On Burnout (or, why this blog has been comatose for the past two months)

It’s been a tough year. When this whole pandemic business began, I thought “Wow, I’ll really be able to catch up on my backlog! I’ll have SO much time to write!” Well…I’ve definitely had a lot of time. The writing didn’t really happen.

Like many folks this year, I’ve found myself with a bad case of pandemic brain. I’ve been worse at getting back to friends, I’ve found myself getting more distracted, and it’s been really hard to sit down and write a long, detailed blog post about a bus route that a lot of people rely on. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that despite using work as an excuse (although I really have been quite busy on that front too), my real issue is that my brain has just been mushy, and forming cohesive sentences that will be seen by a bunch of people is not something it’s often capable of – that’s certainly been reflective in my post frequency this past year. Instead, I usually find myself socializing, watching YouTube videos, or playing games in my spare time (have you heard of NIMBY Rails? it’s SO good).

It’s hard to grapple with this feeling that I’m neglecting the blog. After all, I attribute so much of where I am now to its success, including job opportunities and even the school I’m at. Maybe that’s short-selling myself – I mean, I wrote the thing – but it’s also hard not to view the blog’s success as a lucky break for which I was just along for the ride. Either way, to neglect it feels like I’m neglecting my child. In writing this blog, I’ve tried to strike a balance between being extremely detail-oriented and thorough in my reviews, while also keeping things funny and entertaining. The fear of not being able to strike that balance makes it even harder to get writing inspiration.

Honestly, something I’ve been a lot more enthusiastic about is making more videos. I know I haven’t delivered on that front either, but I have lots of ideas that I’m excited about. I’ve even got one video that’s filmed and in the beginning stages of editing! Making videos is a totally different experience from blogging: I don’t have to worry about penning the exact right words to critique a bus route without offending those who ride it, and instead it’s just me being (hopefully) entertaining and doing something fun, often with friends.

I know this may feel like a change. I’ve been struggling to get into a blog-writing groove for practically the entire pandemic, though, and it feels cathartic to finally realize what’s been wrong and get it down on paper. I really want to make content in some form, and if that happens to be primarily videos for now, I think that’s better than trying to force myself to do something I’m not enthusiastic about and can’t give justice to. I can’t give a definite timeline on when print posts will come back (heck, writing this has made me itch a little bit to write a real review) or how often I’ll end up doing videos, but I really appreciate each and every one of you for sticking with me, even when I’ve been quiet. Writing this blog has been a journey (I literally just realized that we hit the eight-year mark in January), and while I don’t want this journey to end, it might look different moving forward – but I’m excited about all the possibilities for the future!

Guide to the MBTA’s Winter 2020 Service Changes

Well, it’s not time for the Forging Behind cuts yet, but here we are with some new service changes that come into effect…er…tomorrow! Sorry for being late, I’ve been engulfed in finals. There certainly aren’t as many cuts here as what is being proposed with the Forging Behind changes, but we are still losing a few routes. Which ones, you ask? You’ll have to read on to find out…

SL1: Well, off to a great start – the SL1 didn’t even get its own schedule this season! It’s coming back in the winter, but comparing the proper Silver Line schedule to the headway-based rapid transit schedule isn’t easy! Generally it seems like service is being cut on weekdays (particularly in the morning rush), though, which makes sense given that this route serves the airport.

SL3: Service during rush hour is being increased – it’s another case where it’s hard to tell because of the way the schedules are set up, but looking at the future online timetable, it does appear to have better rush hour service than it does now (every 6-9 minutes versus every 10-12).

SLW: Another case where I have to compare online timetables, since this “route” is so obscure to begin with. Since this is a peak-oriented shuttle serving mostly office jobs, you can see why it’s getting cut back on weekdays: it’s going from every 2-3 minutes at rush hour to every 8. Seems fair to me.

7: This is another peak-oriented route centered on downtown, so as expected, it’s losing rush hour service – rather than running every 4-5 minutes at rush hour, the 7 will be every 7-8. Since the morning peak schedule won’t be as demanding, the short-turn trips to Congress and Atlantic are being removed, while the midday schedule is being made more even (although not consistent – gaps are either 40 or 45 minutes, which is better than the mess now, but still).

9: This one doesn’t get credit in the official list since the actual schedule isn’t affected, but I still think it’s a big deal: the 9 is finally losing its weird Broadway loop! This does mean its stop at the station will move to the other side of Dorchester Ave, though, so be wary of that if you take the 9 from here.

11: Pretty much just a weekday outbound trip being added at 7:57 PM, while the 7:43 trip gets shifted back to 7:40 to compensate. Nice, nice!

14: This route is getting a bit simpler, but also a lot more complicated. On the one hand, the first trip on weekdays (which is a short-turn now) will be starting from Heath Street, removing the route’s only variant. However, the weekday schedule will now be significantly more crazy, with similar headways but wilder departure times. The madness results in one additional inbound trip in the evening rush, though, so that’s…something!

16: “Added trips throughout the day on weekdays,” says the MBTA. Well, allow me to push up my glasses and say, “Um, actually, the 7:16 AM outbound trip is being eliminated, so you have not added trips throughout the day.” No, but in all seriousness, they did a good job with this one: midday service, which is currently every 25 minutes, will generally be every 18-20 now, while evening rush service gets a boost too.

36: The actual times aren’t changing (besides a few running time adjustments), but fewer rush hour trips will run all the way to Millennium Park, terminating at the VA Hospital instead.

39: Ahhhh, time change central!! Headways are barely affected (Saturdays go from every 11 minutes to every 10, and there are fewer morning school trips to Boston Latin – although the amount of afternoon ones stays the same, interestingly), but pretty much every trip leaves at or takes a different amount of time (trips are scheduled much faster, which is good given how often buses are early – they should be doing this for every route on the system).

41: There’s a general service increase here (every 35 minutes instead of every 40 minutes middays, although while morning rush headways gain 5 minutes, evening rush headways lose about the same, albeit with one fewer vehicle running), seemingly thanks to scheduling the trips to be much faster – this bus was chronically early even pre-pandemic.

52: Well hey, a morning rush round trip is added to this very limited route! That’s good, I suppose!

55: This schedule just keeps getting weirder, man. Weekday trips from 8:48 on are being eliminated, limiting the weekday schedule to just rush hours…while weekends will still run every 30-40 minutes until 11 PM!

57: Aw man, RIP the 57A. Honestly, looking at this schedule, though, it seems like the 57 is actually getting more service hours added to it? Rush hour frequencies may be a little lower (only by a minute or two), but since every trip is going all the way to Watertown now, I think there’s technically a service increase here. It definitely simplifies the route, but it will probably make sense to bring the short-turns back once rush hour (and its associated traffic) becomes more of a thing again.

60: We’ve got a lot of time shifts, but the travel times themselves don’t seem to have changed much. Departure times at rush hour will be more standardized, but unfortunately that comes with enough of a frequency drop in the morning (it’ll be every 25-30 minutes rather than every 20-25 minutes) that it’ll lose a trip.

62/76: Interestingly, travel times are being increased for this route. I guess it must be running late.

65: Just time shifts for outbound morning rush trips, but hey, a new trip is added! Guess that’s where the 60’s missing run went, huh?

71: Ah, the first of many Harvard routes returning to their proper bus tunnel routing. But aside from the slightly increased frequency across the board resulting from that change, short-turn trips from Aberdeen Ave will be axed. How come? See below…

72: GOOD RIDDANCE!!!! The 72 is being “temporarily” suspended “for the winter”. Yeah, right. If this route actually comes back, I’ll…I’ll do a video where I attempt to board or disembark at every stop along the route in a day. You can hold me to that. And you probably should, because otherwise I might forget…

73: Another route returning to the Harvard bus tunnel, with increased frequency because of it.

74/75: Ditto, although there don’t seem to be any actual schedule changes for these ones.

77: MY BELOVED PAL THE 77A IS COMING BACK!!!! Besides that, buses are back in the Harvard bus tunnel, but while Sundays see a slight service increase, weekdays have a slight decrease – I would imagine that rush hour trips just aren’t filling up on this one.

78: The big deal here is the Harvard tunnel opening up again, of course, BUT: THERE ARE RUNNING TIME SHIFTS OF UP TO ONE MINUTE ON INBOUND SUNDAY TRIPS!!! HOW WILL WE SURVIVE??

89: There are little changes all over the place for this one. First, the 89/93 will see a minor time shift on weekends, while in the morning, it will no longer serve Davis (I didn’t realize that was a thing even…I kinda wonder if that’s a typo on the paper schedule). A few Clarendon Hill trips also have departure time changes, and two runs in the afternoon will go to Davis instead of there. Finally, the last trip on Saturdays, which for some reason runs to Clarendon Hill right now, will instead terminate at Davis.

94: Time shift city! The biggest ones are at night; most of the midday ones are only by a few minutes. Weekends are untouched.

96: The same boat as the 94 (right down to nights having the biggest changes), with two additions: running times are also changed on weekends, and this is the last bus where I can say it’s returning to its normal Harvard tunnel route!

99: There are a few time shifts on weekends, but this is also the first of a few routes whose last trip is being shifted later to time better with the last Orange Line train. Is this the T slowly acknowledging that the last trip never ever ever runs on time?

101: A few very minor time shifts for a few trips in the early morning and late evening on weekdays. Also, running times are being shortened in the outbound direction.

104: The 5:32 AM inbound trip on Saturdays will now leave at 5:35. Crazy.

105: Ahh, there’s an annoying time shift on Saturday afternoons that briefly changes the headway from every 70 minutes to an 85-minute gap followed by a 50-minute gap. That’s it for 105 changes, but it sure is a bad one.

106: Time shifts seven days a week, often to cleaner departure times, which is nice!

108: Same story! In particular, this route’s shifts thankfully make the weekday midday schedule more consistent.

109: Some minor time shifts on weekdays and Sundays. Also there is some wonkiness with the Saturday PM schedule – nothing’s actually changed, but this new timetable seems to fix some typos on the previous one.

110: Another one where the last trip is shifted later for better connections to the last train.

111: Ditto, but only on Sundays. Also, I never noticed this route’s last trip on Saturdays was scheduled as late as 1:25 AM – probably the only realistic last trip on the MBTA!

116/117: Some very minor time shifts in the early morning on weekdays.

132: We’re getting a slightly more consistent Saturday schedule. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the current one – baby steps!

134: Time shifts throughout the day on weekdays, all in an effort to make this incredibly inconsistent route leave at more consistent times! I find it funny that the MBTA says that the last trip on Sundays is shifted forward to better time with the Orange Line – that last trip is indeed shifting forward, but it still leaves at 12:15, well before the last train. I dunno what connection they’re talking about!

136/137: I don’t think the website gives the full story here. Yes, there are some small time shifts weekday evenings, and all day on weekends (sadly leading to less consistent departures in the case of the latter), but this new schedule has some quirks too. Specifically, the 6:05 PM outbound 136 trip on weekdays will now be a 137 (although I think this is just correcting a typo on the old schedule), and the inbound 2:45 PM weekday trip from Wakefield Square will no longer be limited to school days (I wonder if this is a new typo, though – why would the outbound still only run on school days but not the inbound?).

195: “Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday trip eliminated in the AM peak.” Honey, those are the ONLY trips! This bizarre little route is kaput! I’m curious if it’ll come back in the future – it serves such a specific purpose (transporting discharged homeless people from the Pine Street Inn back into the city) that it feels like it would have to come back, right?

201/202: Minor time shifts throughout the weekday.

214/216: Uhhh…okay, this is weird. So I guess they’re bringing solo 214 trips back on weekday middays…but the midday 216 will still deviate to serve Germantown like a 214/216? I guess maybe Germantown is generating more ridership than Houghs Neck. There are also time shifts on weekends, including an increase in Sunday night service from every hour to every 40 minutes. Finally, the Mayor McGrath Highway variant is being added to select weekend midday trips. Sigh…that’s an annoying variant.

215: Time shifts on Saturdays.

354: Interesting, Medford Square is being added to every trip, even in the peak direction! I guess that’s to make up for the loss of the 325. Also, because the T has rightfully made the running times much shorter, the route is able to run one more trip per rush.

411: Time shifts on weekdays and Saturdays, mostly for consistency’s sake!

