By the time my friend and I got to this point in the day, we had been seeing a lot of fields and tiny towns. The 31 was kinda like going back to civilization – it travels to the giant metropolis of Northampton! Okay, maybe it’s not that big, but it is the largest town that the FRTA serves, so this was basically like coming back to Boston.
Now, you know me and weird variants: the vast majority of 31 trips go the normal route, but just one per day in each direction deviates to a few extra places in Deerfield. Well…guess which trip we rode. However, this is a northbound-only journey, so we will begin our review down in Northampton.
I guess it’s worth starting this out from the beginning of the route’s loop in Northampton: travelling south down King Street, we took a right onto Finn Street and a left onto State Street, which was densely residential. It took us into downtown Northampton, where we swung onto Main Street, stopping at the PVTA stop at the Academy of Music. From there, we got a lovely jaunt through the center of town and its quirky businesses before turning onto Pleasant Street, which quickly got suburban.
The street became King Street, with the loop portion ending soon after. We were just running through a smorgasbord of suburban businesses with parking lots, and of course one was going to have to get a deviation at some point. Even better…since we were in PVTA territory, what else was it gonna be but a Big Y?! There was a Walmart here too.
That Big Y is the northern edge of PVTA’s Northampton service, and like clockwork, the scenery got a lot more rural beyond it. There was still stuff (some houses, a state police station, a little cemetery), but it was also a heck of a lot woodsier. An interchange with I-91 changed that, though – we were running right alongside the highway, and a patch of industrial buildings lined the road (including “rk MILES” – great name, great use of caps, if I do say so myself – and a go-cart place).
We ran through a stretch of houses and farmland, then a few more factories came before we crossed to the other side of I-91. Sandwiched between that and Amtrak, the two-lane road was running by lots of farms and little patches of houses (a decent amount were clustered around the village North Hatfield, for instance). We got to industrial buildings near another I-91 interchange, entering Whately before crossing the highway and passing more homes and farmland. Oh…and “Club Castaway: the best of exotic dancers”. Okay.
After a section of pure woods, we crossed I-91 again and deviated to the Whately Park and Ride, where one can transfer to the two-trips-a-day PVTA 46. We were in South Deerfield now, which was much denser than some of the previous scenery – after taking Sunderland Road for a bit, we took a left onto Sugarloaf Street, which was lined with houses. South Deerfield Center was a pretty auto-oriented intersection with a few businesses, but here it was time to begin the once-a-day Deerfield variant!
So we swung a right onto North Main Street, passing more residences. The road curved around past the Frontier High School, which got no one because it was the summer, and soon after that we pulled into the parking lot for Pelican Products. Yeah, it’s…some factory. I don’t really see why anyone would take the bus here, since its only arrivals are 7:18 and 2:25 – not a full work day.
We returned to the main route, making our way onto Greenfield Road, which quickly left the denser South Deerfield. There were some stretches of woods and farmland, but also portions with businesses and industry. The stops were more frequent than they usually are along here, but we got a long bit without them through farms.
The next point of interest was Old Deerfield Village, a town center dominated by Deerfield Academy and a few museums – not that we could see any of that, because it’s all insulated from the main road! They have foliage to block the view and everything. Well, back to woods and farms, I guess.
A few businesses cropped up before we went over the Deerfield River, and from there, we were in Greenfield. A consistent stream of houses and businesses took us up to the final stop at the JWO Transit Center. What may have taken half an hour on the highway had taken us a full 60 minutes, thanks to the local roads and deviations along the way.
FRTA Route: 31 (Northampton/Greenfield)
Ridership: Understandably, this is the FRTA’s busiest route. In 2015, it got 122 riders per day, or about eight people per trip (assuming the schedule was the same as it is now – at the very least, it ran at the same frequency). My ride got much more than that, with ten riders on the trip down and twelve on the way back up.
Pros: Greenfield to Northampton – now that’s a great pair of places to run a route between. The ridership clearly reflects that, too, and it manages to be pretty high despite the route’s schedule (which we’ll get to).
Cons: Yup, it’s another every-two-hour route. And yup, it’s another route that really ought to run more frequently than that. This is a bus with really strong ends and not much in the middle, too, so I almost wonder if it’s worth running some or all trips via I-91. I didn’t have the foresight to write exact numbers on my ride, but very very few people use the midpoints of the 31. Also, that once-a-day variant is…ech. I guess if it gets student ridership to the high school, then it’s worth keeping around.
Nearby and Noteworthy: It would be crazy (although not impossible) to take the bus out here, but my mom and I had a tradition of going (by car) to South Deerfield’s Yankee Candle Village every year. It’s located right along the route, and even though its quality seems to go down every time we visit, it’s still an awesome place to go. Also, this route apparently serves a butterfly garden – pretty cool! Finally, Northampton. Just…Northampton. I love that town.
Final Verdict: 6/10
This is pretty much in the same boat as the 32: it runs to some very important places, and it’s way too infrequent. Running express trips could be a way to improve that, but the FRTA probably has a political obligation to run local service through the towns along the way, even if ridership is low. Sooooo…yeah, basically, more funding is needed to add service to this thing. Or, you know, spend the money on “microtransit” instead. Wonder how that thing’s doing.
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