In 1960, when the MTA cut overnight service (for the first time), some trips were retained. At the time the purpose of these trips was to allow MTA (and later MBTA) fare collectors to get to subway stations. This shadow system was not made “public” until 1999, but by “public” it means that the trips have different numbers combining multiple routes and are shown only on some online timetables and on printed timetables as just a note in very, very small print.
But they’re incredibly useful. Say you have a 6:30 departure from Logan Airport. Without this special knowledge, your only option is to drive and pay to park or take a taxicab or TNC vehicle. Everyone loves paying $30 to get to the airport, right? The T is useless for flights that depart before 7 (the earliest outbound Blue and Silver line services get to the airport around 6 a.m.). Even though the airport runs at full capacity at 6 a.m., many flights depart earlier, and most airport staff have to arrive by 4 or 5 in the morning. Once you learn the secret of the early AM buses, you can get to the airport, or downtown, quite a bit earlier.
|An outdated map of early-AM T services; the 109
service was added in 2014 after a study showed
demand for additional early services.
The network actually serves most of the region!
Here are the routes covered by the buses. There are two sort-of-separate services, the ones which operate to Dudley to connect to the 171 bus at 3:50 and 4:20 and have a later trip downtown. The others have a single trip downtown to meet the 117 for a connection to Logan (as far as I know, the T does not guarantee this transfer by having the 117 hold until connecting buses have arrived). They are as follows (I’ll mention internal route numbers in the 191-197 series since those are sometimes referenced in schedules or online trip planning):
- The 15 bus operates trips to the airport via Dudley and Andrew from Ashmont, as well as to Haymarket. The later trip follows the Silver Line’s route, the first use the 171; the later trip does not have connecting service to Logan. These trips are shown on the 15 bus schedule; the later trip is officially known as the 191 (see, more confusing than it needs to be).
- The 28 bus operates from Mattapan to Dudley and meets the 171 and 15 as shown above for transfers. These trips are shown on the 28 bus schedule.
- The 32, 24 and 39 operate as one continual trip from Hyde Park to Roslindale to Jamaica Plain, Copley and Haymarket, and connect to the 117 to the airport. This trip is shown on the 39 bus schedule, although the route is officially the 192. This route does not operate on Sunday.
- The 57 bus operates from Watertown to Kenmore, Copley and Haymarket, officially as the 193 although the trip is shown on the 57 bus schedule. This route does not operate on Sunday.
- The 89 and 93 buses operate from Clarendon Hill to Sullivan Square and on to Haymarket as the 194. This is shown on the 89 bus schedule.
- The 109 and 92 operate from Broadway and Ferry in Everett to Sullivan Square and on to Haymarket. The portion of the trip to Sullivan is shown in the 109 schedule and the 92 schedule. This should allow a transfer to be made at Haymarket to the 117.
- The 117 operates several early morning trips inbound to Haymarket in addition to the connection outbound to the airport.
Is there any information on the MBTA’s website about these services? No! I can’t explain this. The only map I could find was from a 2013 study of these services from CTPS; the T can’t be bothered.
These buses run, they have plenty of capacity (well, most do) and they are, for all intents and purposes, kept secret from the traveling public. The schedules are buried, there’s no information about connecting services to Logan, and no effort has been made to create an “early AM” page with information about which buses run, where the run, and when they run. Most of these buses have been running these routes for close to 60 years—and close to 20 years on public schedules—yet no one knows about them. And the MBTA’s website does its darndest to keep customers in the dark.
|Yeah, real helpful|
For instance: if you load the 171 bus schedule, you get an error message that there are no trips, because it automatically loads the inbound schedule, which indeed doesn’t have any. You need to load the outbound schedule to see the trips. And the 171 is good for Hubwayers; there’s a station to drop your bike right in Dudley.
Or check out the 57 bus schedule. It shows a bus leaving Watertown Yard at 4:33 and arriving at Kenmore at 4:50 (a trip which, during rush hour, is scheduled for more than twice as long). Yet there are no times given for any intermediate stops. So does the bus make these stops? Probably. But who’s to say it doesn’t run express? If you want to take the bus from Brighton (Washington Street at Chestnut Hill Avenue) not only are you not given a time, but really no guarantee that the bus would actually run.
Despite this, these routes provide a good base for a discussion about how late-night MBTA service could actually be provided, not just on Friday and Saturday nights, but every day, for allowing low-income workers to get to jobs at the airport and elsewhere. With the T required to mitigate cutting late night service, and currently proposing a very weak mitigation plan, that’s an additional discussion we need to have. But for now, the agency at least ought to tell people about the service they already provide!