426: So this is the first of several Lynn routes that’s being routed away from Silsbee Street because the new buses up there can’t fit beneath that rail bridge. Most notably, this means the “Arrives 3-6 minutes earlier at Greater Lynn Senior Services” variant is gone for all these routes, which is good, because I have never ever figured out what that meant. Also, in the 426’s case, weekday times are shifting, mostly making the route’s departures more consistent.

429: Another route moving away from Silsbee Street, although the Greater Lynn Senior Services note has accidentally been left on for Sunday service (it’s definitely a typo). There are also time shifts seven days a week in the outbound direction.

430: Time shifts again, both on weekdays and Saturdays. Also, the addition of a Square One Mall timepoint on the paper schedule is much appreciated – that’s an important stop!

450: This one is mostly running time changes to reflect faster travel times. There is, however, a brand new inbound trip on weekdays at 4:15 PM…but it only goes to West Lynn Garage. Darn…still, I guess if the bus is going to be doing the trip anyway, might as well put it in service.

455: Running time changes in the inbound direction on weekdays. Also, it’s another one moving away from Silsbee Street!

456: “Weekday schedule changes throughout the day and new routing away from Silsbee Street”? But…this route is suspended “until further notice”…

501: Running time changes, but only for the Copley Square timepoint going inbound – everything else appears to be unchanged.

504: Time shifts throughout the day on weekdays, but it doesn’t seem like there are any radical changes in the frequency.

553: “Trips eliminated after 9 PM.” Well, the paper schedule is way ahead of you – it already wasn’t showing those trips!

I guess in light of Forging Behind, none of these changes were that radical. I think the T could be doing way more with taking advantage of the lower running times to increase frequency – there’s been some of that, but not as much as there should be. Hey, they did get rid of the 72 though, which is totally a plus! Ever since they rerouted the 75, that thing’s been totally redundant.

Braintree Logan Express

Wow, they’ve cut the Logan Expresses back even more since the last time I wrote about one of these (which was…twenty years ago? Something like that). I mean, it makes sense though – right now the only state we Massachusettsans can even visit without quarantining when we come back is Hawaii, and…oh, there is actually a nonstop flight that does that. Geez, that must be miserable, huh? Well, anyway, my point is that very few people are flying right now, but we’re not gonna let that stop us from looking at the Braintree Logan Express!

This sign cracks me up every time I see it. That bottom bubble used to say “Dunkin Donuts”, an amenity no longer here.

The Logan Express terminal in Braintree is announced by this big wacky sign that dates back to when the facility was a drive-in theater – you can actually still see one of the screens at the edge of the parking lot. It’s a big lot that costs $7 a day to park in, although given how busy this route got pre-COVID, it seems like it would regularly fill up. The terminal is well-located (for cars at least), situated close to Exit 6 on I-93 – for me, who walked from the South Shore Plaza, it was decidedly not well-located.

Inside the terminal.

As deceptive as the decrepit sign outside is, the terminal itself is actually quite nice. It’s located inside the old concessions building for the drive-in, but it’s been completely redone, with rows of airport seats, a few with outlets. Wastebaskets, recycling bins, a ticket office, and vending machines (including one that makes coffee!) round out the amenities in the main area. I’m also amused by a courtesy phone for a nearby Hyatt – perhaps they run a guest shuttle here? Finally, while the bathrooms themselves are fine, they’re located in an odd back hallway area.

The main attraction.

The terminal review was complete, and it was time to hop on the bus! With a bunch of people on board, we pulled out onto Forbes Road, which parallels I-93 and the suburban development surrounding it (office parks, business hotels, and parking lots). We turned onto Granite Street across from the South Shore Plaza, but we spent just a few seconds on this wide road before heading onto the highway ramp to I-93.

Obligatory rainbow swash!

The highway swung north at its interchange with Route 3, and it proceeded to run through the suburbia of Quincy, often separated by a layer of trees. I-93 got a bit more up close and personal with the neighborhood in East Milton Square, where it briefly burrowed beneath the commercial center in a short tunnel. Running through a marsh after that, we travelled alongside the Neponset River for a bit, going by a few Red Line stations in the process.

Oh hey, speaking of the Red Line – hi, Cabot Yard!

The highway went past the South Bay Center mall as we got closer to Boston, and soon the bus pulled off onto the separate express lane to the airport. With the Boston skyline looming closer, the lane suddenly dipped beneath the elevated highway, running between the two sets of tracks that run into South Station before entering a tunnel. Weirdly, the tunnel ran separately from the directly parallel I-90 tube, so we didn’t properly merge on until I-90’s short outdoor section in the Seaport District. It was definitely short though – we were back underground in the Ted Williams Tunnel in seconds. In classic Logan Express fashion, I wanted to go all the way to Terminal E, so once we came out of the tunnel in the airport, I stayed on until the VERY end.

Darn cars in the way, part 2.

Route: Braintree Logan Express

Ridership: I was surprised to find out that this is the busiest route on the Logan Express system (740,000 annual riders, or around 2,027 per day), but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it – this is the only Logan Express route that runs south, and the terminal is on the driving route from a bunch of places (Providence, New Bedford, the Cape, etc.). No wonder it’s the busiest one!

Pros: Like the other Logan Express routes, this essentially acts as a shuttle from a parking lot in the suburbs that’s cheaper than going to the airport itself. And since this is the busiest one, it’s arguably doing its job the best! The amenities within the terminal are good for what they are, and pre-pandemic, this thing had some excellent frequencies: every 20 minutes on weekdays and every half hour on weekends, with some really impressive service spans to boot (2 AM to 11 PM inbound!). It’s every hour now, but I’m sure they’ll improve it once people start flying again.

Cons: Why does Framingham, the second busiest Logan Express route, get a big fancy terminal with a massive parking garage when all this one gets is a lot? I’m not usually into adding more parking, but in this case, the service is pretty explicitly designed for car users, and I don’t think the current setup is enough.

Nearby and Noteworthy: You can use the Framingham Express to get to the Natick Mall; I suppose you could use the Braintree Express to get to the South Shore Plaza? Or just, like, the 236 or 238 for much cheaper. There’s not much around the Braintree terminal…

Final Verdict: 7/10
Yeah, I actually think this one is worse than the Framingham one! Even though it gets higher ridership, it doesn’t have the facilities to actually support that ridership – the pandemic would be a great time to close one of the lots and build a garage. Of course, we have no idea what the future looks like, do we? Maybe there’s not going to be a market for a Logan Express even after we get a widespread vaccine. Well…this is why I’m glad I’m in the transit industry rather than the aviation industry!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

VIDEO: The 4-hour Local Greyhound from Delaware to DC

Hey, guess what! I finally got my old computer with my editing software back from Penn! And with that came footage from two pre-pandemic videos! So hey, check out this weird local Greyhound from Wilmington, DE to Washington, DC! The other video will take longer to edit, and readers of this blog will know that I’ve been swamped with school and work, but…there will be another one someday. For now, enjoy this one, though!

47 (Whitman Plaza to 5th-Godfrey)

Argh, these long routes that run across the entirety of the City of Philadelphia will be the death of me! After my rather disappointing experience on the 47M, it was of course time to tackle that route’s M-less cousin. I did it by way of an awkward out-and-back: I got a northbound 47 from the end of the 47M and took it all the way up to the loop at 5th-Godfrey, just to turn around and come back!

My northbound bus – even this partial journey will be a long ride!

The 47 is the only bus that uses the loop at 5th-Godfrey, probably because its location is…not great. I mean, it’s not really the loop’s fault, granted. It’s just that if Fern Rock Transportation Center had an entrance to the east, the 47 would be within a five minute walk from there and could maybe even terminate at some loop on the east side of the complex. But nope, that’s not the case, so buses are stuck running up to this loop at Godfrey Ave – a fifteen minute walk from Fern Rock.

Okay, this is actually more infrastructure than I was expecting!

Well, okay, “infrastructure” might be a bit of a stretch – there’s one shelter with scratched up windows, peeling paint, and little graffiti messages. The rest of the loop is pretty much just an asphalt expanse where buses can hang out, plus a little building with operator bathrooms. Despite the shabby nature of the shelter, though, you can’t deny that SEPTA tries to keep this place clean: a transit employee was sweeping around not only the loop itself, but also the sidewalk and curb! For a relatively insignificant bus loop, I’m impressed!

The rest of the loop – that brick building is the side of a rowhouse!

There are a few other connections here, but routes that don’t use the loop only get signs. The K stops here on its roundabout tour of far North Philadelphia, while the 57 and the 70 both run to Fern Rock (so you can transfer from the 47 if you want to go there!), as well as to their southern and eastern destinations respectively. Ultimately there’s not a ton to this loop, but it does its job reasonably well, even if an eastbound Fern Rock entrance would be a lot better. 5/10.

My eventual southbound bus pulling into the loop.

The 47 starts out in a neighborhood with some fantastic ornate rowhouse architecture, so it was fun to cruise down 5th Street past the variety of dwellings. It was more than houses, though: we went by the expansive Fisher Park, and many of the two-story buildings along 5th Street had local businesses on the ground floor. Some other highlights included a church, an elementary school, and a Korean funeral home.

A street curving along the south side of Fisher Park.

As we continued south, 5th Street solidified itself as one of the main commercial thoroughfares of North Philadelphia. A huge variety of businesses lined the bottom floors of every building along the street, some of which were open and some of which had grates locking their entrances. There was a huge variety of architecture too – some of the buildings were impressive in their grandiosity!

Thanks to my nature of only taking photos of side streets, I don’t have any pictures of the businesses along 5th. Dang.

It was a pretty consistent stream of businesses for a while, broken pretty much only by the fancy stone arch that carries the Fox Chase Line, a garden next to a church, and the occasional pure residence. Also, between Rockland Street and Roosevelt Boulevard, there was a fully residential block for some reason! Oh, and Roosevelt Boulevard…it actually felt slightly less insane to cross because the middle six lanes were on an overpass. It was the highway it’s always wanted to be!

This street needs a repave…

We got more retail in the blocks following Roosevelt Boulevard, but it became a little less consistent, with multiple houses in a row between each business. There were also a couple of schools, a supermarket, and some industrial buildings clustered around an abandoned railway line. At the intersection with Rising Sun Ave, 5th Street became one-way in the northbound direction, so we had to merge onto Rising Sun to get to…GASP!…6th Street!

Aw man, they put a fence around their mini-park?

One of our first activities on 6th Street was crossing Erie Ave and the old trolley tracks along it (RIP). Continuing past there, we were on a one-lane one-way street lined mostly with dense, packed rowhouses (a fact that did not bode well for us given that a garbage truck was ahead – that slowed us down a lot). A block after an ornate church, we crossed the Northeast Corridor, which was surrounded by industrial buildings. The rowhouses continued south of there, though, with very few gaps between the buildings.

This garbage truck held us up for so long. What are you gonna do on a one-lane street though??

We passed an intense industrial building as we cruised down a slight hill past Allegheny, and a colorful elementary school came next. That was quite different from the next school we passed, which was an abandoned school, complete with a “for sale” sign posted outside! If you’re interested in buying the property, check out PHLschoolsales.com…except don’t, because the website doesn’t appear to be up anymore. Maybe the school’s been bought?

The abandoned yard next to the abandoned school!

More bizarre stuff ensued: on one side we had a makeshift tire shop set up in what appeared to be an abandoned lot, while on the other side, there was an abandoned reservoir that was elevated above the road! Check out an aerial shot of when it was filled – I can’t find anything more about it, but please let me know in the comments if you have any info! A modern library in the same block proved that the neighborhood wasn’t totally forgotten, though, and the rowhouses continued south of the wide Lehigh Ave.

No photos of the reservoir (man, I really dropped the ball on this one), but here’s the library!

Past Lehigh, the neighborhood grew less dense – there was a lot of vacant land here, taking up pretty much the same amount of space as the occupied land. It definitely used to be an area packed with rowhouses, but it seems like they started slowly disappearing in the 80s. Many of the lots were big enough (some took up nearly a whole block) that they could be used for other purposes, though: some had random vehicles parked in them, while one was being used as a community gathering space.

A cross street in the neighborhood.

A weird little block of single family houses appeared after Dauphin Street, probably a “renewal” project. There were a few more when we turned onto Susquehanna Ave, which the bus is only supposed to use to get a few blocks over to 8th Street. I guess there must’ve been a detour, though, because we just kept on going! We ended up travelling two more blocks, taking a left onto 10th Street, which isn’t actually served by a SEPTA bus at this point!

