Metro, Politics, Featured Column, Column, Boston

Last Call for Boston to Become a Late-Night City

Just over a year ago, I listened as Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, and former Boston 2024 chairman John Fish pitched the benefits of a Boston Olympics to a crowd of 300 at the city’s first public meeting for the Games. Walsh and Fish argued that hosting the Olympics gave Boston the perfect opportunity to put itself on the “world stage.” They vowed to be transparent and to fix public transportation and infrastructure in less than 10 years.

I wanted to believe them. So did the majority of the audience, despite members of NoBostonOlympics holding up signs saying, “Better Transit, No Olympic Games” in the background. The excitement was palpable. After all, there stood two of Boston’s most influential leaders: Fish, a successful business executive who was ranked first in Boston Magazine’s list of “50 Most Powerful People in Boston,” and Walsh, the Dorchester native who has garnered a positive image during his first term as mayor. I listened intently, inspired that this vision could become a reality.

Now, after 13 months and a failed Olympic bid, Boston has recently taken a huge step backward—one that pulls us closer to our Puritan roots than to a world-class city. The MBTA board recently pulled the plug on its late-night T service, which is scheduled to end on Friday night. And this comes at a time when Walsh is pushing a proposal through the state legislature to allow Boston bars and restaurants to stay open past 2 a.m. in hopes of making the city a more vibrant, late-night destination for recent college graduates and foreign visitors.

If Boston wants to keep up with powerhouses like New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, then Walsh’s recommendations are absolutely necessary to help put Boston on a “world stage.” But how can this late-night plan possibly work without a public transportation system in place?

Walsh revived a years-long discussion over extending the hours of local bars and restaurants when he created his own “Late Night Task Force” nearly two years ago. He previously tried to file an amendment in 2014 to extend last call to 4 a.m. at areas within walking distance of the T, which had just implemented its newly launched late-night program. That amendment was shut down in the Massachusetts State Senate.

The task force further researched what measures would be feasible to make Boston a 24-hour city. Walsh and the group released a list of seven recommendations at the end of January, including extending liquor licenses downtown, allowing restaurants to stay open later if they desire, and encouraging live music and performances later in the evening. The proposal would also allow select pilot areas, like the Seaport and Financial District, to test the extended-hours program.

In How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby says, “Nothing good happens after 2 a.m.” And that may be a common sentiment felt in the Massachusetts legislature. Opponents of Walsh’s plan argue that this late-night pilot would lead to increased crime and alcohol-related problems in some of Boston’s neighborhoods.

But this is not just about rowdy college-aged kids out partying and drinking. This is an economic development issue. Boston prides itself on being a hub of innovation, health care, and education. Our doctors and nurses work overnight shifts in some of the world’s best hospitals. Law firms keep attorneys at their desks well into the night. Employees at financial firms make deals in distant time zones. Boston’s entrepreneurs work tirelessly to make their ideas become reality, which only adds to the need for places to eat, drink, and exercise past midnight.

Eliminating late-night T service only makes this pitch more difficult, given the transportation systems of other prominent cities like New York’s subway, which runs 24 hours a day. Without public transportation, many workers have no way of getting home beyond walking or riding their bikes in the dark. Even a cab ride or Uber back to Brighton would diminish much of what a downtown waitress earns on a given night.

Walsh and his task force’s plan is currently under review by the Boston Licensing Board and the Inspectional Services Department before any final decisions are made by state legislature. But if we want to keep up with the rest of the world and truly become a world-class city, now is the time for Mass. legislature to side with the mayor and take a chance on his proposal.

It’s time for Boston to put itself on the world stage.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor

March 17, 2016

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