The following appeared in the Sunday Boston Globe. (1/14) It was written by Norwell resident John Stilgoe who is the Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape at Harvard University.
Late-night MBTA commuter trains offer long-term benefits to municipalities far south of Boston. While a handful of trackside abutters always decry the momentary noise of any passing train, night trains benefit the entire regional population. Modern times demand a return to older schedules, and even older transport-system thinking.
Boston goes to bed early. Proper Bostonians expect the MBTA bus and subway operation to shut down around 12:30 a.m. Visitors from New York and European cities chuckle at the small-town, roll-up-the-sidewalks mentality. As large corporations move away from Boston, the city begins to lose its big-city reputation, and the T’s early shutdown doesn’t help the Hub’s image problem to visitors.
Long before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s forerunner whose fare increase produced the song about Charlie who never returned) acquired the properties of the privately owned Boston Elevated Railway Co., so-called Night Owl streetcars and buses prowled Boston streets. Late-night service ran regularly, although not frequently, and enabled factory employees and other night-shift workers to get to work and repairmen to move from one job to another without hiring cabs. It brought night club revelers home safely, keeping them from driving automobiles. Perhaps most importantly, Night Owl service let people get to South Station for very-early-morning trains and get home from trains arriving late at night. While trains tended to arrive on time, even in bad weather, Night Owl service meant much to passengers debarking New England Steamship Co. coastal vessels delayed by fog.
In the past few years, the MBTA experimented with Night Owl buses rolling along sleeping subway routes, but the infrequent service stopped at 2:30 a.m. and proved so expensive to operate that the T ended it in 2005. Boston ranks last in national transit-authority hours-of-service surveys, and many tourists jeer at a part-time transit authority determined to raise fares.
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