Interesting abandoned apartment development on the left.

We entered into the sphere of Temple University, although there was still some vacant land and an abandoned apartment development among the more modern student-centered apartments and businesses. We also ran directly next to Temple University Station, which no SEPTA buses actually do – the power of unscheduled detours, I guess! Student apartments brought us the last few blocks down to Cecil B. Moore Ave, which we used to get back to the normal route on 8th Street.

An abandoned factory.

8th Street had an odd array of single-family and duplex houses, another case of “renewal” in a former rowhouse neighborhood. Parts of it hadn’t been touched, though – we also passed a vacant factory and some tracts of open land, as well as original, often standalone rowhouses that had been renovated. Prior to crossing Girard Ave and its streetcar tracks, we ran through Girard’s eponymous medical center.

This view is pretty apocalyptic!

The next few blocks were an interesting mix of new parks and undeveloped land. After we passed a gorgeous Ukrainian cathedral, the neighborhood grew dense again, with mid-20th century rowhouses and apartments. As the four-track SEPTA Main Line a half-block away descended into its tunnel, we crossed Spring Garden Street and entered a more industrial area. There were parking lots, factories, and warehouses galore!

Ooh, nice view though!

Going under I-676, we went by Chinatown Station (blech) and the parking lots and brutalist buildings surrounding it. Despite getting closer and closer to Center City, there were still parking lots everywhere, including a big parking garage – er, excuse me, the “Parkade on 8th” – that we travelled beneath. The bus then passed the Gallery (or Fashion District…whatever) and the Disney Hole on Market Street.

Market Street!

Past Market, we…randomly took a left…onto Chestnut. Oh boy, another detour, and one with lots of traffic and confusion! We took Chestnut past its dense retail housed in tall Center City buildings, as well as through Independence Park past the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Finally we turned onto 4th Street, retracing territory covered earlier on the 57 by running past the colonial (and sometimes not-so-colonial) rowhouses of Society Hill.

Alright, independence time!

We went through a cemetery between two churches, then we saw some weird and wonderful businesses on and around South Street. One block south of that, Bainbridge Street had a wide median dedicated mostly to parking, which we passed on narrow 4th Street – a rainbow of retail occupied the first stories of the rowhouses along here. The bus also seemed to be getting confused about the detour: we were signed “off duty”, and the screen up front was saying something about a route 42 pull-in? Bizarre.

Wow, I love this little alley and its mural! I miss Philly…

South of Christian Street, we entered an apartment development that lasted until Washington Ave. Here, we finally started the trip back to our normal route by taking a right, picking someone up at 5th Street as we travelled down the wide road lined with more rowhouses and businesses (including an ethnic, mostly Asian shopping center). As we rejoined the regular route by turning onto 8th Street, the person who had boarded at 5th frantically pulled the stop request cord. “I thought you were a 64!” she exclaimed as she ran off the bus.

Turning off of Washington Ave.

8th Street was generally residential, but it was dense (rowhouses galore!), with occasional small businesses on corners. As we continued down the one-way one-lane street, riders slowly siphoned away while the scenery went by, generally unchanging. Besides transfers to the 29 and 79 at Tasker/Morris and Snyder respectively, we also passed two school buildings right next to each other: one was still a school, while the other had been converted for other uses.

Some classic South Philly rowhouses.

Looking on Google Maps now, I can see I have reason to be jealous of the northbound route – 7th Street is lined with Vietnamese and Cambodian restaurants! 8th was still mostly residential besides a few corner stores and another school. Eventually it brought us down to the wide Oregon Ave, which had lots of cars parked on the median in typical South Philly fashion. We took a left onto Oregon, running for a few blocks to our terminus at Whitman Plaza. Clearly, that garbage truck in North Philly along with the two detours delayed us a ton: there were two buses immediately behind us and two more not far behind!

The two buses right behind us…
Here comes the third!
Oh look, a fourth! This was all in the span of three minutes.

Route: 47 (Whitman Plaza to 5th-Godfrey)

Ridership: Okay, this is function of both the route’s length and the fact that we ended up very late, but over the course of this roughly 95-minute weekday trip (scheduled for 70, oof), we got 160 riders. That’s insane! But the route is hugely successful in the overall numbers too: it is the single busiest bus route on SEPTA, getting a whopping 16,530 riders per day. And its length doesn’t do much to deter productivity either, with the route commanding a respectable 38% farebox recovery ratio, the 21st best on the system. This is because of its incredibly high turnover – people sure as heck aren’t taking this from end to end, but instead, there’s always a healthy number of riders on the vehicle getting on and off relatively frequently.

Pros: Well, let’s get it right of the bat that this is a powerhouse of a route. The 47 covers an absolutely insane amount of the city, all of it either dense or transit-dependent or both, and it’s able to command a huge amount of ridership because of it. A route like this deserves a useful schedule, and the 47 delivers, providing service every 5-7 minutes at rush hour, every 10 minutes during the day, every 12 minutes on Saturdays (despite the paper timetable saying “every 20 minutes or less”), and every 15 minutes on Sundays (or, again, “every 20 minutes or less”). On weekdays, buses also run at least every 20 minutes until 11 PM, while speedy overnight service is offered on a 45 minute headway seven days a week. Every bus does the whole trip, too – no variants to speak of (er…besides a few weird exceptions that don’t matter)!

Cons: I guess I’ll start out with some light schedule nitpicks, although they’re overall not too bad: Sunday morning service is every half hour until around 9 AM, and evening service on weekends could maybe stand to be at least every 20 minutes for longer. For SEPTA standards, though, the 47 has a fantastic schedule…except its peak service is weird. Looking at the chart on the last page of this PDF, we can see that productivity for the 47 is definitely lower during the peak than the midday, but the plot thickens when we check out its load profile – the South Philly part of the route is super peaky, but the north side seems to peak for school trips and that’s about it. I actually wonder if there could be some merit in short-turning some peak buses in Center City from South Philly (suggesting a variant, what have I become??), so that those extra resources saved can be used to improve service at other times. Of course, this is all based on pre-COVID data – you could very likely get rid of most extra peak service now and spread things evenly anyway.

That rush hour issue does tangentially relate to the 47’s other big issue: it is long as heck. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, but a bus this lengthy and this well-used would really benefit from dedicated lanes, at least in Center City. In the 47’s case, this would require getting rid of parking or maybe banning cars from certain streets altogether, but if there was any route where doing that would be worth it, it’d be SEPTA’s busiest. Also, like always, fewer stops would be awesome – it’d be nice to be able to get from 5th-Godfrey to Whitman Plaza without having to make literally 100 stops in between (literally, I checked Google Maps – it’s 100 stops even!). And this all affects reliability, with the route sitting at a paltry 66% on-time rate!

Nearby and Noteworthy: It’s such a long route, and there’s so much to see here! There are very few points along the 47 where you’re not getting at least some retail on either the northbound or the southbound route.

Final Verdict: 6/10
You know, it is what it is. I feel like my default score for these long but well-used SEPTA routes tends to be a 6, but that’s just always where they tend to fall for me: there’s a lot to dislike about them, and the 47 is no exception, but at the end of the day, you’re still left with a mostly frequent and simple route that serves a lot of people. In other words, this route moves tens of thousands of riders per day, but it doesn’t necessarily move them well. Improvements would be awesome. Right, SEPTA?

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Framingham Logan Express

Okay, it feels weird to be talking about a specialized express bus to Logan Airport in the age we’re in, but such is the nature of having a backlog as…backlogged as mine. There are four main Logan Express buses, each running from park-and-rides in the Boston suburbs into the city to get to the airport. To start with, we’ll be checking out the Framingham one, which probably has the best facility out of any of them.

The bus boarding area.

It’s really interesting comparing the old facility in Framingham to the new one – built around 2016 from what I can tell, the terminal at Framingham is easily the best one on the Logan Express system. There’s no information online about how many spaces are provided in the four-story lot, but two things are definitely true: there are a lot of them, and it’s definitely way more than the old terminal, which only had a surface lot (although even with the big garage, it seemed pretty full, with a ton of cars parked on the roof). Parking costs $7 a day, which is a godsend compared to the $38 daily parking at the airport itself!

Inside the terminal.

They did a great job with the waiting area, too. It’s a big indoor facility with a variety of different seating types, plus outlets, vending machines, free wi-fi, interactive maps of the airport, and some spotless bathrooms. I bought a round-trip ticket for $22 (versus $12 for a one way), planning on using the other “direction” for a future Logan Express trip. If there’s one problem with the terminal, it’s that there might not be enough parking payment machines, at least not in an obvious way: I saw a big line waiting in front of the only one in the vicinity.

Okay, let’s actually ride this thing!

A throng of people had gotten off the outbound bus that arrived while I was here, but the inbound was less busy (as a 6 PM departure, it definitely wasn’t a peak travel time for outgoing flights from Logan). The driver handled everyone’s luggage first (I had none, of course) before walking through the bus and collecting everyone’s tickets from their seats. He also asked each person which terminal they were going to – I said E, since that would give me the longest possible ride!

Ooh, this is atmospheric!

By the time we actually left Framingham, it was dark enough that I couldn’t see anything out the window. Not that there was much to see anyway – we took the most direct route possible to I-90, pulling onto the highway in two minutes flat. We blazed through the wealthy, woodsy western suburbs of Boston, but things got more dense along the road once we entered Newton.

It’s back in Framingham, but it’s pretty much the only cohesive photo I have.

We shot past the three Commuter Rail stations in Newton and under the Star Market and hotel that both sit over the highway. Soon after Boston Landing Station, I-90 went up onto its bridge along the Charles, offering a skyline view whose picture I could not capture in the lighting. Coming off the bridge, we went by Boston University and Fenway Park.

Oh look, it’s…Boston…

The highway entered its tunnel beneath Back Bay, and after a little bit of open-air time, we entered its other tunnel beneath the Seaport District. It has a few spots where it pops up into the open, but before long we were in the Ted Williams, crossing Boston Harbor towards the airport. Once we got into East Boston, we pulled onto the departures road and made stops at each terminal, with the same terminal announcements as the Massport shuttles echoing through the bus.

Darn cars in the way!

Route: Framingham Logan Express

Ridership: This is one of the two Logan Express routes for which ridership is provided (yay!), and given the crowds I saw, it isn’t a surprise that this is their second-busiest route – 580,000 riders per year! That’s around 1,589 people per day, although I’m sure in COVID times that number is much lower.

Pros: The COVID schedule isn’t anything special (every hour all day), but I think I’m going to focus on the pre-COVID timetable and hope that we eventually get to a point where that schedule gets reinstated. The route ran every half hour throughout the day on weekdays and in the afternoon on weekends (hourly in the morning), but early bird trips to the airport also ran (and still run) as early as 2:15 AM seven days a week! The $22 round trip fare and $7 daily parking means that taking this will always be more economical than driving directly to the airport and parking, and you’re getting a comfortable ride there to boot (plus a great terminal to wait at in Framingham).

Cons: With this route, honestly not much. I do think this is the best Logan Express bus, and it’s pretty much perfect besides the pitfalls that all of these fall into: the weird pay-as-you-exit ticketing system coming from the airport, the fact that you could get stuck in I-90 traffic…and, uh, I think that’s pretty much it!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Hmm…this honestly isn’t a bad way of getting to the Natick Mall by public transportation if you really wanted to. I mean, you’d have to get to the airport somehow, and you’d have to decide if $22 round trip is worth it, and you’d have to be willing to walk for about 10-15 minutes from the Framingham terminal, but…yeah, you could definitely do it!

Final Verdict: 8/10
Sadly it goes downhill from here with the other Logan Express buses, but the Logan Express system as a whole is a great service. I think the mixture of a relatively frequent schedule and a really nice terminal makes this my favorite of the bunch, but I’m excited to talk about the others too!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

47M (Whitman Plaza to 7th-Spring Garden via 9th Street)

Ugh…this thing. Okay, time for a history lesson: the regular 47 (sans “M”) used to travel on 9th Street in the northbound direction, running straight through the Italian Market. While it was great to have a direct bus serving that location, the market ultimately served to slow the buses down with its crowded stalls and resulting traffic, so SEPTA rerouted the 47 onto 7th Street. But…we can’t just not serve the market, can we? The closest bus is two whole blocks away – that’s 3 entire minutes of walking! Enter the northbound-only 47M, one of the strangest and arguably most pointless bus routes on SEPTA (and for the record, the “M” is lowercase on the official route list and uppercase on the schedule and on Google Maps, so I dunno…).

