The LRTA sure likes its circulators. I’ve previously covered the 18, which is an example of how to do a circulator right – it got a well-deserved 8/10. But they also operate two other circulators within Lowell, and they don’t fare quite as well as the 18 does. Today we’re looking at the 6, which may not be a “pure” circulator loop, but it sure feels like one. In the worst way possible.

I’m not surprised it’s using a minibus, but a little part of me still died inside.

We took Thorndike Street into downtown Lowell, going right by Broadway Street. Oh, we would come back to Broadway Street – we just had to take a left onto Merrimack Street, then a left onto Dummer Street, and finally a right onto Broadway Street. I guess this jog is ostensibly to provide direct access to Lowell City Hall, but the 6 could be sped up by going directly to the station. I mean, the 18 exists for a reason.

Looking down Dummer Street. Hey, this route makes me feel Dummer just from riding it! Ha!

We passed a Market Basket, the Lowell Senior Center, and a ton of smaller businesses along Broadway Street. This part actually made sense, serving a major commercial thoroughfare with no diversions. Oh wait, a few blocks later we turned onto the residential Fletcher Street, starting a big loop. I don’t know why we took Fletcher and not the regular route a block over on Mount Vernon, but I guess there must’ve been a detour of some sort.

A firefighters memorial on Fletcher Street.

We were back on the regular route once we turned onto Pawtucket Street. Right next to the Merrimack River, lots of big houses lined this road. Just after the Lowell Motor Boat Club, we turned onto Wilder Street, entering UMass Lowell’s South Campus. We had to take a right onto Broadway Street to deviate to a UMass Lowell parking lot because, geez, I don’t even know, and then it was a straight shot on Broadway back down the route. With small, dense houses and lots of businesses, this street actually felt worth serving. Also, we never actually laid over at the terminus, so we arrived back at the Kennedy Center eight minutes early. Nice.

A rearview look down Broadway.

LRTA Route: 6 (Broadway/UMass Lowell)

Ridership: In 2015, it was an average of 161 riders per weekday and 78 riders on Saturdays – that’s about 7.5 people per loop. As for my ride? It only got four people.

Pros: It serves Broadway Street, which is a corridor that definitely needs bus service. But that’s, like, the only thing this route serves on its own!

Cons: Basically everything else! The route is absolutely insane: it deviates to City Hall; it makes a point to run up to Pawtucket Street, even though the section on Mount Vernon is a block away from the 9 (the other circulator within Lowell) and nothing on that corridor is more than a five-minute walk from Broadway or the 9; and it deviates to a UMass Lowell parking lot for really no reason. I guess maybe layover, but my bus sure didn’t do it! And then there’s the schedule. The 6 runs every 35 minutes on weekdays, which is just such an awkward frequency. At least it’s a clean every hour on Saturdays, but oh wait, on Saturdays it combines with the 9 to make this ungodly creation:

Routes 6 and 9 Saturday combo map

Nearby and Noteworthy: We passed an old wooden mill something-or-other on Broadway as it crossed over the Pawtucket Canal. I’m not sure what it is, but it looks interesting!

Final Verdict: 3/10
There’s very little the 6 does right. It’s not a direct route, but it also doesn’t “circulate” to very many things that need circulating to! I think the ideal fix to this bus would be to combine it with the 9 full-time. No, not the horrific Saturday mess they have right now. Something…simpler. Actually, if you scroll to the 6 in this document, they have a decent routing that combines the routes, plus gives them a consistent 30-minute headway! It’s not perfect, but it sure is better than what there is now.

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