40 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Boston Under: After Hours”

  1. Is there a way to link to a specific time in a video?

    39:00 gives a pretty definitive explanation for why we’ll never have 24-hour service on Link.

    1. Well back when they had to do all that rail grinding in the RV they were like “We’re running on a single track starting at 10 PM, dropping the frequency to 20 to 30 minutes, and not giving you a schedule. Enjoy.”

      So track maintenance is really no excuse.

    1. From that article:

      Late night service is particularly expensive because the bus drivers have to be paid double-time for working late at night, which makes their average wage $58 an hour.

      1. Correct, yet they’re willing to spend on the road projects. The cost of night buses doesn’t even begin to approach the cost of these other tasty morsels.

        The excuse given in the movie is incredibly lame. They don’t have double the number of tracks. Fine. But they can’t even scratch together the money to pay for night bus service… so the root problem isn’t necessarily infrastructure, it’s the willingness to support transit to pay for the infrastructure or to even pay for workarounds to not having the infrastructure.

      2. It’s cheaper for taxpayers to pay $40 an hour for night owls than to spend $40 on one or two taxi trips. That makes it impossible to go out weekly or apply for night jobs without driving.

      3. “It’s cheaper for taxpayers to pay $40 an hour for night owls than to spend $40 on one or two taxi trips.”

        That’s true when everyone uses it. But if the mode share of transit for late-night trips doesn’t reach a critical mass, it’s actually cheaper to make the one or two people who would ride the bus pay for a taxi than to pay for the cost of operating an entire bus just for them.

        Late night transit has a fundamental problem that, on the one hand, the total number of people traveling at that hour, by any mode, is tiny. And furthermore, for safety reasons, people’s willingness to take transit (especially the walking and waiting portions of the trip) is much less than it is during the day. Then, consider that the higher cost of labor late at night means fewer service hours, which means more walking and waiting to get anywhere useful, which means fewer riders, etc.

        Then, there’s also the problem with premise that making a trip without a car which involves returning home late at night requires paying a $40 taxi bill. First, when you go somewhere late at night, you are probably going there with friends. And even if you didn’t drive there, in the world we live in, the rest of your friends probably did. Which means if you can find a way to get there by bus, the odds, in practice, are quite good that one of your friends will be willing to drive you home if you just ask. Second, even if your friends don’t live somewhere where they can conveniently drive you home, the distance has to be pretty far for a taxi ride to run as high as $40. In King and Snohomish County, an n-mile taxi ride costs approximately $3(n+1), including a 15% gratuity. This means $15 for a 4-mile trip or $33 for a 10-mile trip. For trips beyond 10 miles, an overnight Zipcar rental starts to become as cheap or cheaper than a one-way taxi ride. On Monday-Thursday, an all-night rental car costs just $42, including tax.

        In a place like New York, I agree that late-night transit is absolutely essential. But after about 1-2 AM or so, I’m not sure it makes sense here.

      4. “if the mode share of transit for late-night trips doesn’t reach a critical mass, it’s actually cheaper to make the one or two people who would ride the bus pay for a taxi than to pay for the cost of operating an entire bus just for them.”

        Cheaper for the taxpayer maybe, but for the rider it’s prohibitively expensive. The taxi trips I’ve taken have been around $10 (King Street Station to Summit) or $50 (SeaTac airport to Bellevue). (Note: I wouldn’t have taken these on my own, but I was with people who insisted on taking a taxi.) If we assume $15 is average (45th to downtown), and they take transit one direction (so it’s a one-way trip), that’s $60 a month for a weekly taxi ride, or $330 a month for a 5-nights-a-week job. People who work night shifts at a bar or warehouse are not usually making a lot of money, so taxi fares are prohibitively expensive.

        Night buses require the highest subsidy, it’s true, but that’s where transit’s “social equality” and “general mobility” goals come in.

      5. By the way, my roommate is taking the last 150 to Kent for his night job. His shift starts variously at 12:30am, 2am, or 3am, or 4am; so he takes any of the last four buses. The last bus leaves Convention Place at 1:23am — thank god for it — and arrives around 2:15. He says there are some ten or twenty people on it; it’s not an empty bus by any means. So he arrives at 2:15 or earlier and waits for his shift to start, sometimes 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes, sometimes 105 minutes. In the morning the return bus starts early — 5am — so that’s not a problem.

        Fortunately his job is four blocks from a 150 stop. It used to be further away from West Valley Highway, so he drove. We looked into the 280 night owl but it would be at least a 45 minute walk from Grady Way.

      6. He says there are some ten or twenty people on it; it’s not an empty bus by any means.

        Hey, I’ve been on plenty of mid-day route 2 trips to the Central District with fewer people on it than that!