That headsign is weirdly formatted…

After getting dumped off in an industrial wasteland on the 57, I ironically had to walk back to its normal terminus at Whitman Plaza to catch the 47Miserable. I had breakfast at the Oregon Diner before heading to the stop, grabbing the 47Maniacal a few minutes later. The bus pulled out onto Oregon Ave, a street that was wide because of its angled parking and felt wide because all the buildings along it were just two stories high (mostly businesses with residences on top).

I know what you’re thinking: that auto shop on the left is actually called “Eargasm”. The “ear” part is some sort of car reference I guess?

Now, when we headed north onto 9th Street, the road was still lined with two-story buildings, but because it was just one lane with parking on both sides, they felt a lot taller than the ones on Oregon had been! Every intersection along here seemed to have some little convenience store or bakery, but besides those it was rowhouse central. Two grand school buildings at Mifflin Street brought a bit of variety to the buildings, since South Philly rowhouses tend to be pretty uniform besides their colors (from beige to maroon) and occasional awnings.

The level of variety (or lack thereof) is on display here!

A beautiful church sat at the intersection with Watkins Street, and around when we crossed Tasker and Morris (the streets followed by the 29 bus), businesses started to appear a little more often. More than just corner stores now, there were also more specialized ones like a florist and a party store. Perhaps because we were getting closer toward Center City, a lot of the rowhouses were becoming three stories, too. 9th and Passyunk was home to Pat’s and Geno’s, neither of whose cheesesteaks I have ever tried! (I’ve heard they’re both overrated…)

Hi Pat’s!

After “Cheesesteak Corner”, we were starting to enter Italian Market territory. The buildings along the street now had the market’s distinctive red and green awnings, and there was a wide variety of businesses and restaurants along here. It was once we crossed Washington Ave that the market itself started, and that was when things got hairy. Thanks to the stalls spilling out into the street, we had to crawl through…it felt like we were less than a foot away from banging into the awnings.

Not a great photo…there’s an awning though.

North of the market, the street got leafier and the rowhouses got a lot more architecturally diverse. A recreation center took up a block shortly before South Street, which was definitely in a less weird phase this far west – there was a Whole Foods at the intersection, after all! A few blocks of rowhouses led us to the beautiful Penn Hospital, the first in the country, although its main building was mostly hidden behind a wall and some trees.

Whole Foods, Starbucks, Wawa – South Street definitely isn’t weird yet.

We passed the modern buildings of Thomas Jefferson Hospital next, which is, believe it or not, not the first in the country. We also went by the big building that says “Court House” and “Post Office”, although I honestly can’t tell if it’s still used as either of those things – regardless, the stiff-looking, almost Soviet statues outside of its entrances are fun to look at. Oh, and as we crossed Market: the Disney Hole!

Crossing Chestnut Street outside of the “Court House”.

North of Market, 9th Street ran beneath the Fashion District (rightfully still called “The Gallery” on the 47Maleficent’s map) for a block before entering Chinatown. Unfortunately, the mostly austere buildings of 9th Street weren’t conducive to vibrancy – 10th is where most of the action is here. Speaking of vibrancy, though, Race Street had a lot of that to offer, with a huge array of Chinese signs outside of different restaurants. We took a right onto that, going in the opposite direction of that vibrancy.

Arch Street.

Parking lots and office buildings were the order of the day along this part of Race. We passed Chinatown Station and the Roundhouse, and outside of Franklin Square, we headed up onto 7th Street, joining the regular 47. The bus had been empty since Chinatown, and as we entered an industrial area past an I-676 overpass, I realized I had no idea how this thing would actually end. The map just shows it ending at Spring Garden Street…would I get kicked off there?

A modern development in the midst of an industrial lot?

Well, we crossed Spring Garden and I can tell you that I wasn’t kicked off! But now I was curious: when would I be kicked off? Where was this bus even going now? Edgar Allan Poe’s old rowhouse stuck out in the middle of what was otherwise a 20th Century housing development. Taking a left onto Fairmount Ave, we ran along its northern border before travelling along its west side by turning south onto 8th Street. Were we just heading south again? Nope: the bus suddenly pulled up onto the left sidewalk and awkwardly let me out into the middle of the street. Guess that’s the end?

Weird place to lay over, but okay…

Route: 47malodorous (Whitman Plaza to 7th-Spring Garden via 9th Street)

Ridership: Okay, if these ridership numbers are to be believed, the 47macabre gets a ton of people – 1,645 riders per day isn’t a lot, but that’s spread out over just 24 northbound-only trips! That would mean 69 people per trip, which while being quite “nice” (I had to), doesn’t seem realistic to me, given that a one-way ride is just over 30 minutes. I mean, 25 people boarded my bus, which is much higher than I was expecting, but I just can’t see this thing getting almost 70 people on average over such a short distance. Not to mention that this report calls it the least productive north-south route on the system…and why does SEPTA’s load profile have a mysterious, seemingly packed series of southbound trips? Something’s fishy here.

But one thing that the data can seem to agree on is that very few people are actually using this to get to the Italian Market – that holds true for the network redesign report, the route’s load profile, and my own observations from the trip. Are there riders using it? Yeah, absolutely, but it’s at the expense of two frequent routes that are close by: the 47 runs up 7th every 10 minutes, but you also have the 45 on 11th running on the same headway! Let me stop myself before I spoil everything in the “cons” though…

Pros: Honestly just that people do seem to use it. Having a bus right outside your door is obviously convenient, but it’s at the inconvenience of many more riders who could benefit from a more frequent service. Wait…I’m doing cons again.

Cons: Fantastic, we’re here! Yeah, let me just get the elephant in the room out of the way first: I do not believe that this route needs to exist. All it’s doing is taking service away from the 47, which frankly needs all the service it can get. It’s even more insulting because buses on the 47Malicious don’t even travel in service southbound, meaning the four buses it uses all day are guaranteed to be empty half the time as they make the trip back to Whitman Plaza. How does anyone think that’s an effective use of resources?

It gets worse, though: because the route travels through the Italian Market, its on-time performance is an abysmal 69%. And the schedule is designed around travel to the market (every 20 minutes from 8:30 to 4:30 on weekdays, every 30 minutes from 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturdays, and every 35 minutes from 10:00 to 2:00 on Sundays, when the market runs limited hours), despite the fact that it’s been established that this is not what people are using the route for. So what we have is a bus with awful service spans and mediocre frequencies, and it’s all taking away potential service from a much busier and more frequent route that runs two blocks away. This seems ridiculous to me.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, as much as I don’t think it should get a direct bus, the truth of the matter is that you can most certainly take this thing to the wonderful Italian Market. The market offers everything from produce to meat to spices, while some fantastic restaurants line the thoroughfare too. My family makes a point of having dinner at Villa di Roma every time they visit, it’s that good – their marinara sauce is out of this world.

Final Verdict: 1/10
I was considering a 2 because it does get ridership. But if I flat-out want a route to be eliminated, why shouldn’t it get a 1? This is the definition of a coverage route, and in a place as dense and as transit-friendly as South Philadelphia, SEPTA’s big focus should be on ridership. Plus, running the 47moronic has effects that go beyond the neighborhood: using its buses to boost frequency on the regular 47 would affect North Philadelphia too, and for the better.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Guide to the MBTA’s Fall 2020 Service Changes (COVID time!)

Okay, this is a doozy of a service change. Thanks to our good pal COVID, there are some huge changes happening in the fall, namely some massive reconfiguring of resources. Routes that used to get packed are now nearly empty, while others have seen barely any drop from the pandemic and now need more service. The changes (which come into effect August 30th) are described on this page, but of course if you want a more colorful analysis (not to mention some of the official descriptions on the webpage are misleading or even wrong, as you’ll soon see), stick around for what will likely be an insanely long post! Also note that you can assume a route is returning to regular weekday service if it’s not mentioned here – I’m not gonna list all those out, although I appreciate the T for doing that on its page. Finally, don’t get too worried about the more drastic changes: I think a lot of these are temporary for COVID and will likely get rethought as ridership gets higher.

SLW: Wait, the SLW has a route page? You can’t even access it from the main bus page! That’s bizarre, but okay! Well, at any rate, this route will see an increase in weekday service. I don’t really know what that means because it didn’t have much of a schedule in the first place, but you can see here that rush hour service will be insanely frequent (maybe it always was, though).

CT2: Our first route with reduced frequency! Early morning times will stay the same, but throughout the midday, the route will run every hour instead of every 35 minutes, and the evening rush will lose some trips.

1: While the 1’s weekday schedule is unchanged, it’s gaining much-needed weekend service! Most weekend buses will come a minute or two more often than they do now, with a special case for Sunday mornings, which will jump from every 20 minutes now to every 15!

4: Yeeeeeah, it makes sense that they’re dropping trips on this one. It’ll run 12 trips per day instead of 16.

7: Okay, you cannot cut midday service from every 22 minutes to every 44 and say the route is returning to “nearly pre-COVID service levels”! Granted, the rush hour, when the vast majority of people are riding the 7, remains pretty much intact, losing at most a few trips (indeed, the morning rush gets a lot more easy to understand, with everything running at a clean 4-minute headway and every other trip ending at Congress and Atlantic, instead of the hodgepodge now).

8: I mean, when they say “Saturday morning service added“, they mean…one trip in each direction. Still, though, that’s something! Departure times are shifted a bit throughout the day, too.

9: There’s a bit of an influx in weekday service here! It’s mostly concentrated in the early morning and the morning rush, and there’s nothing too crazy, but it’s nice to see a few extra trips. Also interesting is the fact that the afternoon trip from Boston Latin is no longer marked with an “s” note! I can’t seem to get a direct answer about whether or not the school is open, but rest assured that even if it’s closed, that bus will seemingly still be running!

10: Saturday service is being reduced, down to every 30-40 minutes instead of every 20-25. That’s definitely a rough change…maybe the ridership consisted of South Bay Center shoppers that aren’t shopping right now?

11: Ooooooof, there are some big cuts on this one! The only time that stays relatively intact is rush hour, but other than that, it’s a mess. Weekday midday service is a hodgepodge with service every 35-45 minutes, seemingly at random, while Saturdays drop from every 20 minutes to every 30, and Sundays from every 40 minutes to every 60. Guess weekend ridership has been low for the 11…

15: Oh wow, Saturday sees an increase in service from every 15 minutes to every 13! That’s a decent jump!

16: Whoaaaa, Saturday service goes from every 20 minutes to a clean every 15??? That’s, like, significantly better than weekday service now! Is there still a random 20-minute gap between 1:30 and 1:50? Yeeeeeeah, but we’ll let it slide…this is still a huge improvement.

18: Uhhhh…okay, we’re 212-ing this, huh? The 18 will run all day on Saturdays still, but weekdays? Nah, weekdays are peak only! It’s ridiculously infrequent in the evening rush, too. This is awful!

22: Alright, there are some nice frequency improvements across the board here! Everything on weekdays and Saturdays gets bumped up by at least a few minutes, with some of the best changes being early morning weekday service and Saturday midday service getting improved to every 10 minutes (from every 15 and every 12-13 respectively). It would be nice to see the Sunday service become something better than every 20 minutes, but I guess that’s not on the table this season.

23: Pretty much the same boat as the 22 – weekdays and Saturdays see frequency upgrades. Again, it’s by a few minutes across the board, and again, Sundays remain untouched.

28: The weekday improvements for this one are very slight (just a few added trips throughout the day), but it’s still always nice to see them.

32: This one also sees increased frequency throughout the weekday! Man, I’m liking these changes!

38: One school trip on weekdays is eliminated, but that’s about it!

39: There are claims of increased weekday service here, but I can’t see any changes on the schedule besides the reintroduction of school trips. I’m sure there has been some improvement, but it doesn’t seem like it was much.

43: “Service operates during peak periods only”? But…but it doesn’t, though! At least not according to this timetable! The weekday schedule is reduced quite a bit, sure – it’s pretty much every 45 minutes or worse all day, when before it was every 20-30 – but it does still have midday service. Weird.

44: Wait, why are we reducing Saturday service from every 21 minutes to every 30 on this busy route through low-income neighborhoods? Has Saturday service been empty enough to justify that big of a frequency decrease?

