Well, we’ve done Burlington, now it’s time to do Lexington. Lexpress is a system that I felt a little more familiar with going in, not only because I had been on it once before, but also because the system is just a heck of a lot more intuitive than B-Line. First of all, like I said in that original post five years ago, Lexpress’s name is “the best thing ever” – still true. Branding is important. But it’s also the name of a French news magazine, strangely, which sometimes makes it difficult to Google the bus system.
So how is Lexpress intuitive? It has six routes operated by three buses, all of which converge at Lexington Center, where odd-numbered routes leave on the half-hour and even-numbered routes leave on the hour. See, I can describe the whole system and its schedules in a sentence! That’s a great sign!
Less great are the fares, which I will now describe in much detail, because I think they’re hilariously complicated:
- Single ride (adult): $2.75. Yes, like B-Line, the base fare is more expensive than the fare to take the MBTA bus from here to Alewife. It’s cash-only.
- Round-trip (adult): $4.00. This is a weird, semi-hidden one. If you spend $4 when you board, the driver will give you a free pass for your next ride, effectively cutting the cost to $2.00 a ride. This fare type is only available for the adult fare.
- Single ride (student): $1.75.
- Single ride (senior/disabled): $0.75. But between the hours of 9 AM and 2 PM, people in this category ride free. Except further down the page, it says they can only ride free until 1:30. Uh-oh.
- Transfer: free. This is a nice one, especially given the hub-and-spoke nature of the system. My favorite quirk here is that you can also transfer to the B-Line for free, a single ride on which would normally cost $3.00! So if you wanted a 25-cent discount on B-Line, you could potentially take Lexpress for a block just to get the transfer slip. Alas, despite the fact that the MBTA publishes a schedule card for Lexpress, there are no transfers to it.
- Ticket Book (adult): $20. Okay, so this gives you 14 tickets for 20 bucks, making each ride cost $1.42. You can only order these by mail or at the Community Center, Michelson’s Shoes, or the Lexington High School.
- Passes are sold in one year, six month, three month, and one month increments. While the one year passes are only valid from July 1st to June 30th and one month passes are only valid from the first of the month, I guess the three and six month variants are valid from whenever you buy them? The price per trip on the passes decrease dramatically, with the monthly pass costing an already pretty cheap $60, while the yearly pass is $350 – about $29 per month.
- The senior/disabled passes are discounted at various rates from the adult passes, but it’s totally random how much the discount is – it’s 50% off the yearly adult pass, but a whopping 66% off the six-month pass! Three months is about 64% off, while the one-month is about 58% off.
- There’s also a $725 family pass for the year, valid for two adults and two minors. I don’t know if this gives passes to each person or if it’s just one pass and the family has to travel together, but it’s an option, I guess.
- Students under 18 can buy a “Youth Summer Fun Pass” for $60, valid for July and August. It’s basically a buy-one-month-get-one-free deal.
- Middle or high school students who have already purchased an annual pass for school buses can spend an additional $50 for an “After School Flexpass.” This is meant for students doing after-school activities, and it’s only valid after 3:10 on school days only.
- If you lose your pass, you can get a replacement, but it costs $20 for adults and $10 for seniors/people with disabilities.
- Refunds for monthly and annual passes are available “under certain circumstances.” You have to submit a request form to the Lexpress office in writing. So hopefully your “circumstances” qualify for a refund, otherwise you’ve just wasted a whole lot of time.
Phew! That’s a lot to think about! Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about fares when I rode: every year in May, Lexington has a “discovery day” where Lexpress not only runs a rare Saturday service (usually it’s weekdays only), but it also runs for free! And yes, just to confirm that I am super slow and way behind, this was last year’s discovery day. Oof.
My friend Eli and I began with an exciting multi-modal transfer: going from the MBTA 350 to the Lexpress at the Burlington Mall, which serves no less than four bus systems (the others being LRTA and B-Line). But because nothing makes sense in this world, the Lexpress and B-Line stop in a different location than the MBTA and LRTA. Somehow, though, the Lexpress stop ends up being nicer than the MBTA’s, with fancy benches and even a few bike racks!
Lexpress’s route to the Burlington Mall is the 5, which we sorta gave short shrift, since it takes different routings going inbound and outbound. Alas, we only covered the inbound route. Our bus left the mall, heading onto the very wide Middlesex Turnpike, which runs past offices and suburban businesses. We turned onto Adams Street, where the offices spilled over for a bit before getting replaced with a woodsy residential neighborhood.
Across the street from an elementary school was a big field, and past there, the houses started to get denser. We turned onto Hancock Street, joining up with the 6, going by the historic childhood home of John Hancock (now a museum). Soon after that, we crossed the Minuteman Bike Trail and passed historic Lexington Common before entering the Center. For the first time of the day, we pulled into the Lexington Depot Lexpress hub.
