Day two of new MBTA routes, and we’re heading down to Braintree to ride the first 226 ever! Oh wait…the first trip leaves before the first Red Line train gets there. Huh, okay, hang on…
Day two of new routes, and we’re heading down to Braintree to ride the second 226 ever! While technically not a new route (a private company subsidized by the T ran between Braintree and Columbian Square until low ridership canned the route in the 90s), it sure feels a lot newer than the 61, since this bus travels over roads that haven’t been touched by transit in decades. Or at least, one little stretch of Union Street…the rest isn’t new.
The 226 is replacing an extension of the 225 from Weymouth Landing to Columbian Square that didn’t mesh well with the rest of the route. There were many wins by splitting off that section: the 225 is now fantastically simple; Columbian Square riders now get a much more direct ride to the Red Line; and that area of Weymouth now gets much more service, especially on Saturdays. So at least on paper, we’re already in a much better boat than with the 61.
Unfortunately, the headsign for the 226 wasn’t working, so an inspector had the driver sign “225C COLUMBIAN SQ” just to have something up there. We headed out from Braintree with one other rider, who was I think actually using the bus to get somewhere! “Welcome to the new route, guys!” the driver yelled out as we drove down Union Street. “Do you like it?” “Yeah!” I yelled back. We arrived in Columbian Square under the red glow of the almost-sunrise; the other rider got off at the South Shore Hospital.
Now we had to figure out what to sign the bus for the trip back. The driver was trying to do the 226 code, but it wouldn’t work. A 226 going the other way had been signed as “BRAINTREE STA”, but neither of us knew the code for that. “How about 2362?” I said, thinking of that early-morning 236 variant that ends at Braintree.
We left our layover point a few minutes late thanks to the headsign troubles, taking a right onto Pleasant Street at the main commercial center of Columbian Square. Four people were waiting at the next stop – a sign that we’d get good ridership coming in. “Welcome to the 226 to Braintree!” the driver said to the passengers enthusiastically.
We turned onto Main Street, a wide suburban road that passed medical buildings, businesses with parking lots, and houses. We turned onto Middle Street, a twisty road that serves a bunch of apartment developments. “These stops are super busy,” said the driver. We weren’t getting packed, probably because it’s Christmas Eve Eve, but we were still getting a few people at each stop.
The road was lined with houses before we arrived at the intersection with Washington Street, which was flanked by two strip malls. We made a left onto Washington, passing a cemetery, a few mobile home parks, and some offices. There were a ton of auto shops as Main Street merged into Washington Street, and we were soon in 225 territory.
Washington Street came down a slight hill as we entered the Lincoln Square/Weymouth Landing area. Now that we were on the same road as the 225, some people waiting didn’t want to get on our bus – they might start switching to the 226 later if they realize it’ll get them to the Red Line faster (or they could genuinely just be going to Quincy Center). A modern mixed-use apartment building and another under construction appeared just before the Weymouth Landing Commuter Rail station, but we took a left onto Commercial Street, avoiding the station.
This was the section of the route that hasn’t seen a bus in years! This road took us into Braintree, where the surroundings consisted mostly of houses. An apartment development did show up at one point, though: “That’s gonna get a lot of people when they find out about the bus,” the driver said. The 236 joined up with us at Middle Street, and from there, a rotary around Route 3 and a ramp up to the Braintree Busway led us to the end of the route.
Route: 226 (Columbian Square – Braintree Station)
Ridership: Going out was just the one guy, but coming in was a decent load of fifteen people! This is pretty much a holiday, so I’m sure the bus will fill up during a true rush hour. For some more solid numbers, we can see that the 225C got about 137 inbound riders on its independent section every weekday. But unlike the 61, which is inconveniencing existing riders, the 226 will make many commutes shorter: I think ridership may well go up, and it’ll also be able to capture some of the many riders who currently board the 225 around Weymouth Landing.
Pros: Now this is how you use a new route to replace part of an existing one. The 226, sorta like the 95 to Arlington Center, shows how close some areas in the MBTA service area are, but how hard it is to get between them. The scheduled time between Braintree Station and Weymouth Landing is, at maximum, ten minutes. Ten minutes! That used to require going up to Quincy Center on the train and back down on the 225! The route in general is nice and short, so it should be pretty reliable.
Columbian Square to Braintree takes just 25 minutes, a huge improvement over the 40+ minutes it took the 225C to get to Quincy Center. The resulting shorter trip to the Red Line should help out commuters, and maybe even reverse commuters to places like the South Shore Hospital. Plus, the schedule is pretty well-constructed, with major frequency increases over the previous service: it’s about every half hour at rush hour, and every hour middays, nights, and Saturdays. Saturdays see the largest improvement, having previously seen just five 225C trips per day – now they get thirteen 226s daily.
Cons: It’s too bad Sunday service wasn’t added, but that’s something Columbian Square didn’t have before, anyway. Also, particularly on weeknights and Saturdays, the route isn’t quite every hour, with a few weird and seemingly pointless departure time shifts.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Columbian Square has a cute little movie theater? That’s so cool!
Final Verdict: 8/10
I worry I’m inflating the score because this is so much better than what was there before, but no, I think the 226 deserves an 8. For what is a very suburban route, it runs a pretty good and consistent service. Yes, the lack of Sunday service is a major con, but splitting the route off from the 225 arguably makes it easier to add it to the area. “We got an extra bus on Sundays? Alright, throw it on the 226 and run it hourly!” Seriously, MBTA, good job on this one. We need changes like this more often.
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