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Lights out for MBTA Night Owl bus routes

Published: Thursday, March 17, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 20:01

Due to an increasing budget deficit, the MBTA Board of Directors unanimously cut the Night Owl service for the next fiscal year, beginning on July 1. The announcement last Friday revealed a $1.27 billion dollar budget that is looking to cut costs without raising fares.

"MBTA is under severe financial stress," said Joe Pesaturo, MBTA spokesman. "We've been working hard to close the budget gap, and given the exorbitant cost of Night Owl, it is a service we could no longer afford to keep on the books."

The Night Owl, which offers nine bus routes until 2:30 a.m. on weekends, cost MBTA $7.53 per rider, compared to $1.53 per rider for an average bus route. Cutting the program will save an estimated $1 million dollars next year.

City Councilor Jerry McDermott (Allston-Brighton) argued that these costs were inevitable.

"No one ever thought that the Night Owl would pay for itself," he said.

With this decision, Boston falls to last place in the nation in terms of hours of service offered by public transportation in big cities, according to the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.

"It's a real slap in the face of the community," said McDermott. He mentioned the workers in service industries, who often get out of work late and are unable to afford cars, as one population affected by these cutbacks. College students are another primary concern.

"Boston has a healthy nightlife," he said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that there are going to be more people under the influence driving vehicles. You're dealing with a young population without the $30 cab fare, and some of them are going to get behind the wheel."

Pesaturo refuted rumors of fare hikes, which he attributed to a Metro article several weeks ago.

"It's not even on the radar," he said. "There will be no fare increase for a year."

MBTA has no plans of night time transportation for the future, but McDermott feels it is only a matter of time.

"There will be enough pressure put on the MBTA leadership," he said. "It could be a short period of time with interruption, but eventually it will turn around and we'll see it restored."

"It's outrageous," said Tobias Koha, A&S '07. "I feel like it's a great service that is really necessary for those that go out late, 'cause cabs are wicked expensive." He attributed its lack of success to minimal advertising.

Other changes in the new budget include a $0.50 increase in parking at some suburban parking lots and the elimination of the commuter bus program.

The MBTA announced on Tuesday another change in the direction of saving money and time by permanently eliminating four stops on the B Line.

A pilot program launched in April 2004 removed Greycliff Road, Mt. Hood, Summit Avenue, and Fordham Road in an effort to reduce the 45-minute trip from Boston College to Government Center.

A recent survey of T riders determined the line is better off without these stops, with 73 percent of voters wishing the program to continue.

McDermott believes the survey misrepresents the community of T riders, because it was conducted from Jan. 25 through Jan. 27, the week following the blizzard that dumped up to three feet of snow on Boston.

"The survey isn't what the paper is printed on," he said. "It's low ridership over the bad weather. It was students and a transient population, and not homeowners and taxpayers, that were riding the T that weekend."

His office has received dozens of calls from angry communities.

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