        Time to start cutting back on that unjustifiably resource-sucking social-service route, amIrightJoanna?

      7. Every one of these maintenance people are worth a lot more than fifty-eight dollars an hour. Anybody thinks otherwise can go step in what that foreman at the end of the video advised his crew not to.

        Mark Dublin

    2. Massachusetts has been sandbagging the MBTA for decades, deliberately *and artificially* loading it down with debt and underfunding it, in order to give money to ridiculous road projects (the Big Dig being the biggest). It’s been treated worse than the Federal government treats Amtrak.

      It’s unfortunate.

      1. I totally agree with you, Nathanael, that it’s bullshit that the capital expenditures associated with transit-mitigation projects for the Big Dig was offloaded onto the MBTA.

        Where I disagree with you is in your suggestion that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts puts the T in a worse position than the State of Washington puts Seattle-area public transit in.

        Massachusetts recognizes that functioning public transit throughout Boston Metro is crucial to the economic health of the entire state. And so the Commonwealth funds the T’s annual operations, heartily, with dedicated revenue streams collected from the entire state. (This is true even if you factor in the woefully non-segregated capital debt burden.) It’s a reasonable quid pro quo: Boston’s wealth helps to fund roads and other infrastructural and social necessities around the state; the rest of the state helps to allow Boston to run smoothly.

        Olympia, on the other hand, continues to follow the 1970s paradigm of making a political punching bag of urban interests in general, and of its major city and its public transit users in particular. It provides no supplementary funding whatsoever toward making Metro and Sound Transit function at good-enough-so-that-non-masochistic-people-will-use-it levels — zero, zip, nada — and only occasionally deigns to permit us to tax ourselves to marginally improve it. Meanwhile, it steals our state taxes en masse for highway projects in Spokane County and all the other Eastern Washington welfare.

        So we are actually much worse off in our relationship with state government than any East Coast state will ever be.

  2. Good article in the New York Times called “Subway Entrances? Not on Our Block” about how subway entrances are bad for neighborhoods.

    1. Lloyd, how is informing the comment section about a February 25th article in the NYT on a subway entrance controversy trolling?

      1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/nyregion/upper-east-side-residents-protest-proposed-subway-entrances.html

        It’s actually an article on how NIMBYs will be NIMBYs even in the densest neighborhood in America.

        At no point does the article give an ounce of credence to the objections, except for the historic/aesthetic ones, which it makes clear could be fixed simply by shifting to the south side of the very same intersection.

        Arguing for the best possible siting does not equate to subway entrances harming neighborhoods.

  3. Plenty to say about the video, and not enough time to write it.

    First thoughts:

    1)

    Those who complain about the T’s deficiencies — a major civic sport in Boston — should be sentenced to live 5 years car-free in Seattle. The gulf between what you get there for $59/month and what you get here for $90/month is wide enough to sail a fleet through.

    Even in the T’s current budget cruch, the highest potential fare hikes on the table leave fares lower than ours, with minimal service cuts. And that probably won’t come to pass, as the MBTA advisory board is working with the state on some pretty novel funding ideas that would prevent most cuts while keeping fares around $74/month. What did Olympia do again? Oh yeah, they graciously allowed us yet another chance to tax ourselves in an insufficient, temporary, totally regressive way.

    TL;DR… Bostonians, take a taxi the three times a month you’re out too late for the T. You’ll still spend less monthly than I do for an anemic transit system that steals my life away 30 minutes at a time.

    2)

    None of the above fully excuses the lack of some skeletal late-night T service, at least on weekends. I used to say that, whereas KC Metro is a benign and well-meaning agency that couldn’t provide high-volume transit service if its life depended on it, the MBTA is an agency that hates its own customers but begrudgingly makes high-volume services work 19 hours per day by necessity. But the T’s administration was overhauled about 8 years ago and is now both competent and benign.

    Unfortunately, the Night Owl bus service experiment was undertaken (under political pressure) by the last malicious administration, and they did everything in their power to make it fail: all routes had to transfer at Government Center and the timing was inconvenient. When initial ridership was nevertheless higher than expected, they disallowed subway passes as a valid form of payment. Ridership remained high, so they got rid of transfers and made everyone pay twice. Lots of people still used it, so they jacked up the fare to $4 per leg, finally killing its appeal.

    Then they cancelled it, claiming low demand. Pathetic.

    Saddled with debt, the new (benign) administrators have kept the return of late-night service off the table. But it has been noted that most scheduled (non-emergency) maintenance happens Sunday-Thursday overnights, so even keeping the trains open two hours later could be on the table in some future, less economically dour era.

