Closing Time: Economic Implications of Cancelling Late Night Service in Boston

Photo by Olivia Deng

On Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a shallow kiddie pool laid close to the Atlantic Ocean. According to a recent story by the The New York Times, the equivalent of that kiddie pool is Boston.

This past Saturday is the last time - in the foreseeable future - that trolleys leave Park Street Station slightly after 2 a.m. Since then, closing time for Boston's public transportation system has been pushed earlier by two hours, returning to its operating hours prior to 2014. Last month, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority voted in favor of suspending late-night service, citing cost and maintenance as some of the reasons to cut the pilot program.

Boston has attempted to be a "big city" numerous times. In May 2014, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh assembled a Late Night Task Force comprised of restaurant and bar owners, business leaders, law enforcement and students with the objective of vamping up Boston's nightlife. In February 2016, the task force called for extended liquor license hours - currently, alcohol cannot be served past 2 a.m. in Boston.

Walsh acknowledged Boston's potential for a vibrant nightlife in a January 27 statement.

"In the City of Boston we have an opportunity to create the kind of nightlife that visitors expect in a world-class city," Walsh said in the statement. "I thank all the members of the task force who came together over the course of several months to help us think about how to make Boston a more exciting and engaging place to live, work and play. I look forward to further exploring these recommendations to make Boston even more enjoyable for everyone."

However well-intentioned the efforts may be, they are not enough to counter the thundering authority of the MBTA and stringent license and permit requirements. The new task force and its goals are at direct odds with steadfast tradition and red tape.

The cancellation of late-night service brings many economic implications. Ending public transportation service early harms employees who work late hours. Additionally, restaurants and bars will suffer. Now, they will have to contend with potentially losing customers between the hours of 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. as bar-hoppers scurry to catch the last trolley.

One may argue that the economic implications are not that severe, seeing as the MBTA shut down at 12 a.m. just two years ago. But much can change in two years. For example, in the span of two years, ridesharing has grown significantly. In wake of the MBTA's vote to terminate late night service, Uber set a temporary $5 flat rate for UberPool rides from March 19 to April 9. Bridj, a transportation startup, has positioned itself to fill the void the MBTA has left.

The assumption that underlies this discussion is that a sparkling nightlife is a requirement for a world-class city. Is it though? Boston is the home to many colleges and universities, a booming technology scene and a strong arts scene. But a beleaguered public transportation system is more than a minor inconvenience. It is indicative of a longstanding problem in Boston - uncoordinated efforts that stem from the clash of interests from different parties.

Boston may not complete its transformation from stuffy quasi-city to glistening metropolis in a short amount of time, but that is not the point. This is not a request to party more. This is not a request to compete with New York City. This is a request to a) be equitable and fair and b) help spur economic growth.

As mentioned earlier, the task force called for extended liquor license hours - but will that call be answered if there is no pressure?

For Boston, some new beginnings come to a dead end.