The 5 is an important connection to the mall, but for a route with such a big destination on the other end, it’s annoying that it runs in a loop. Because of that, if people mid-route want to travel to the mall, they have to wait in Lexington Center for half an hour in one of the directions. The 5 has to do this in order to save time and make it back for the pulse, and even then, it’s not given enough time on the less direct outbound route. I can see it easily getting back late, although luckily it’s paired with the less traffic-prone 6 so it can get back on schedule.
Next up was the 4, which has no fewer than five part-time deviations – the 10, 11, and 12 o’clock trips are the ones with the most, serving three of them when I rode, although the third one now serves an additional place, bringing the total to four. The 4 is a strange route, serving Lexington Center twice in a figure-8 formation. We left Depot Square on Mass Ave, merging onto Bedford Street at Lexington Common.
I don’t know why only four trips, from 9 to 12, deviate into Stop & Shop, but those are the ones that do it. The bus goes into it with the supermarket on the left, meaning people have to cross the little feeder road to get on or off anyway – it might as well just stop on Bedford Street. We then pulled into Greeley Village, a housing development whose furthest residence is a four-minute walk from the route. This deviation gets five trips a day, from 9 to 1. There’s also a variant that deviates up to Sunny Knoll Ave, entirely duplicating the MBTA 62 and only running on the 4’s first trip and the last three.
We came out of the village on the tiny and badly-paved Sargent Street, then we turned onto the much more normal Hill Street. Passing the Lexington Golf Club, the road was residential with woodsy houses, with similar scenery as its name changed to Paul Revere Road. That didn’t last long (much like Paul Revere compared to Samuel Prescott…heh, history joke), and we took a left on Mass Ave when the road ended. It was also mostly houses, and it led us back into the Center.
We ran through the Center, turning onto Woburn Street on the other side. It quickly turned to houses, and sparse ones at that. There were a few businesses and a small apartment complex (which got the final part-time deviation of our trip) when we turned onto Lowell Street, then we made a little loop via Winchester Drive, Fiske Road, Fairlawn Lane, and Lowell Street again. All it did was serve a neighborhood of giant houses about a ten-minute walk from the normal route…maybe a family there has a kid who uses Lexpress to come home from school?
I mentioned at the start that the 4 now has a new deviation that it does in conjunction with the previous one – it takes Bryant Road in order to directly serve another apartment development, Emerson Gardens. The normal route, meanwhile, runs straight down Maple Street, meaning that section gets no service for part of the day, and the route just gets even more complicated. We returned to Mass Ave, running by a (free!) museum and historic tavern on our way back to Lexington Center.
The 4 is the worst Lexpress route. Not only is it way too complicated, with no fewer than seven route patterns (out of eleven total trips!), but it’s also hopelessly unreliable. On the trips that do the most deviations, it can at best take 30 minutes, and that’s assuming no traffic (tough bet, given that it has to run through congested Lexington Center twice) and no one getting on or off. Cutting the little loop through that fancy residential neighborhood could help, as could getting rid of some of the deviations (which would also simplify an overly complex service). I mean, it was five minutes late on a Saturday…
We hopped onto the 3 next, which is the route I had been on before. We went down Waltham Street, which quickly went from businesses to houses, with a bit of retail as we turned onto Marrett Road. There were a few offices and industrial buildings at the intersection with Spring Street, where we took a left, but it was residential again until we swung onto Hayden Ave. Now we were in office park land.
Between each giant office was a bunch of forest. We turned onto Waltham Street again, going under Route 2 and passing some businesses (including a cute farmers market) before entering Lexington Ridge. Rather than looping around the apartment complex, the bus just reverses its way around, and we were back on Waltham Street. Coming back, we took Concord Ave instead of Hayden Street (all houses) and used Lincoln Street (mostly houses, with some parks as well) instead of Waltham Street to return to the Center.
The 3 serves some major office parks and housing developments, which hopefully translates into decent ridership. It’s a little less loopy than other Lexpress routes, and it’s a more reasonable length, but going in via Lincoln Street still seems time-consuming. I guess it’s mainly to serve Lincoln Park, maybe for after-school activities. Also, the running times seem really tight for the route’s length (like, near-impossible to do, even in a car), but that’s a problem across the board for Lexpress.
The 6 just feels like they needed a route to compliment the 5 and just sent a bus to the middle of nowhere. I mean, the whole trip, you’re just going by these increasingly larger houses with wider gaps in between them, and you’re travelling down these tiny woodsy roads with no sidewalks, and that’s it! It has a few loop-de-loops, but all they serve is more of the same. At least it takes about as long as Lexpress schedules it for, but I doubt it gets too much ridership outside of school hours.
