MBTA eyes shutdown of late-night service next year

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/14/mbta-eyes-shutdown-of-late-night-service-next-year/

BOSTON – Late-night bus and subway service likely will be ended early next year, as members of the Fiscal and Management Control Board look for ways to cut costs at the deficit-ridden Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

The $14-per-passenger cost was a chief reason cited for curtailing the service by members of the oversight panel. A solid majority of the control board agreed with chairman Joseph Aiello that there should be a “discontinuance.” The service provided a way for weekend theater, concert, restaurant and bar goers to get home or to a hotel or their cars after a night on the town.

“It is very expensive,” said Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a board member. Saying she rode the service recently, Tibbits-Nutt said, “We need to focus on the core services.”

Aiello suggested that it should end Jan. 2, though Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said because of the process for service changes, “It might be late January or the beginning of February.”

The board did not take a vote on the matter at its meeting Monday.

MBTA Chief Administrator Brian Shortsleeve suggested conversations with service providers Uber, Lyft and Bridj could bear fruit with a new late-night option. Pollack raised the idea of a new late-night service with a “lower-subsidy” and clear benchmarks.

On another MBTA matter, two Department of Transportation board members expressed reluctance to continue with the Green Line extension into Somerville and Medford, citing ballooning costs which have pushed the projected price to as much as $3 billion from about half that as recently as a year ago. Transportation officials unanimously supported a resolution to keep the possibility of cancelling the project as an option.

This summer, transportation officials announced the estimated cost of the trolley extension had jumped to $3 billion, while an estimated $742 million has already been spent in “sunk costs” that can’t be recouped, even if the state decides to cancel the project.

Members of the Control Board and the Transportation Department board indicated a major reluctance towards chipping in more than the roughly $1 billion initially laid out, in addition to about $1 billion from the Federal Transit Administration.

“They’re basically saying it’s a good investment for the commonwealth at $1 billion, but it’s not a good investment at more than that amount of commonwealth dollars,” Pollack summarized for reporters after members of both boards unanimously approved the resolution. Asked what the chances are that the trolley extension would be built, Pollack said, “I don’t want to predict.”

Those holding the purse-strings for the state said they would be reluctant to contribute additional Massachusetts taxpayer dollars to cover increased project costs.

“I would be highly reluctant to invest any more money into this project,” said Robert Moylan Jr., a member of the transportation board.

Betsy Taylor, another member of the board, said she is “reluctant to put additional money towards the Green Line extension.”

Before discussing the resolution that would make the project contingent on funding from municipalities, developers and others, members of both boards said they wanted local leaders to contribute.

“I keep hearing that you guys are going to put some skin in the game, and we’re looking for that,” said Russell Gittlen, a member of the transportation board, referring to leaders in Cambridge, Somerville and Medford. Other means of achieving the project without an additional state expenditure would be through reducing its scope or finding more cost-efficient means of accomplishing the work.

In a Dec. 10 letter to Pollack, U.S Rep. Michael Capuano of Somerville said he recognized that state officials faced difficult decisions, but urged that “any changes to the overall project should not prevent the delivery of long overdue, equitable transit options for residents living in the GLX area.”

Capuano said he was proud of the role he played securing $1 billion in federal funds for the project. “I assume you will do everything humanly possible to ensure those hard-to-get federal dollars are not ‘left on the table,’ ” Capuano wrote.

Also, the fiscal control board agreed to ask for a one-week extension to file a required report to the Legislature on the T’s efforts to boost its own revenue sources, establish clear lines between capital and operating budgets, improve customer relations, and create beneficial real estate deals, among other priorities. The deadline for the report is Tuesday.

Written by Andy Metzger

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