T to be open now anyway, so what’s the difference?

In Chicago, only the Blue and Red lines stay open 24 hours (and even in the wee, wee hours, it runs more frequently than NY lines). The Brown Line runs full service to ~1:45am and is truncated to a shuttle until 2:30. Orange Line last run is around ~1:30.

Anyway, Boston doesn’t need to run all lines, all hours. Maybe just Red, Orange, and the B and C Green branches.

Jonah September 20, 2013 - 3:41 pm

They could start with at least a few bus lines, it’s embarrassing that there is absolutely nothing at night.

Bolwerk September 20, 2013 - 3:47 pm

I think Philly bustitutes at night.

Jonah September 20, 2013 - 3:58 pm

Most civilized places do

SEAN September 20, 2013 - 3:59 pm

Wait a minute! I thaught the MBTA rapid transit lines ran 20-hours a day. It was something like 5:30 AM to 1:30AM every day. Please correctly if I’m amiss here.

The T does have two things that we are in serious need of here in NYC… an automated farecard system & busses with automated route & stop anouncements.

geep9 September 20, 2013 - 4:29 pm

last trains leave around 12:30AM during the week. so 1:30AM is a stretch. key buses maybe last run around 1AM start.
I’d vote for buses overnight, more stops means they can get closer to your destination

aestrivex September 20, 2013 - 7:06 pm

Each of these answers strikes me as better and more realistic than anything coming from the NYC mayoral candidates.

JJJJ September 21, 2013 - 6:41 pm

Outlandishly inane? Huh? The only thing is insane is that Boston is probably the only major city in the world with a decent transit system that doesnt offer 24/7 transit service via buses.

LA, SF, Philly….yes, they shut down the trains at night, but they have a network of night buses.

Theorem Ox September 22, 2013 - 10:16 pm

MBTA used to run overnight bus services in the not too distant past. They axed it in a manuever to stem their growing financial problems.

Jim D. September 24, 2013 - 9:32 am

Those were the ‘Night Owl’ buses that operated for a few hours only on Friday and Saturday nights from 2001 to 2005. Full 24-hour service ended in the early 1960’s.

Jim D. September 24, 2013 - 9:40 am

The roadblock delaying 24-hour transit service in Boston hasn’t chnaged – it’s the union rule which requires operators to be paid double-time if they work a shift that includes trips leaving 2:00 a.m. or later. That is what killed the city’s original all-night service back in the 1960’s. When the MBTA briefly ran its ‘Night Owl’ service in the early 2000’s, the cost was almost eight dollars per rider. If the T had a simple shift-differential payment like NYCT does, Boston would probably already have at least overnight bus service on the rapid transit lines and key bus routes.


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