45: Birds of a feather flock together, I guess. I would’ve thought this would be like the 44 for Saturday ridership, but I guess in this case that means another big decrease, from every 20 minutes to every 30. Huh.

47: They say this route will have more service. But I see…an identical schedule. Uh-oh!

52: AHHHHHH, this route is on life alert! Granted, I’ll bet hardly anyone is using the 52 right now…but it’s tough to see an all-day service drop down to just eleven one-way peak hour trips per day, including one that only runs on school days. Yikes.

55: Another “212-ing”, although this one is even more stark. So let me get this straight…you’re going to run only during rush hour on weekdays, with a bus every 35-40 minutes and only between Copley and Queensberry…but the weekend schedule will stay the same, including all-day service as frequent as every half hour? Uhhhhhhhh…okay…

57: Whoaaaaa, we’ve got a massively expanded rush hour here! There are way more 57A trips from Oak Square, meaning that service from there will be every five minutes or better during the rush! There’s some added service middays and on Saturdays too, but rush hour is definitely the 57’s big winner.

59: Ah, it’s a case where improving to “nearly pre-COVID service levels” means “Hey, we’re gonna cut the half-hourly weekday midday service down to every 50 minutes!” Granted, that feels like a typical service cut we might see in any service change, but it’s disingenuous to call that “nearly pre-COVID”, I think.

60: Okay, this is “nearly pre-COVID service levels”! Yeah, they basically make the morning rush hour end earlier (transitioning to the midday frequency after 9 AM), which seems like a reasonable change.

62/76: So these routes are going to be combined full-time, reducing their service pretty heavily. The weekend schedule stays the same, but I do have to give credit to the weekday schedule’s simplicity – it’s every half hour during the peak and every hour at all other times, with buses running as late into the night as they do in the current schedule. Note that the Hanscom Civil Air Terminal will only be served in the reverse-peak direction so that the route can keep an hourly headway.

65: This is a route that sees a ton of commuters to the Longwood Medical Area, so given that, it makes sense to see rush hour service improvements. This does come at the expense of the midday, whose frequency will be halved, but this is a very peaky route with little ridership during those times, so it’s not too disruptive of a change.

66: Wowwww, big improvements across the board here that were much-needed. On weekday middays, service goes from every 13 minutes to every 10-11! For a good chunk of weeknights, service goes from every 15 minutes to every 12! On Sundays, buses will run every 15 minutes instead of every 17! And on Saturdays, when service is currently running every 17 minutes, it will increase to every 12. Should this have happened long ago? Absolutely. But wow, it doesn’t make it any less incredible to see it in the flesh.

70: Uhhhh…yeah, I think they’ve added, like, two round trips on weekdays? I guess that is technically “more service than pre-COVID”…

71: They’re claiming more service than pre-COVID, but, uh, nope, these schedules are identical. Trackless trolley service is apparently coming back, though!!!!!!!!!

73: What the heck! This one gets the opposite script from the 71 (“nearly pre-COVID”), yet its schedule is also identical! No indication about whether or not trackless trolleys are coming back on this one either. That makes me sad.

77: Hmm…seemingly no change to the schedule…except on Sundays, when service will increase from every 17 minutes to every 15, but only in the outbound direction? That’s…suspicious. Nothing is written about this in the service change notice either – all that’s mentioned in there is that the 77A is still suspended.

78/84: This is a really sensible change for COVID times: the 84 is being suspended, but to compensate, all 78 trips will run to Arlmont. The 78’s schedule remains pretty much the same actually, but note trip time changes because of the new destination on some runs.

79: Okay, but honestly, this should’ve happened long ago – this route is being made peak-only. I mean seriously, we already have the 77! I know it’s ostensibly a temporary COVID change, but this makes a lot of sense!

86: Ooh! Huh! Okay, rush hour gets a bit more service, which is great, but also the route will be every 15 minutes or better for most of the weekday now! It’s still every 25-35 minutes from 9 AM to 1 PM, but, er, hopefully those gaps will get filled in later, eh?

87: Uhhh…”nearly pre-COVID” service levels? There are going to be more trips in the evening rush now! And everything else is the same besides some time shifts! Yeah, this is definitely an improvement, not a reduction!

88: And another one! Granted, this isn’t an improvement like the 87 was, but it’s not “nearly” pre-COVID either – as far as I can tell, the schedule is completely the same besides some school trips coming back!

89: The schedule is mostly the same, but Saturday mornings do lose some service from around 7 AM to 9 AM. Only a few trips are cut, though, and while it does lower the frequency, I would guess that ridership isn’t huge during those times.

90: Ah…well, this one makes up for the past few times when “nearly” didn’t mean anything – this time it’s, uh, a lot more than nearly. I mean, would you call halving midday service to be every hour instead of every half hour “nearly” pre-COVID??

91: Okay, MBTA, I’m calling your bluff on this one: you say that 91 service is “reduced”, when it’s getting pretty much the exact same changes as the 90? Literally its weekday schedule is also being cut from every half hour to every hour! Be consistent with your dang language! Sadly, the 91’s Saturday service gets a similar treatment, too, dropping from every 25 minutes to every 50.

92: Another “reduced” one where we’re going from every half hour to every hour on weekdays! The evening rush loses service too, although the morning rush stays intact.

94: Yikes – every 80 minutes during the weekday instead of every 40? And it’s another “nearly” pre-COVID situation to boot! Saturday trips also get shifted around, including some cut trips. Weird that there are going to be departures at both 11:21 and 11:46 PM from Davis on Saturdays, though – maybe ridership is just really really high then to justify having two of the closest-spaced runs on the whole route?

95: Wow, this schedule is a mess. But in essence, Saturday service is getting reduced – generally it’s going to be every hour, but in the same way the current schedule is all over the place, this one will be too. Mornings and especially afternoons will be significantly more frequent than other portions of the Saturday.

96: The beginning and end of Saturday service lose out here – nights get cut from every 40 minutes to every hour, while in the mornings, when service currently runs every half hour (more frequent than at any other point in the day), it’ll run around every hour (not a clean hour, but close enough, I guess…sigh…).

99: Weekdays aren’t too bad, losing only a few trips in the morning (although it does mean there won’t be any increase in frequency for the morning rush), but Saturday headways get cut in half. That means service as infrequent as every hour and forty minutes! Sundays will be more frequent than Saturdays now!

101: Okay, so weekends get cuts here. The Saturday ones make sense: they basically chopped off the ends of service, so that early mornings and nights are hourly instead of half-hourly, while middays stay the same. Sundays, though…I’m a little worried about getting rid of half the trips to make it every hour or worse all day. This was a busy route that already didn’t run frequently enough, and while I could be wrong, I would guess that this change might serve to exacerbate crowding.

104: Have we reached the point where this and the 109 are as frequent as they deserve to be? No, but they’re certainly heading in the right direction with these changes! On weekdays, the 104 will drop from every 40-45 minutes to every 20-30 (plus big rush hour improvements too), and while the paper schedule for Saturdays and Sundays keeps the guidelines of “every 40 minutes” and “every 45 minutes” respectively, in actuality buses are going to run about every 25-30 and every 30-40. The headways are definitely all over the place, but these routes need as much service as they can get, so I’ll take it.

105: They say “nearly” pre-COVID levels, but it’s the same schedule. Nice!

106: This route returns with more rush hour service, which is always nice! What they don’t say in their little “more service than pre-COVID” blurb, though, is that Sunday service goes from being hourly to being every seventy minutes! C’mon, MBTA, you gotta give us the full picture – clearly service isn’t improving across the board here.

108: Uhhhh…okay, the good news is that this route’s weekday midday service is getting more frequent, which is awesome! But, uhhh, the way they added service seems to have been just putting an additional bus ten minutes before every existing trip. So here, let me list off some of the route’s departures from Linden Square, with new ones in parentheses: 11:05, (11:29), 11:39, 12:13, (12:37), 12:47, 1:21, (1:45), 1:56…like, what the heck is this??? Again, any improvement is good, but this is bizarre. Oh, there are time shifts on Saturdays, too.

109: This seems to be about the same as the 104, with the same headway increases. It’s all a bit crazy so there’s seemingly no coordination between the two routes on their shared section, but they often slot between each other enough that it kinda works anyway.

111: Ahh, the route that can never have enough service improvements. Honestly it’s hard to summarize the changes here when the 111 is as crazy as it is, but rest assured that on weekdays and Saturdays, this ultra-frequent route will become even more ultra-frequent across the board.

112: I mean, if minor time shifts on weekends with no change to the number of trips means “more service than pre-COVID”, then…uh…then I guess I’m not cut out for this.

116/117: Some pretty massive improvements to the rush hour periods on these routes, with a ton of extra trips from the start of service through the morning rush, and then from around 2 PM until 6!

134: “More service than pre-COVID”? Nope, wrong again – besides the regular school trip additions, which would’ve happened anyway, the changes are nada.

136/137: Okay, this is definitely tough to see, but it’s sensible. Weekday midday trips will operate as the combined 136/137 loop like what happens on Sundays. Given that it’s a similar frequency (hourly, which is sadly a reduction from the current 35-minute headway) to Saturdays, I wonder why they didn’t opt to run bidirectional service like they do then, although each route running every two hours certainly wouldn’t be optimal! Also, I wouldn’t call this “nearly” pre-COVID service levels, and I also feel obliged to point out the shading error for inbound trips on the schedule – I’m told it’ll be fixed, but for now, that’s, uh, not good!

170: This route will remain suspended for the time being.

210: Time shifts for a few outbound runs on Saturday mornings (wow, it’s a nice break to report such a menial change!).

211: Aww, okay, they note that Saturday service is reduced, but this is actually a good change in my opinion: the route will run every hour instead of every 55 minutes. That does mean it’ll lose a trip, but the schedule will also be simpler and much easier to remember!

212: The route I’ve made fun of several times on this post for having a better Saturday schedule than weekday will now have…an even better Saturday schedule. That’s right, service will start at 6 AM instead of 8 AM!

214/216: Rush hour seems to be the same, but these routes see some big cuts during the weekday midday, when they will operate every 40 minutes as the combined 214/216, rather than the kinda-sorta every 15 minute schedule operating now. Saturdays are being cut too, from the current alternating 10-30 minute headways (uhhh…) to every 40. Also weirdly, there’s no Germantown timepoint on Saturdays anymore – the running times are the same so I assume it’s still running via the 214 route too, but I’m not sure! Very weird.

222: A few minor time shifts on Saturday nights.

226: “Saturday service increased.” Uhh…nope, it’s the same.

230: Ah, inbound Saturday departures will be a little more consistent now! That’s nice!

236: Whoaaaaaaa, this thing’s being cut to five peak-only round trips per day on weekdays?? It’s barely breathing! AND YET THE SATURDAY SERVICE IMPROVES FROM EVERY 70 MINUTES TO EVERY HOUR! Move your South Shore Plaza shopping day to Saturday, I guess!

238: Some nice weekday and Saturday improvements in the form of new early morning trips, which is always welcome!

240: Like the 238, new trips are being added on weekday and Saturday mornings. There are also new trips during the day on Saturdays, but the coordination between Crawford and Avon trips is abysmal, including a couple of departures at seemingly the exact same time. Maybe it’s a typo?

245: Oh yikes…we’re down to five round trips per day, and only at rush hour. Granted, cutting this back from an all-day schedule makes more sense than with the 236, since this one doesn’t have weekend service, but it would be a shame if this change ended up being permanent (which in this case feels more plausible).

325/326: These routes will remain suspended for the time being.

350: Hey, the suburbs are getting some love! Both peak and midday service on weekdays will get frequency improvements – the former will be every 15-20 minutes instead of every 20-30, and the latter will be every 40 minutes instead of every hour!

351: This route will remain suspended for the time being.

352/354: Okay, bad news first: the 352 will remain suspended. To compensate, though, the 354 will get extended to North Burlington! But that compensation does come with reduced frequency – the route will run every 45 minutes in the morning and every 50 in the evening, down from every 25-30. Also weirdly, there’s no inbound timepoint for North Burlington! Huh…

424: One morning rush trip is dropped, but the rest is intact!

426: Most of the cuts here seem to be in the evening rush – they’ve cannibalized most of the trips from Wonderland and even one from Haymarket during that time.

428/434/451/456: These routes will remain suspended for the time being (just lumping them all together into one entry).