    1. Really, all the MBTA needs now is for the state government to take the debt off its back — the debt which a previous state government decided to dump on it, not even debt “earned” by the MBTA, but debt from state obligations which the state decided to shift to the MBTA — and to have a steady funding stream other than tickets. Not even a large one, just a reliable one.

      The state government has shown no interest in doing either.

      1. I totally agree with you, Nathanael, that it’s bullshit that the capital expenditures associated with transit-mitigation projects for the Big Dig was offloaded onto the MBTA.

        Where I disagree with you is in your suggestion that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts puts the T in a worse position than the State of Washington puts Seattle-area public transit in.

        Massachusetts recognizes that function public transit throughout Boston Metro is crucial to the economic health of the entire state. And so the Commonwealth funds the T’s annual operations, heartily, with dedicated revenue streams collected from the entire state. (This is true even if you factor in the woefully non-segregated capital debt burden.) It’s a reasonable quid pro quo: Boston’s wealth helps to fund roads and other infrastructural and social necessities around the state; the rest of the state helps to allow Boston to run smoothly.

        Olympia, on the other hand, continues to follow the 1970s political paradigm of making a punching bag of urban interests in general, and of its major city and its public transit users in particular. It provides no supplementary funding whatsoever toward making Metro and Sound Transit function at good-enough-so-that-non-masochistic-people-will-use-it levels — zero, zip, nada — and only occasionally deigns to permit us to tax ourselves to marginally improve it. Meanwhile, it steals our state taxes en masse for highway projects in Spokane County and all the other Eastern Washington welfare.

        So we are actually much worse off in our relationship with state government than any East Coast state will ever be.

  4. Thanks for posting this one, Oran. Will finish watching it tonight when I get home from work. Have visited Boston a few times over last 30 years or so, always impressed by the “T”. Was there several days in midwinter, and found I could see a lot of the city without having to take my overcoat out of the hotel-room closet.

    Suprised service doesn’t run later- Boston seemed like the kind of place where enough things would stay open to warrant later transit hours. Is present schedule a recent thing, or has it always been like this? Has current economic situation hit Boston pretty hard?

    From an accounting perspective, I think there needs to be a budget item marked: “Remaining in the Modern World”. Criteria debatable- but let’s just say deficit on this item can be smelled before you can see it. Based on what I’ve seen in private versus public bus and rail transportation, would be best to get private employees’ wages level with public ones. I agree with The Seattle Times about need for “re-set”, but switch needs notch in opposite direction.

    Mark Dublin

  5. Does anybody know why there were traffic workers redirecting traffic in the middle of the intersection of Mercer & Dexter on Friday afternoon? The N/S light was green, and yet the workers were standing in the intersection routing E/W traffic through. My best guess would be that the Mercer corridor was verging on gridlock.

    As I pulled up to stop behind a minivan in front of me (with a green light but the workers flagging E/W traffic), I got rear-ended by somebody who admitted they were spacing out. I know the guy who rammed me was at fault, but does the city have a way to disable the traffic lights when they are going to do stuff like this? With all the smartphones, etc., I can almost forgive somebody for seeing a green light and not noticing that the intersection was being used for different purposes. Luckily, nobody was hurt and I don’t think any vehicles sustained significant damage, but I’m a little mad at the city for this stunt.

    1. I think they were doing some major utility work in the area. I was there around 1030 and there were 8-10 yellow city light trucks just off mercer/Dexter. It might have to do with the new development half a block further south on Dexter.

    2. Wow, so you can “almost forgive” a motorist who’s looking at their smartphone and not giving their full attention to actually driving but you’re mad at the city “for this stunt”?

    1. By November of 2011, when I was last there, nearly all of those flimsy traincars from the ’70s had finally been replaced.

  6. Lovely new Routemaster buses begin to appear in London:

    “The new vehicle is the modern successor to the much-admired 1950s Routemaster, which was also designed specifically for London. It is built to cope with the demands of a working life spent entirely in stop-start traffic. An open rear platform at the back is intended to speed boarding and allow passengers to hop on and off while it is stopped at lights – accelerating journey times, at least in theory.

    During the day, a conductor will be on board, though offering advice and ensuring safety, rather than selling tickets – a clippie without a cause. At other times, the rear platform doors will be closed between stops.

    Aesthetically and environmentally, the bus impresses. The designers have retained the rounded corners and friendly fascia of its 1950s namesake, and added retro notes inspired by the streamlining of US streetcars. The lower saloon is agreeably accessible, while the upper deck provides elevated all-round vision that other cities’ buses cannot emulate. Even the décor – deep maroon – and the neat, spare finishing on the stairways acknowledges the inspired design of the Fifties’ bus.

