Late-Night Transit Service Comes to Boston

As 2014 gets underway, here’s something for the denizens of the Boston metropolitan area to look forward to. In December 2013, our local transit authority – commonly referred to as “the T” – announced that, beginning early this year, it will launch a pilot program offering late-night transit service on Friday and Saturday nights.

Judging by the reaction on Twitter (“PRAISE THE LORD!” was my favorite in the selection of enthusiastic tweets reported by The Boston Globe), it’s a popular move. It’s smart, too, and showcased the kind of thinking we need more of from our transportation planners.

Compared to other major cities in the United States (like New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.), Boston’s transit service operates on a remarkably clipped schedule: regular train service ends around 12:30 a.m. Not only does this do a disservice to restaurant and bar staff who stay on the clock until the early hours, it also fails the members of the Millennial generation – those born between 1983 and 2000 – who are increasingly settling in cities like Boston and seeking out car-free and car-light lifestyles.

As our research has shown, Millennials are leading a national trend toward reduced car ownership and driving. Real estate professionals suggest that access to high-quality transit service is one of the things Millennials look for when choosing a place to live. In the 2013 edition of their annual survey of the real estate market, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute pointed out that younger Americans “willingly rent shoebox-sized apartment units as long as neighborhoods have enticing amenities with access to mass transit.” For cities seeking to attract and retain talented young workers, therefore, amenities such as late-night transit service can be a powerful selling point.

As a Millennial myself, I’ll say that the willingness of my peers to live in “shoebox-sized apartments” might have been overstated just a little, but the message is on point. Younger Americans increasingly want the ability to live car-free and to use transit – already increasingly popular as a commuting option – to get home from the weekend’s recreation. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to leave a social event early to sprint headlong for the nearest T stop in the hope of catching the last train home and avoiding a costly taxi trip. In launching this pilot program, Boston’s transit officials and political leaders took a long-overdue step toward establishing a modern transportation system that offers valuable options and fits with the wants and needs of a new generation.