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Could WMATA get sued if it cancels late-night service?

Boston’s subway system canceled its late-night service earlier this year. (Steven Senne/AP)
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Just as Metro looks to cancel its late-night service, Boston’s subway system is getting sued for nixing after-hours offerings earlier this year.

A trio of Boston nonprofits filed a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Tuesday, alleging that the transit agency violated civil rights when it ceased providing late-night weekend service.

According to the Boston Globe, the organizations alleged in a federal complaint that the MBTA “incorrectly analyzed how the cancellation would affect minority and low-income riders, and failed to implement alternative services to mitigate the impact.”

“Some of the T’s most vulnerable customers were affected by the termination of late-night service,” Rafael Mares, vice president at the Conservation Law Foundation, told the Globe. The transit agency, he said, “chose not to do anything about it. The service that’s so important for late-night shift workers has been terminated since March, and nothing else has been put in place.”

Historically, Boston’s subway service has run only until about midnight daily. In 2014, after a surge in interest from riders and local businesses, the MBTA launched a pilot program that would keep the trains running until 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Earlier this year, the MBTA’s fiscal control board voted to cancel the service, declaring that it was simply too expensive to run and that it cut into the available window for maintenance work.

Sound familiar, Washington?

A spokesman for the MBTA told the Globe that the transit agency had received the Federal Transit Administration’s approval to cut back hours.

But the court case will probably be closely watched by Metro officials, who are pursuing a plan to shorten weekend service hours after the conclusion of the 10-month SafeTrack maintenance project. The proposal would need an approval from the Metro board — and as it stands, it is quite possible that the voting members of the District could exercise their veto power to quash such a schedule change.

Metro officials said Tuesday that the agency’s general manager, Paul Wiedefeld, consulted with other transit agencies and independent engineers to determine whether cutting late-night service would be a wise decision for the subway system, which is struggling with chronic safety and maintenance issues.

“To inform this recommendation, Wiedefeld engaged peer transit agencies and rail engineering consultants, all of whom urged that the focus on track safety and maintenance continue to prevent Metro from sliding backward,” Metro said Tuesday in its statement on the proposal.

The issue is expected to be formally proposed at Thursday’s Metro board meeting. As members of the board mull whether to support the proposal, they seek specific data and ridership numbers that may address exactly the issues raised in the lawsuit against Boston’s subway system — namely, how the changes would affect low-income riders and shift workers with few other transportation options.

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