    TfL claims that the Routemaster’s fuel consumption is 11.6 miles per gallon, exactly twice the figure for ordinary diesel buses. It is a true hybrid, running for much of the time on its batteries, abetted only when necessary by a diesel engine. Much of the time it runs with only a gentle hum, in the manner of a trolleybus – improving life for passengers and those along the route. Stops are announced electronically, together with a new warning to “Watch out for traffic when leaving the bus”.”

    More:

    The Routemaster returns to London

  7. This being an open thread, I’d like to make some suggestions regarding the proposed 50.

    A lot of the lobbying for “saving” the 39 (and the 34, for which its entire ridership was probably at the open house last night) is almost, but not quite, dead set on a one-seat ride downtown.

    I heard a willingness to transfer to Link *if* the 50 were more dependable, and didn’t result in waiting 25 minutes in the dark and rain at Columbia City Station. Average wait time could be reduced a few minutes *if* the buses were instructed to wait a minute or so after each southbound train, and check to see if there were any stragglers coming.

    Timing the buses departing from Othello Station likewise, but serving different different Link runs than the 50 leaving Columbia City Station eastbound does, would further reduce average time waiting at a bus stop, so long as the riders learn to use the schedule. Right now, the printed schedule doesn’t even list Columbia City Station, so it is difficult to game which station to get off at.

    Metro is essentially buying frequency for the 50 by eliminating the travel time through the Central Business District for both the 39 and 56. As widely unpopular as the move is, I think the complaining riders of the 39 would end up being happier if the Link-to-50 connection ends up being a lot more seemless than what they fear.

    A little math here: 20-minute frequency on the 50 would not mesh with Link schedules during peak. 30-minute frequency would, but then every four trains would have a 50 leaving both Columbia City Station and Othello Station eastbound, and the other three trains would have neither. 22.5-minute frequency would have a 50 leaving one or the other station for two out of every three peak Link southbound runs. 15-minute frequency (for which the service hours definitely don’t exist) would restore the both/neither/both/neither problem. Having 22.5-minute frequency and having the bus wait for a specific train would reduce the average wait time to connect to the 50 to less than three minutes, with a maximum time of about eight minutes, if riders learn to use the schedule.
    .

    Likewise, providing a shuttle that circles between Henderson Station and Othello Station, via Seward Park Ave S, during peak hours only, would probably satisfy the riders of the 34 *if* the seemless Link-to-34 connection can be made to happen. Indeed, giving them a more direct ride to Othello Station (or even Henderson Station) in the morning, instead of meandering through the Gennessee neighborhood, would probably leave them thrilled. I would suggest that the service be 2-way, for people going to Rainier Beach High in the morning and going home in the evening, and thereby increasing the frequency for options to get to Link and head downtown. This newly-shortened 34 would be less than 1 operator FTE, and perhaps create a high-frequency corridor on Othello east of the station during peak hours.

    *Or* just have the shortened 34 run in the counter-peak direction, providing a ride to/from RBHigh that doesn’t currently exist, but will give the 34 riders the front-door service they seek, with the connection to Link. By going in the counter-peak direction, the route could use platform hours that are currently used to deadhead to Rainier Beach.
    .

    Why is the 50 important to the system? Well, it is the next battle over one-seat rides and duplicate-head at the expense of neighborhood service. Downtown is more than adequately served. We don’t need more buses running up and down downtown. If possible, we need fewer, to relieve traffic congestion for the rest of the downtown buses.

    Pushing riders to transfer onto RapidRide runs into capacity limitations. Adding more frequency to RapidRide runs into headway limitations, especially when the neighborhoods are throwing dependability impediments in the way.

    Link can absorb more riders, even during peak. The extra ridership from getting all the commuters on the 34 and 39 east of MLK to transfer to/from Link would barely scratch the amount of space still available during peak Link runs.

    Before we can convince suburban commuters to go along with Link connection/bus-route truncation, Seattle needs to lead by example. If we can’t win the efficiency battle with the 34/39, where can we win?

  8. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Don Camouflage, Join Army

    A surprising number of technological innovations have been developed through the military, and subsequently found their way into daily use – microwaves, cell phone technology, the internet and more, all have their roots in military systems.

    Sometimes, the civilian world can give something back – like the fleet of 16 General Motors hydrogen fuel cell vehicles being used by the U.S. Army in Hawaii.

    The Army is evaluating the now-camouflaged fuel cell SUVs in real-world use, to determine whether the technology has wider use in the military.

    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1073466_hydrogen-fuel-cell-cars-don-camouflage-join-army

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