501/503: Some people are rightfully upset about this one, but I think it’s a reasonable COVID change – the 501 and 503 have been combined, so all buses will travel via Copley Square on their way to downtown. The combined route is also going to run more trips per day, although that comes less from pure frequency improvements and more from spreading frequent service across the rush (the consistent every ten minute service from 4:25 to 7:35 PM looks awesome).

502/504: Yup, ditto for these. Once again the combined schedule boasts a clean and consistent rush hour. Middays are unchanged, but unfortunately the Saturday schedule (curiously labelled “502”) is every 60-70 minutes instead of every 40.

505: This route will remain suspended for the time being.

553/554/556/558: All of the 550-series routes are being cut back to Newton Corner, which hopefully shouldn’t be too much of a problem for downtown commuters with the new 501/503 and 502/504 combos. The only one keeping midday service is the 553, which will run about every 45 minutes all day (it’s hourly now) – the other three routes will only operate at rush hour. Also, the 553’s Saturday service will be reduced from every 45 minutes to (oof) every 90.

Okay, overall, huge kudos to the MBTA service planning team for this one! Were there some frustrating changes? Absolutely. But it seemed like for every questionable change, there were two (well…maybe one and a half) good ones, including a few routes that got some huge improvements. I would say that despite some nasty cuts, most of them are likely temporary, and this has overall been probably the most positive list of service changes I’ve ever covered on the blog! My biggest qualm was with the language, honestly – there were a ton of inconsistencies, misleadings, and even inaccuracies in the descriptions provided on the website, and I think it’s something that you only realize when you’ve actually combed through all the schedules to see what the changes are. But anyway, what do you think of these changes? Let me know in the comments, because I’m sure there’ll be differing opinions!

57 (Whitman Plaza to Rising Sun-Olney or Fern Rock Transportation Center)

Wow, have we got a beast today. The 57 is an absolutely massive route, going from the northern border of Philadelphia (and indeed, slightly over it) to almost the southern border! But in typical Miles in Transit fashion, I wasn’t content with picking just any variant of the 57 – I had to do one of the five trips per day that gets extended down to the Packer Marine Terminal in South Philly. And of course, I had to take it to the Marine Terminal in the morning so it would be in the peak direction! But hey, I’m not too crazy: I didn’t feel like schlepping up to Fern Rock for the 5:54 AM trip, so I opted to take the last one of the morning, which leaves from Rising Sun and Olney Aves at 6:46. That meant I would have to do a Fern Rock trip at 6:23 to actually get down to that point and ensure I was covering the whole route! Okay, got it? Cool – this isn’t confusing at all.

Heyyyyy, we’re at Fern Rock!

Before we could get settled on the 57’s relatively (read: relatively) straightforward path south, we had to deal with the roundabout mess it does around Fern Rock. That mess began with a left turn onto 10th Street, heading north through the leafy residential areas north of the Broad Street Line station. A few corner stores awaited where we took a right onto Godfrey Ave, heading under the SEPTA Main Line. There was an interesting dynamic for a few blocks where charming dense rowhouses occupied the south side of the street, while the north side was a wooded neighborhood whose single family houses could barely be seen behind the tree covering.

Definitely a bleak morning.

We very much entered urbanity when we crossed 5th Street and the terminal loop of the 47 at that intersection. It was a consistent line of rowhouses on both sides of the street, at least until we made a turn onto 2nd Street to go further north, passing a school on one side. Eventually it was just single family houses along here, continuing up to when we took a right onto Cheltenham Ave. This street, which marks the border between Philly and Cheltenham, fittingly ran with rowhouses and duplexes on the city side and single families on the suburb side!

Guess it’s woods time??

This street was taking us southeast, so we were heading in the semi-right direction! Aside from a few shopping plazas at the intersection with Front Street, though, it felt like we were getting further from civilization – turning onto Crescentville Road, Tacony Creek occupied one side of the street, so that was complete and total forest. Rowhouses and apartments took up the other side, granted. The street curved west and became Champlost Ave, at which point we took a left onto Front Street to head proper south. Finally!

The weather makes this hospital look very gloomy.

It was pretty much all rowhouses along Front Street, something we’d be seeing of a ton of on this trip. We also passed an entrance to the massive One and Olney Square shopping plaza, though, which is mostly hidden behind the line of houses. Taking a left onto Olney Ave, we crossed the Fox Chase Line and went by a striking blue and beige middle school. I got off at the intersection with Rising Sun Ave – it was time to wait for my connection to the Marine Terminal!

Okay, perhaps not the nicest place to wait.

While I was here, I figured I’d do a review of the Rising Sun-Olney Loop! And…well, yeah, there’s not much. This thing runs around the back of a gas station and as far as passenger amenities go, all you’ve got is a shelter, a bench, a wastebasket, and a payphone sign advertising a payphone that was removed long ago. I’ll note that this stop only serves every other trip on the 57 (the ones that don’t go all the way to Fern Rock) and a few trips per weekday on the 26, so it’s not doing much, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an awful bus loop. 2/10.

Ooh, cool to see that rare destination sign!

Pulling out from the loop, we made our way down Rising Sun Ave, a road that cuts diagonally across the Philly street grid. It was home to a ton of different businesses (from local restaurants to small convenience stores to a suburban Rite Aid) and a ton of different house types (from typical rowhouses to an apartment building to a few single families). The relatively constant stream of buildings was broken by a big field connected to nearby Olney High School, and a few blocks after that, we crossed the wide hellish expanse of Roosevelt Ave.

A few shuttered businesses on Front Street.

While there was a number of businesses at the diagonal intersection with Front Street (including a church in what appeared to be a converted movie theater), most of them were closed. It’s also worth noting that while the bus eventually does end up on Front Street, it stays on the diagonal Rising Sun for several more blocks, requiring two more turns. Sure, the street is lined with retail, but at its furthest, the route gets a tenth of a mile away from Front – it sure would save a lot of time to just turn onto that, and it wouldn’t be much of an inconvenience.

Huh, this photo came out kinda neat!

The first industrial portion of the route began just before we used Wingohocking Street to get onto Front Street (oh hey, wonder if we could’ve gone on that earlier!). This was a particularly apocalyptic industrial area, complete with barbed wire, graffitied fences, and scrapyards with random car parts strewn everywhere. Front Street had a big cemetery across the street from the industry, which included one of those massive mail processing post offices (RIP USPS…).

This is actually a different graveyard from the one described above – there are more to come!

The intersection with Hunting Park Ave had a gas station and a U-Haul to the north, and to the south was a field and a city vehicle garage, both of which were elevated above the road so they couldn’t be seen. We went by a characterless fire station and a mysterious building surrounded by barbed wire before going through another cemetery. On the other side of those was (you guessed it) another weird industrial area, where we took Erie Ave for a block to get onto 2nd Street. Once the road crossed the Northeast Corridor, though, we entered a more typical rowhouse neighborhood.

Rainy day bus window photos are the best…

This neighborhood was super dense – most of the rowhouses had porches, and while no one was out on this rainy morning, it certainly seemed like they would be buzzing on days with better weather. There were occasional businesses too, mostly local restaurants and corner stores (although a parking lot-adorned KFC begged to differ). There was some more industry surrounding a freight rail line, over which the road crossed, and it continued to mingle with rowhouses as we continued south.

A bleak scene on Lehigh Ave.

We turned onto Lehigh Ave very briefly, using it to get onto American Street, a wide, industrial, depressing, unfriendly road with a railroad track running down the middle of it. Good analogy for America? You be the judge of that. At any rate, we trundled down past old factories and plots of vacant land. Eventually the railroad track started to get dug up – I think they’re replacing it with a leafy median of some kind, which would certainly be an improvement!

Good progress being made on the track removal! It seems like at least parts of it are pretty much complete now.

What’s especially interesting is that the surrounding neighborhoods are certainly dense enough to support a bus – American Street is just this weird industrial thing that cuts through it all. SEPTA routes always seem to have some sort of detour going on, and the 57 was clearly no exception: we had to take a left onto Berks Street for a block before turning onto 2nd, which the bus would normally wait until later to travel on. This street was a nice break from the frankly depressing American Street, supporting an actual neighborhood of rowhouses and corner stores.

An alley off of Girard Ave.

The first thing we saw when we turned onto Girard Ave was a massive, modern ACME Market with a parking garage on top. We were only on this street for two blocks, but it was clear that we were getting closer to Center City: there were fewer abandoned buildings, and many of the ones that had been abandoned were now under renovation. Turning onto 4th Street, we slowly ran through a tight, dense neighborhood of packed rowhouses, some old and some new. Six or seven students departed the bus at the Bodine High School for International Affairs.

A blurry slice of the neighborhood.

The rowhouses continued unabated for blocks, occasionally punctuated by little shops and restaurants. When did they become, er, abated? Well, the massive Spring Garden Street took care of that. South of that wide road, the few buildings that did show up (big offices and an apartment building mostly) were surrounded by huge parking lots. In quick succession, we went under on-ramps for I-95 and then the Ben Franklin Bridge, although surprisingly, a semi-charming neighborhood (including a beautiful old church) has managed to remain intact in the two blocks between the elevated highways.

Market Street!

The imposing concrete wall of the US Mint took up a whole block, but a few historic buildings cropped up as we crossed Market Street and continued into Society Hill; a gorgeous park we drove through down there had a ton of them. The neighborhood did work its way back to typical rowhouses, but this is Society Hill we’re talking about – these things were old and beautiful. The road soon passed through an old graveyard before we crossed South Street with its colorful offbeat businesses.

The park from south of Market Street.

We then intersected with Bainbridge Street, which had a little park (and park-ing) in its median. This was my first time travelling on 4th Street down here, and I was amazed at how bustling it was – this thing was lined with retail and restaurants, complete with apartments on top! Certainly when I return to Philly (if that ever happens…), I’d love to come back here and just stroll down! The mixed-use neighborhood stopped after Christian Street, though, when we entered a housing complex.

Remember how I mentioned how Spring Garden Street is wide and ugly? Well, its southern variant is Washington Ave, and indeed, it was wide and ugly. We turned onto it for a few blocks, but most of that time was spent on an odd little slip road next to it. I guess this was to make it easier to take our right onto Moyamensing Ave, a diagonal street whose perpendicular parking increased its width by a significant margin. While it was mostly residential, a good amount of restaurants and cafes showed up too.

Rowhouses off of Moyamensing.

As South Philadelphia tends to be, the houses along Moyamensing were dense, broken only a few times: once by a park, and once by a strange little shopping plaza. The street ended at Snyder Ave, at which point we had to traverse two intersections that are way too close together to get onto 4th Street. This neighborhood consisted of, you guessed it, dense rowhouses.

Snyder Ave.

As we got closer to the end of 4th Street, some other land uses showed up in the mix: a rehab center, a school, and a recreation center. Now, once the 57 gets to Oregon Ave, the vast majority of buses take a right to pull into Whitman Plaza. We were going to the Packer Marine Terminal, though! “I’m taking a left!” the driver announced. “I know!” I responded, excited for what this thrice-a-day trip would bring. I was the only one on at this point.

This is what the thrice-a-day trip would bring!

So we took a left onto Oregon Ave, a wide road that forms the border between the dense rowhouses of South Philadelphia to the north and a bunch of suburban businesses and malls to the south. Once we went under I-95, though, that atmosphere completely changed: now it was a desolate but bustling industrial area with massive warehouses, rail yards, and parking lots. We turned onto Columbus Ave, which parallels the Delaware River.

Alongside one of the ports.

The marine terminals along here played host to a ton of trucks and shipping containers, all bearing Western European names (Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, Hamburg…). “Do you work here?” the driver asked. I explained the blog, and he told me that usually there are three people on his trip that come out here: one heading to the Philadelphia Parking Authority yard, and two for the marine terminal. This time, though, it was just me. I got off the bus at the terminal next to some trucks and watched it drive away into the foggy abyss.

I think this might just be the bleakest view of the whole trip, even factoring in American Street.
Update: I found this photo in my folder! This one’s pretty bleak too…

Route: 57 (Whitman Plaza to Rising Sun-Olney or Fern Rock Transportation Center)

Ridership: It is super easy for a local route this long to get high ridership – our pal the 57 fits the bill, nabbing 9,762 riders per weekday. However, on a trip-by-trip basis, it’s a little less productive than other routes; the 47-ish riders per trip doesn’t sound as high when the route length is anywhere from an hour to nearly 90 minutes.