The 1 is the route that most directly duplicates MBTA service. Indeed, we ran straight down Mass Ave along with the 62/76, directly following those routes aside from a deviation to the Lexington Community Center. This was Mass Ave, though, so the houses were denser than the ones on many of the other routes. Where the 62 and the 76 split up, we followed the 76, heading onto Pleasant Street from a roundabout.
We left the 76 by turning onto Peacock Farm Road, which was as rural-feeling as it sounds. However, we did enter a properly dense (for Lexington standards) neighborhood with a grid street pattern, turning into Baker Ave. Turning onto Taft Ave, we made our way to Mass Ave, using it for a block to get onto Bow Street. This was a jog to serve another relatively dense neighborhood, and we returned to Mass Ave soon after to head back to Lexington Center.
Despite being mostly redundant to the MBTA, the 1 has a good place in the network. It serves some of the most transit-friendly neighborhoods on the Lexpress system, and it’s the route with the most bidirectional service. It does have a really odd rush hour-only variant that goes to Arlington Heights, of all places (that would be fun to ride), but all trips other than those ones time out pretty well. One thing, though: the route should serve the Community Center on the inbound, not the outbound. Both it and the 2 serve it on their outbounds, meaning anyone who needs front-door service there has to ride around to get back to the Center. The 1 is bidirectional while the 2 is a loop, so it makes more sense for the 1 to do it in the opposite direction. People can still take the 1 outbound and walk three minutes from Mass Ave to get there.
And our final route, the 2, begins with a strange outbound-only loop that entirely duplicates the MBTA 76. The inbound comes straight up Waltham Street, but the outbound travels via Mass Ave and Worthen Road, serving a few fields and that’s about it. We turned onto Kendall Road from there, followed by Marrett Road, serving houses that got increasingly further apart. After making a deviation to the Community Center, we headed down Follen Road.
This sidewalkless road was leafy and residential, as were the various other streets that we twisted our way down. We eventually crossed Route 2 on Pleasant Street, then we made a left onto Concord Ave to deviate up a big ol’ hill and serve Avalon at Lexington Hills. Coming back, we took Concord Ave straight over to Waltham Street, and we used that to cross Route 2 and return straight to the Center. It was mostly residential, but we also passed a small golf course and a field. The 2 is a decent route overall, although eliminating the Worthen Road section on the outbound would help with timekeeping.
Lexpress Routes: 1 (Depot Square – East Lexington via Pleasant Street & Mass Ave), 2 (Depot Square – Avalon at Lexington Hills via Worthen Road, Follen Road, and Waltham Street), 3 (Depot Square – South Lexington via Marrett Road, Spring Street, and Hayden Ave), 4 (Via Bedford Street, Hill Street, Mass Ave, Woburn Street, & Maple Street), 5 (Depot Square – Burlington Mall via Grant Street & Middlesex Turnpike), and 6 (Depot Square – Estabrook School via Hancock Street, Grove Street, and Cottage Drive)
Ridership: Okay, Lexpress doesn’t appear to publish ridership by route. And I took down ridership numbers throughout the day, but I feel like they’re totally unrepresentative because the buses usually don’t run on Saturdays, and it was free service for an event. Lexpress does at least have overall system data, and in Fiscal Year 2017, the system got 63,582 riders (about 265 per day, or about 4 people per round trip). Well, it’s much better than B-Line! The vast majority of ridership is students and seniors, with only about 16% of riders being regular adults.
Pros: It’s impressive how comprehensive this system is with just three vehicles. And not only that, it manages to keep clean, clockface pulse headways throughout most of the day, and even though the routes become every 70 minutes in the evening rush, this represents the increase in traffic at that time. I actually applaud Lexpress for being receptive to potential delays during that time and scheduling accordingly.
Cons: I brought up the problems with specific routes throughout the review, so here, we’ll be talking about overall systemwide problems with Lexpress. Firstly, I think the fare system is overly complicated, and sometimes expensive. Passes are cheap, but the single-ride fare of $2.75 is excessive, especially when the “round-trip” fare is $4.00. Why not just make the regular fare $2.00 in that case? Is it just an effort to shell out money from people who don’t know about the round-trip discount? Also, while this could be difficult to coordinate with the MBTA (although they partially fund the system, so maybe it’s possible), free transfers to its buses could bring in new riders, especially from commuters. Finally, I think that timekeeping is a general issue here – some of the routes are just too long, and cutting deviations or jogs could be the solution.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I think most of the historical attractions in Lexington are already covered by MBTA buses – most of Lexpress is for the residential areas.
Final Verdict: 6/10
The Lexpress isn’t really a system designed to get high ridership. If anything, it feels like a school bus system mixed with a council on aging shuttle that happens to be open to the public. Unlike something like B Line, though, this system is actually useful for getting around Lexington. Yes, it still suffers from really confusing fares that can sometimes be overly expensive, and some of the routes are worse than others, but Lexpress overall isn’t bad!
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates