It’s time to gush over another trackless trolley! Man, I love riding these. Can I just give the route a 10/10 now? What? That’s unfair? Okay, fine, I’ll ride the 59 first…
Our trackless trolley left the businesses around Arrott Transportation Center and turned onto the residential Penn Street. We took that for a block, then we turned onto Oxford Ave, a wide road with larger houses and some ornate rowhouses. Businesses started to come up as we got closer to Roosevelt Boulevard, and once we arrived at that monstrosity, we took a giant rotary to get onto Castor Ave. Traversing a rotary in a trackless trolley…cool stuff, man.
The 59 spends most of its time here on Castor Ave, and it’s a major street. It was lined with rowhouses for a little bit, but soon it changed to two-story retail buildings (with apartments above the stores). The eastern side streets were all rowhouses, while to the west were standalone dwellings. Cottman Ave was a major intersection, although unfortunately, the only businesses here were in shopping plazas with block-sized parking lots. This is also where two buses a day deviate to end at the Alma Loop, a fully-wired short-turn location for buses serving nearby Northeast High School.
It started to feel more suburban after Cottman Ave. The side streets were all standalone houses now, and most of the business blocks that appeared had parking lots in the front or back. Just before Castor Ave intersected with Bustleton Ave, we pulled off into the Bells Corner Loop, ending the short trip.
At this point, I’m just gonna go ahead and review the Bells Corner Loop because, hey, we’re here. The 59 is the only bus to serve the loop, which has a cool retro shelter with a bench underneath, a few wastebaskets, and three bike racks. Employees have a building where they can use the bathroom, while anyone can enjoy the Dunkin’ Donuts located in that very same building. Ramps and stairs provide access to Bustleton Ave on the other side of the loop, where the inbound 58 makes a stop. It’s too bad you have to walk up to Strahle Street to get the outbound, but it’s not a big deal. Overall, I’m going to give the Bells Corner Loop a solid 8/10!
Route: 59 (Castor-Bustleton to Arrott Transportation Center)
Ridership: The 59 barely scrapes the top 50 for SEPTA bus routes, getting 4,641 riders per weekday. However, you have to remember: this thing is short, and it has a lot of local turnover for what looks like just an El feeder on paper. For these reasons, it ends up with the 5th-best farebox recovery ratio on the system, at 47%.
Pros: I apologize in advance for drilling this in, but I must say first and foremost that yes, this route uses trackless trolleys. Beyond that, though, it gets great ridership for its length, and that length gives it fantastic on-time performance: 91%, quite possibly the best on the whole system. The bus not only feeds into the El, but it also provides local service along Castor Ave, thanks to its direct routing with no frills. Not only that, but for much of the weekday, it’s every 15 minutes or better, with service every 8-10 minutes at rush hour. It’s every 20 minutes on Saturdays, too, which isn’t bad. Oh, and the route is more productive during the peak than it is midday! That’s a rarity for SEPTA, but it shows that they’re running the perfect amount of peak service.
Cons: Night and Sunday service is inadequate. It gets infrequent way too early in the evening, becoming every half hour by 8 and every hour by 10 (and it’s earlier on Saturdays). Meanwhile, Sunday service is every half hour all day. Man, you go from providing such good weekday service to going down to a frequency like that on Sundays? What a bummer.
Nearby and Noteworthy: There are a number of stores and restaurants along the route, but the Picanha Brazilian Steakhouse caught my eye in particular. An all-you-can-eat buffet of Brazilian meats? I’m hungry!
Final Verdict: 7/10
I really want to give this route as high of a score as possible because I really do love it, but the scheduling issues are a big sticking point for me. I rode it on a Sunday when it runs every half hour, and my ride still managed to get a respectable 23 people. How much would it hurt to add another bus to it and make it at least every 20 minutes like on Saturdays? The jump in frequency would surely increase ridership along with it! I’m kinda at a 6.5 here, but hey…trackless trolleys. That’s absolutely enough to boost it up the half-point.
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