Pros: I mean, you definitely can’t say the 57 doesn’t serve a lot. It’s a long route, and from the perspective of population covered, this is among SEPTA’s best buses. For most of the day on weekdays, the schedule does reflect this, with service every 12 minutes during the day and every 7-10 minutes at rush hour. Because every other trip ends at Rising Sun-Olney, Fern Rock only gets half the buses, but that doesn’t seem like a huge deal since that area is more suburban.

Cons: It’s one of those ones where I’m not even sure where to begin. I guess the schedule is as good a place to start as any: pretty much any time period besides the ones mentioned in the “Pros” above has a less-than-desirable schedule. On weekends it’s a clean every 20 minutes all day, which for a route of this length and density seems infrequent. And at night, it’s anywhere from every 30-40 minutes. Sure, parts of it are industrial, but for most of it, residences are never far away.

That’s another thing, by the way – the route is kind of a mess! The biggest offender is the Fern Rock section, although I guess if you are going to send something up to that part of Cheltenham Ave, better to use the route that’s near its terminus rather than the middle of the K, which also runs over there. But other parts are less excusable: the way it goes from Rising Sun Ave to Front Street, for example, or the way the southbound route deviates over to Moyamensing Ave in South Philly. In both of these cases, bus travel time is extended to prevent short walks.

The 57 has a ton of variants too. The Rising Sun-Olney one makes sense, but it’s downhill from there. On weekdays from 2:45 to 4:15 PM, southbound buses take a slightly different routing in North Philly to avoid a middle school – perhaps a sensible decision from a traffic perspective, but it might be important to tell passengers it exists besides a tiny note on the map! A ton of northbound morning trips start at either 2nd Street and Oregon Ave or 4th Street and Oregon Ave, presumably because ridership from Whitman Plaza is low to nonexistent at that point. By why either 2nd or 4th? And you’re only saving about 2-3 minutes by starting there, anyway!

The Packer Marine Terminal variant really doesn’t seem to be a big-hitter. Are you saving a few commuters a transfer and a ten-minute walk? Sure…but it seems to only be a few commuters. These kinds of low-use variants tend to just make routes more complicated without benefitting too many people. Perhaps the strangest pattern, though, is the fact that every other northbound trip ends at 3rd Street and Girard Ave from around 1:45 to 3:30 PM. So you’re telling me that all service north of there is every 20-22 minutes at what is a really major time?? (the South Philly part of the route is more oriented around the traditional rush, while North Philly’s ridership is highest at school times) That doesn’t track, man.

Nearby and Noteworthy: 4th Street south of South Street was definitely the biggest draw for me – that seems like a really cool neighborhood.

Final Verdict: 4/10
I think this is too important of a route to give a score lower than this. Obviously there’s so much wrong with it, but it does serve a ton and it does have a decent weekday frequency that at least somewhat makes up for its many problems. Are those problems many, though? Yes. Many. Many. Many.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

GATRA: 6 (Whittenton)

It’s a little bit less exciting to do a GATRA route when it’s one of the numbered Attleboro-Taunton ones – I mean, these ones feel like, you know, actual real legitimate bus routes. At least, as close to an actual real legitimate bus route as you can get…it is still GATRA we’re talking about, after all. Thus, the 6 is very likely to offer plenty of weird quirks to keep it from being an actual real legitimate bus route.

Oh hey, nice to get this weird bus for our last numbered GATRA review! Aww…sad that this is the last one.

The 6 is the only route that serves dense northern Taunton, so its legitimacy is helped there. I mean, leaving Bloom Terminal (still one of my favorite reviews ever), we had a whole FIVE PEOPLE on board! Go GATRA! (look, any GATRA bus with more than two people has to be breaking some record) Suburban businesses lined Washington Street, the road leaving Bloom Terminal. Interestingly, the 6 bypasses downtown Taunton, staying on Washington Street and running past Morton Hospital.

A narrow cemetery between two streets.

We merged onto Broadway after the hospital right outside of the magnificent Saint Mary’s Church, which was mostly residential; most of the businesses that did show up were in houses. Soon we headed onto Bay Street, which was lined with more dense houses. It’s also worth noting that in typical GATRA fashion, the 6’s map is mislabelled – the section on Bay Street is shown as Washington Street, and vice versa for the section on Washington Street! Never change, GATRA…

Ooh, solar!

Some retail appeared between the houses too, often in little clumps around intersections. In particular, the crossing with Whittenton Street played host to a little square of businesses (GATRA calls it “Whittenton 3 Corners”, despite the fact that it’s a four-way intersection) – Whittenton is the namesake of the route, so presumably this spot is important! More dense houses led us to where Washington Street merges into Bay Street, and from there the area got a more leafy, suburban residential character.

Whoaaaa, lake time!

It’s at this point that GATRA’s map just completely ignores reality – this bus would need some insane off-roading tires for its depiction to work. Rather than veer west immediately like the map says, Bay Street curved its way around Lake Sabbatia, offering great views of the clear blue water and houses surrounding it! At one point the lake houses broke for an alternate entrance to the Myles Standish Industrial Park (we’d be heading there later), a parking lot for the lake’s public boat launch, and several apartment complexes.

The back of some of the apartments.

We went by another body of water, Watson Pond, complete with its own park and beach. From there, a stretch of woodsy houses led us to a sudden burst of suburban development next to I-495 – this was Northwoods, which contains a BJ’s, a medical center, and several fringe fast food restaurants. We deviated into that before crossing the street onto Miles Standish Boulevard, running through its extensive eponymous industrial park. As you can imagine, on my Saturday ride, absolutely no one was coming to this land of offices, and I’m sure my driver was questioning what the heck I was doing on board. The bus turned onto John Hancock Boulevard and then Constitution Drive, where we reached the end of the line. My friend Sam was waiting in his car to pick me up!

Hang on…this isn’t right.
Much better.

GATRA Route: 6 (Whittenton)

Ridership: The 6 is the second-busiest route in Taunton on weekdays, getting an average of 155 riders per day. However, I think a lot of those people are heading to the industrial park or to school, since the Saturday ridership is WAY lower: 67 riders. This means that while the 6 is actually GATRA’s most productive non-peak-only route on weekdays, on Saturdays it drops down to around the average.

Pros: Besides the North Woods jog, this route has no deviations to speak of, which for GATRA should just make it a 10 already! This route takes a logical path in general, tracing a straight line through northern Taunton. The argument could be made that it should deviate into downtown Taunton, but I think it travels close enough that it’s not a huge deal, and I admire GATRA for making that concession for the sake of directness. The headways are decent too, with hourly service on weekdays and Saturdays and more frequent buses at rush hour (every 50 minutes in the morning peak and every 30 in the evening).

Cons: Okay…parts of this schedule are weird. Sure, it’s a shame that service stops running at 6 PM on weekdays and 4 PM on Saturdays, but no – there’s some weirdness here too. For example, why does the 2:37 inbound trip on weekdays take eight minutes longer than every other trip to get from Morton Hospital to Bloom Terminal? Why is the 7:48 inbound trip on weekdays given just five minutes from the industrial park to Bay and Washington when all other trips get ten (and it’s impossible to do it in any less)? And are they such a resource-constrained system that they had to throw in what is presumably a lunch break on Saturdays that completely throws off the otherwise even schedule? So many questions…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Not much of note, honestly. “Whittenton 3 Corners” has a few local restaurants, including a Cape Verdean one – pretty cool!

Final Verdict: 7/10
Are my standards for GATRA too low? They may well be…I mean, hey, this is a legitimately solid route! For a pretty non-transit dependent city, the 6 does a good job, garnering decent ridership (on weekdays, at least) on a direct path with barely any deviations! Yeah…my standards for GATRA are definitely too low. I’ll regret this score in a few days.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

43 (Richmond-Cumberland to 50th-Parkside)

Our last SEPTA review was on the 64, a route that runs crosstown along a wide, close-to-the-city road in South Philadelphia and runs more infrequently than it should. The 43 is the northern version of that!

Oh wait, let’s review the 50th-Parkside Loop first.

The 50th-Parkside Loop is a really odd one. Located in an area that used to be a ton of rail yards, this bus station now sits in what is pretty much an industrial wasteland. The stop is located across the street from the ParkWest Town Center, a shopping plaza that generates most of the ridership here, even though you have to walk through its huge parking lot to get to it. Despite its surroundings, the loop itself is nice: there are plants and trees to spruce it up, plus a good amount of seating, both sheltered and unsheltered. Not bad for a terminal that only serves the 43, 64, and a few rush hour trips of the 52! There’s no real reason to come here unless you’re going to the ParkWest Town Center, and access to that isn’t the best, but once you actually get here, it’s a pleasant place to wait. 6/10.

And now for the feature presentation.

The 43’s route begins like the 64’s: with the weird twists and turns through the industrial wasteland surrounding the 50th-Parkside Loop. I don’t understand why buses can’t just directly go onto Parkside Ave without having to go via both 50th and 49th, but alas, this is how it goes. Parkside Ave is so called because it runs alongside Fairmount Park, but we soon turned away from it on Belmont Ave, which too was industrial.

Yeah, this is pretty desolate.

Once we crossed the Paoli/Thorndale Line and the (former) 15 trolley at the same time, Belmont Ave became lined with rowhouses. Soon we made a slight left onto Lancaster Ave, joining the (luckily not former) 10 trolley along the diagonal road, passing more apartments, plus businesses and some vacant buildings and lots. The vacancies came less often the further we travelled, but before things got too gentrified, we turned off onto Spring Garden Street, where we would be spending the majority of our trip.

Since Lancaster Ave runs diagonally, you get some close intersections like this one.

Spring Garden was lined with ornate rowhouses, as well as a few apartment buildings that blended well into the neighborhood. This southern part of Mantua is definitely feeling gentrifying effects from nearby University City. Speaking of University City, we soon crossed the sprawling rail yards north of 30th Street Station and the Schuylkill River, getting a view of both University City’s skyline and the skyscrapers of Center City to the east.

Lots of traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway.

To get around the Art Museum, we had to make our way around Eakins Oval, getting a view of City Hall down the Ben Franklin Parkway. That led us back onto Spring Garden Street, which was now a wide four-lane road with a median lined with three- and four-story rowhouses. Some more modern buildings showed up eventually, including taller apartment buildings and the Community College of Philadelphia.

Ah, I love this view!

The taller buildings continued to Broad Street, where we intersected with the first of two Spring Garden Stations we’d be encountering. A truly impressive mural on the side of a factory-turned-apartment building, as well as the sketchy Flixbus station in a parking lot, led us forward. East of Broad the street takes on an industrial vibe, with lots of old factories (some converted and some not) and a number of garages and vacant lots.

Aww…RIP 23.

Things started to get hipstery too: trendy cafes, bars, and nightclubs showed up along Spring Garden for a bit before we went under the abandoned Reading Railroad viaduct. We were dealing with rush hour traffic now, so progress was a bit slow. On the other side of the viaduct, it felt pretty industrial again, right down to weird silos showing up right along the road! But hey, at least there was also a random shopping plaza with a Dollar General in it.

Hard to believe this is technically Center City!

We passed through another short stretch of hipsterness before we went under I-95, dropping most of our passengers off at the rainbow-colored entrance to Spring Garden Station on the MFL. Soon after that, we turned onto Delaware Ave, which runs along the river of the same name. This area was ostensibly industrial, but tall new apartment buildings and entertainment spots (including Sugarhouse, er, Rivers Casino) showed signs of a gentrifying neighborhood.

A nice park by the river.

It beats me why the 43 does this, but for some reason eastbound buses have to deviate onto Beach Street to…”serve” Penn Treaty Park, I guess? But why do you have to serve the park? Especially when the deviation takes the bus less than 150 feet away from Delaware Ave, yet it requires it to sit at a light in order to get back! Once we finished that deviation, though, it was back on Delaware, which travelled right alongside the I-95 bridge and passed some pretty desolate industry.

Uh-oh…DETOUR?!?!?!?!

The road took us through a bunch of highway and industrial paraphernalia. The bus is supposed to run on Aramingo Ave, but thanks to a detour, we stayed on Delaware, which soon became Richmond Street as it came along some abandoned waterfront land (blocked from our view by a wall). We took that up to Lehigh Ave, one major street past the route’s usual northeastern edge on Huntingdon Street.

Rowhouses on a side street.

