Our expectations for Boston are low enough that the coming of subway service until 3 a.m. on weekends is cause for jubilation. The Globe’s Derrick Z. Jackson says the extended service, set to begin in the spring, gives the MBTA “a chance to be a global player in public transit.” He quotes Rick Dimino, CEO of the Boston civic organization A Better City: “This has got to be part of a focused effort to keep 25- to 35-year-olds here.”
Exactly. It has to be part of a much larger effort to keep the city awake around the clock.
I’d love to see Boston embrace poutine (the Montreal “mess” of fries, cheese curds, and gravy best enjoyed in the wee hours), and the Cheeseboy grilled-sandwich chain would be perfect for people wanting something to soak up the alcohol in their stomachs before hearing home. But we don’t have such options, nor do we have New York’s bodegas with their healthier offerings of fresh fruit. Instead, we’ve got all-night CVS outlets that devote almost all their grocery space to energy drinks and high-sugar snacks — which don’t even include good candy bars. (That said, even New York may be losing its bodegas, to be replaced by chains like 7-Eleven, which use harsh lighting and vending-machine aesthetics to move people in and out as quickly as possible.)
If the streets are desolate after midnight, late-night T service won’t do much to make the city more attractive to young entrepreneurs. The trains will either be empty or occupied exclusively by bar-hopping college kids. Either way, our little experiment in world-class city life would be scrapped.
A 24-hour city will happen only if the Boston allows more businesses to operate all night.
And one more prerequisite: The MBTA must improve its daytime service in order to get people to ride it after midnight, and it must plan for expansion where needed. With late-night weekend service, Boston will match Washington, D.C., in the number of hours with public transit, but the capital has been steadily adding stations for decades and isn’t finished yet. There is no way for Boston to keep up on this score, and Washington will inevitably become a more attractive destination for people who don’t want to own cars.
Later weekend service is overdue in Boston, and it’s a nice way for a new mayor to begin his administration. But in terms of keeping those 25- to 35-year-olds here, it’s a small attempt to keep pace with other prosperous metro areas — not something that will erase our rap as a city that shushes exuberance.