There have been many excuses given as to why this is the case. "Maintenance" is a favorite, especially when officials can point to New York and say "we don't have four tracks." Fair enough....except that PATH, which does run 24/7, is also limited to two tracks. Chicago as well. Never mind that fact that at 2am on Sunday morning, when the streets are suddenly filled with people being kicked out of bars, not a soul is working on maintenance. Like most organizations, maintenance activities which run at night tend to be on weeknights.
Others blame unions. That's an easy target, and while there may be some truth to it, there are little facts. Why, for example, would a union object to extra service, when it means the members can bid for extra hours? And Boston has also recently eliminated the secondary useless staffed position on the red and orange subway lines. That was a "job killer" and yet the unions "allowed" it. So it's not that they're extremely unreasonable.
Now we know that both those stories are baseless excuses because of a new proposal (PDF) that has come out of the MBTA Ridership Oversight Committee:
Introduce weekend night service, but do so by forcing every college in the district to buy every student a monthly pass.
Under the proposal, colleges in the MBTA district would buy monthly, unlimited-ride T passes good for all of their students. Even with a 50% discount, the income from the 250,000 students the program would cover would be more than enough to pay for resumption of overnight service; the committee says even if only half those students had passes bought for them, the T could still afford to bring back the old Night Owl late-night bus lines on weekends.Currently, the MBTA offers students an 11% discount off the monthly pass. That program is optional, and has a lot of strings - students much purchase an entire semester-worth, and when you throw in holidays and such, the math doesn't add up. Even a student who rides daily is better off getting a weekly pass, and accumulating savings off days where the pass isn't needed.
The proposal significantly increases the discount, with the catch that all students MUST buy a pass. Essentially, it would be rolled into tuition.
Why target college students?
The primary reasons are probably the mistaken belief that only the college crowd cares to ride the train past midnight. That's a fallacy which ignores service workers and generally the working poor.
While the drunk students are the ones most visible when the bars close at 2am, it's the staff and cleaning crew making minimum wage who would most benefit from transit. The dishwasher crew who has to stick around another hour has to find their way home. As do the staff who vacuum and mop not just the restaurants, but the office towers as well.
It's not just minimum wage folks who work late - Boston has a huge medical industry, and hospital shifts get in and out at all hours of the day.
When the idea of night transit is brought up, many complain that there is no reason to spend money to "subsidize drunk party kids." The idea being that if one is privileged enough to be able to afford $10 beers, they should be able to afford a cab.
The irony is that the entire transit system is actually set up to most benefit the rich.
When is transit most frequent, most convenient, and most reliable?
The traditional 8am and 5pm rush hours.
Which segment of the population is lucky enough to be able to work steady 9-5 jobs? Generally, those who get paid well.
Minimum wage service jobs tend to switch up hours every other week, asking people to come in at 2pm on Wednesday and then 6am Thursday. It's the office workers in their cushy jobs who have the luxury of a never-changing work-schedule.
So our transit system is set to cater to those who are well off, and when enhancements are proposed which would greatly benefit the poor and lower classes, the idea gets thrown out because it ALSO benefits those with disposable income.
Doesn't make much sense.
What also doesn't make much sense, is the generalization that all college students are equal financially. Some do indeed come from rich homes, but others are on scholarships and work while in school. Forcing them to pay for a pass they may not need doesn't fully make sense.
What also doesn't make sense is only targeting colleges.
Why not ask the medical industry to buy all their nurses passes? Why not force bars to do the same, in order to maintain their liquor license?
The simple answer is: college students don't do much local voting.
That being said, college students would indeed benefit. They'd have cheaper transit access all the time, and they'd be able to go out on the town without having to worry about a 3 mile walk home - Boston is infamous for not having nearly enough cabs at 2am.
The benefits of night service extend to others, even though who aren't using it. Drunk drivers are taken off the roads, and business improves because people aren't worried they'll be stranded.
Does putting onto college students the entire burden, when the benefits are for all make sense?
And even if it isn't fair, is it worth it?
I think it might be - with alterations. As I said previously, some of the cost burden should be spread to other institutions like hospitals as well. The revenue in excess of what's needed for night service could go to improve off-peak headways, which also primarily benefit college students and workers with non-traditional hours, like medical employees.
If you missed the link above, here is the PDF that explains the math.