The WRTA loves to take one bus and use it to single-handedly run some sort of “bonus route” on the system. For a while this took the form of a downtown shuttle, whether it was the small free loop of the 80 or the larger un-free loop of the 40. Eventually realizing that Worcester just does not have a strong enough downtown to justify dedicating a bus to serving it, the WRTA took a complete 180 and created a route that helps people avoid downtown: the 8 is the only route on the system that doesn’t serve Union Station, instead acting as a crosstown connector along Park Ave in western Worcester. If they were gonna make a crosstown route, the direct, dense corridor of Park Ave was a good place to go.
The boarding process for this one was a little harried. For one thing, Nathan and I were getting conflicting information about where the thing actually picks up at Webster Square Plaza: the bus stop signs were useless, and the Transit app was saying the route started in a different place than what the schedule said. It didn’t really matter, though, because the thing ended up arriving 20 minutes late. Okay, no way were we getting to the Greendale Mall on time…right?
We travelled down Main Street along the length of Webster Square Plaza and a little beyond that before merging left onto Park Ave. This road definitely felt industrial, but there were regular businesses along it too, with dense residential neighborhoods off of it. The 8 spends a lot of time interacting with other routes, the 7 being one of them: it travels on Park Ave for a decent amount of time, although it does a jog into a neighborhood that the 8 doesn’t.
The industrial-feeling commercial development continued after the 7 left us at May Street and as we crossed the 6 and the 2 on Chandler and Pleasant Streets, respectively (gosh, this post sure is a good excuse to give my old WRTA reviews some more clicks!). But it’s at Elm Street a few blocks later that the 8’s usefulness becomes a bit more cloudy: the 31 joins up with the route from there all the way to the Greendale Mall, making the entire second half of the 8 shared with a more frequent service. At least we passed through a lovely park when the 31 joined.
A few suburban businesses popped up again as we crossed the 3 at Highland Ave, but the athletic portions of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute occupied one side of the road for a while after that. We also passed the headquarters of the American Antiquarian Society – who knew the oldest nationally-focused historical society in the country was based in Worcester?? The road was residential for just a bit after that before it returned to classic suburban retail. As Park Ave split into two one-way roads, the parking lots got bigger and the scenery felt more industrial, and once we crossed I-190, it was time to pull into the awkwardly-located Greendale Mall, surrounded by highways and a railroad track. So…we had left 20 minutes late, and we had arrived…3 minutes late. Okay, put a pin in that.
WRTA Route: 8 (Park Avenue Connector)
Ridership: This route is too new to have any public ridership data from the WRTA, so we’ll have to use the “data” I collected on my one ride, the 7 PM journey from Webster Square to Greendale Mall. So, let’s see here…one rider. Okay, not the best, obviously, but it was an evening trip…maybe it’s busier during the day?
Pros: Huge props to the WRTA for creating a crosstown route! The second biggest city in New England deserves a real bus service, and routes that don’t all feed into downtown is a good signifier of that.
Cons: Well, pretty much everything about the execution is awful. Firstly, this thing is hourly on weekdays only, so it can only be so useful. Plus, crosstown buses tend to work better if the system has good bones with its radial routes, and the WRTA really doesn’t have that, so the 8 is pretty much just a “if you gotta make your way up Park Ave, maybe use this” route rather than something you could transfer to from somewhere else. It doesn’t help that even though it is a clean circumferential corridor, the route’s northern anchor is hardly an anchor: as you’ll see in the “Nearby and Noteworthy” section, the Greendale Mall is noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. At least there are supermarkets and other attractions along here too.
The fact that half of the 8’s route is shared with the 31 is another pitfall. Not only does that route go much further than the 8 does and can be used as a Park Ave crosstown for the 8’s northern half, but it also runs every 40 minutes and has Saturday service. And let’s also talk about the 8’s reliability as a route: it has none. Our bus left 20 minutes late, which in itself is awful, but it might’ve just been a purposeful act on the driver’s part to make up for the excessively padded running times. While the scheduled running time of half an hour might hold some weight on midday trips, it certainly shouldn’t be scheduled to take that long for morning and night trips! Our run took just 13 minutes, which is why we ended up making up 17 minutes of lateness! Rather than forcing drivers to run insanely behind schedule, inconveniencing the few passengers this thing gets, would it not be better to just make the schedule realistic?
Nearby and Noteworthy: Let’s talk about the Greendale Mall: this thing is on its last legs. And because of that…I think it’s noteworthy! Dead malls are fascinating, and this one was almost completely devoid of people. A few shops remain, including a rinky-dink arcade that appeared to be unstaffed and a “Lensecrafters”, because apparently the people who made the mall’s online store directory really really really don’t care. The food court has a total of two eating establishments where Nathan and I got some excessively cheap Chinese food that didn’t make us sick. Win in my book!
Final Verdict: 2/10
It’s a nice effort, but man, this just isn’t working. I’m not even sure if I would call this a “way to be there” route – I think there’s so much wrong with it that while its existence is certainly a plus, I would go so far as to congratulate it for anything. Of course, ridership could be higher than I’m giving it credit for, but given the schedule, the running times, and the duplication, I doubt it’s being used by too many people.
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