Unlike Huntingdon, Lehigh was a two-way road made all the more wide by its center turning lane and diagonal parking spaces. It was mostly residential along here (thank goodness – I was getting sick of the constant highway wasteland), but a few restaurants and pubs cropped up too. We weren’t on this for too long, though, turning onto Aramingo Ave once we hit it. This road was also wide, with two lanes in each direction, a painted median, and suburban businesses along it.

Nice view from here!

Heading onto a bridge, the street made its way through an interchange with I-95, dumping us back onto Delaware Ave at the end of it. It took me a bit to realize that we had in fact looped around and I was still on the bus – I have no idea where the detour routing was supposed to end, but I figured now I wouldn’t have to worry about finding my way back from the normal terminus. Instead I just stayed on until we returned to Spring Garden Station!

Returning west in Spring Garden’s rush hour traffic.

Route: 43 (Richmond-Cumberland to 50th-Parkside)

Ridership: Even in pre-COVID times, the numbers on this one weren’t very high. The 43 got an average of 3,054 riders per day in 2019, and spread out over its 125 daily trips, that was just about 24 people per 50-odd minute run. It’s always pretty amazing how much my trips manage to fit the average, though – mine got 25 riders! Either way, though, ridership isn’t the best on this one, especially for what should be a major crosstown route.

Pros: SEPTA keeps things simple for the 43 – it’s a mostly logical straight shot across the city, keeping itself on Spring Garden or at least on roads that keep it going in the same general direction. This holds for variants too, with the route running mostly the same pattern throughout the day (buses end slightly earlier on the route at the start and end of service, and the non-summer schedule has a few annoying morning rush short-turns on both ends, but it’s good otherwise).

Cons: It really comes down to frequency for this one: it’s bad. First of all, there’s a heavy school contingency on the route (it goes by several high schools, plus the Community College of Philadelphia), so the summer schedule is pretty drastically reduced, with service every 16-20 minutes at rush hour and every half hour middays. But even the school year schedule is rough: it’s super frequent at peak times, about every 6-15 minutes (morning rush is a lot more frequent than evening), but middays it’s every 21 minutes, just one minute off from being decent! To round it all off, the route runs every half hour on Saturdays (not great) and every 45 minutes on Sundays (NOT GREAT). I don’t think I even have other cons, but for a route on such a major street, this is awful!

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are some pretty “hip” spots on the section of Spring Garden between Broad and I-95, but I want to zero in on some other places on that stretch (both of which are closed to COVID alas). First there’s the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site, which offers free exploration of the author’s old rowhouse! I’m also intrigued by the Latvian Society of Philadelphia, which appears to have (pre-pandemic, at least) put on shows and events! It’s a culture I know absolutely nothing about, so it would be fascinating to visit if they started putting events on again.

Final Verdict: 4/10
It’s really the frequency that drags this one down. The route itself is competent enough, but I just cannot excuse that schedule! I don’t even know what’s worse: the half-hourly midday schedule in the summer, which is far too infrequent to be useful, or the every-21-minute midday schedule during the other months, which is so frustratingly close to being okay that it makes it even more annoying! The miserable weekend timetables round out this mediocre route.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Gosh, it’s been a month, huh? The time slipped away from me…I’ve just been really busy, but I promise the blog isn’t dead! I don’t know how often I’ll be posting, but I’ll make sure it’s not another month until you hear from me again. Also, just as an aside when proofreading this…gosh, I miss Philly!

Guide to the MBTA’s Summer 2020 Service Changes

Oh boy, there’s nothing better to take me out of a hiatus than the T releasing its quarterly service changes! I’ve actually begun my internship with them for the summer, so I can’t promise that post frequency will be as high as it was during that really brief, amazing time when I had nothing going on and was able to post once a day. Those were the days, huh…? Well, anyway, there are a lot of stop moves happening this rating that I can’t be bothered to talk about (“Route 21 & 26 stop Gallivan Blvd @ Pleasant Hill Ave (outbound) is relocated across Pleasant Hill Ave” – yeah, that would be a super dry post), but you can check them out (along with the other schedule changes, which I will be talking about) here. Also they’ve changed the PDF URL format this time around, meaning I get to struggle to figure it out while comparing schedules! Anyway, these changes will come into effect June 21st, along with vaguely-described increases in transit service. So, with the preamble out of the way, let’s goooooooo!

9: The schedule is being changed on weekdays before noon, but it’s not easy to pinpoint what these changes actually mean for riders. Honestly it just seems like they’ve rejiggered the times, probably for on-time performance reasons, and it doesn’t have massive effects on frequency, especially when the route’s morning rush schedule is already so insane.

16: Whoaaaaaa, the 16 is getting added weekend service! It’s great to have a good change so early on! While the Saturday and Sunday schedules are currently about every 25 minutes, the route will gain a bus on both days to bring things up to a roughly 20-minute (or better) headway, and a sometimes-clockface one at that! Sunday late afternoons and evenings change from every 30 and 35 minutes to every 25 and 30 minutes respectively.

28: An inbound trip at 4:45 AM on Saturdays will now leave at 4:40.

32: Aw, this is a nice little change! Two early-morning inbound trips on weekdays that previously started at Cleary Square will now begin all the way at Wolcott Square.

35: The morning trips that don’t run to the Dedham Mall have been rescheduled to provide a more even frequency in the outbound direction, versus now where inbound frequencies are more consistent. I’m not sure what prompted this change – I’m not aware of the 35 having a ton of reverse commuters. It’s still fairly even going inbound, but the previous schedule is super clean and that simply won’t be the case anymore. The service will overall be more even when you factor in both directions, though, so that’s good.

39: The major change here is a rerouting: rather than inbound buses taking Belvidere Street around the Prudential Center, they will now directly travel up Ring Road to Copley Square. This seems like a good change to me – the new route is faster and more direct. Despite this, some inbound service on weekdays and Saturdays will get slightly less frequent (every 10 minutes or less versus every 9 during the evening rush, and every 11 minutes or less versus every 10 on Saturday afternoons – the MBTA advertises neither of these changes, incidentally), while evening service on all days will see changes, some good and some bad, but never more than by a few minutes.

43: Oh, 43…what are we going to do with you? The route’s weekend service, which already gets awful ridership as it is, has been cut even further, from every 30 minutes to every 35-40. I really have soured on this one since my initial review, when I gave it an…8/10??? Ugh! Honestly if you cut weekend service on this thing entirely, you could put those resources to much better use – it seems like we’re heading in that direction with this new round of cuts.

47: OH NO, A NEW VARIANT??? Okay, yes, four new short-turn trips between Central Square and Longwood makes sense given this route’s notorious morning rush crowding, and it looks like inbound service throughout that period will now be every 7-8 minutes instead of every 10-15. I mean, as annoying as a new variant is (and it looks really silly on the schedule because it only has one timepoint), it’s great to see more service where this route really needs it!

60: Two weekday trips are being merged into one, essentially: instead of 9:19 and 9:38 AM departures from Kenmore, there will just be a 9:25.

67: Despite the fact that the route’s layover point is moving to Forest Street at Heard Road, the map doesn’t seem to have been updated with that info. Because of the changed terminus, arrival and departure times are a bit different now.

70: Some trips are added to the weekday schedule – good to see the route get a little less messy, but it is still very very messy.

71: Oh boy, it’s Harvard bus tunnel construction season! The 71 will once again be terminating at University Road and beginning at Story Street just outside of the bus tunnel, leading to a myriad of frequency changes. Rush hour buses will come slightly less often (by a minute), Saturday afternoon service will increase from every 15 minutes to every 12, and Sunday service will decrease from every 17 minutes to every 20.

72: Get ready to hear this a lot: inbound service in Harvard Square will go via Brattle Street because of the tunnel construction, and the route’s departure times will change, especially in the inbound direction. Coordination with the 75 is going to be better, too!

74/75: Inbound service is going via Brattle Street, leading to some running time and departure time changes. Weekdays see the most change, including heading in a more clockface direction throughout the day, which is awesome! Also: a constant service issue with the 74/75 has been requiring the use of the older New Flyer buses because of the low bridge leading into Belmont Center. Well, that will no longer be a problem – buses are now going to loop around and terminate just south of the Commuter Rail station! While this does sacrifice direct access to the center, I think the operational flexibility afforded by this change will be great, especially since the MBTA is getting close to retiring those old buses anyway. Plus pedestrian connections to the center are super easy from that spot anyway.

77: Once again, inbound service is running via Brattle Street, which causes minor frequency reductions across the board. Also – and this is truly sad news – because of the tunnel closure, the 77A won’t be running! Nooooooooo!!!

78: Say it with me: inbound service will run on Brattle Street. Unfortunately on a route this infrequent, the slightly longer headways make a tangible difference in the number of weekday trips operated. Weekends are pretty much the same, although note departure and running time changes.

80: Because the 80 is no longer detouring due to Broadway bridge construction (although the map hasn’t been updated alas), it can increase its frequencies due to the shorter trip time! Across the board, the route is going to be running 5-10 minutes more often than it does now.

85: The MBTA tells us there are changes, and yet…there are no changes. The three people still riding the 85 nowadays can rest easy.

86: Okay, this is…weird. The first thing I’m noticing is that “Harvard Station Busway” in the outbound direction has been replaced by “Harvard Square”. But…wouldn’t the 86 be unaffected by the Harvard bus tunnel detours, since it’s going in the direction that all the other buses using the tunnel will go? Huh. More concretely, the route’s Washington Street detour is over, so there are some time changes across the board and a few more trips on weekend mornings.

87: Bad news first: the evening rush is losing a trip or two. But for a tiny bit of good news, the wonky midday departure times are getting just a bit more uniform! Keep an eye out for time changes across the weekday.

88: Kind of the opposite of the 87. The morning rush is losing a trip, while midday service is getting less uniform!

89: Despite returning to its regular non-detour routing (with the map unfortunately not reflecting this), the schedule doesn’t change that much. Departure times all stay exactly the same, with only a few running time changes, plus the change of Clarendon Hill trips no longer running via Davis Square thanks to the return to regular route. One major change, though: the last trip of the night will no longer run to Clarendon Hill, instead ending at Davis.

91: The MBTA didn’t announce schedule changes for this one, but I would consider running time shifts due to the bus returning to its regular non-detour route to be noteworthy!

96: And again, no time changes announced despite there totally being shifts in running time! Sure, departure times stay the same, but the schedule is ostensibly still changing! Also, for the last time, inbound service is operating via Brattle Street in Harvard Square – that’s mostly what’s causing those running time changes.

99: Despite many time shifts on weekdays, the route had crazy departure times before and it still has crazy departure times now. Saturday afternoons and evenings see major service cuts, though, going from every 35-40 minutes to every 50-60+. And while the Sunday changes are mostly just running time shifts without departure time changes, the 2:30 PM trip from Woodland Road will now leave at 2:31…just to be annoyingly unique, I guess!

105: Sigh…what are we gonna do about this serpentine mess? It’s going from every 75 minutes middays to every 80. This route needs major changes, honestly.

108: Saturday departure times are getting shifted around, but the route’s times were crazy enough that these changes don’t help or hinder its clockfacedness. Also, contrary to what the alert says, there are changes on Sundays too – many running time and a few departure time shifts.

112: UMMMMM…OF ALL THE ROUTES TO GET A MAJOR SERVICE BOOST, IT’S THIS ONE??? Uh, okay…well, everyone’s favorite serpentine mess (sorry, 105 – see above) will now run every 30-40 minutes on weekdays rather than every 40-50, adding a ton of new trips! I mean, I’m a little baffled, but any improvement is welcome, I suppose!

117: On a route whose early morning ridership is huge, it’s nice to see a new 4:30 AM trip from Revere Center to Haymarket on Saturdays! Also, the T didn’t mention this, but note that the 5:02 AM inbound trip on Sundays will now leave at 5:01. You’re welcome.

120: Ugh…you know the consistent half-hour headway on Saturday mornings? And the relatively consistent hourly headway on Sundays? Well, thanks to a bunch of departure and running time shifts on weekends, that’s all gone.

134: Oof, the consistency of service on weekdays was already shaky, but departure time shifts make things so much worse. On the old schedule, some inbound PM departure departure times were: 1:05, 1:33, 2:06, 2:33, 3:10, 3:38, 4:20. Not perfect, but it’s fairly consistent. Now we have: 12:54, 1:31, 1:50, 2:28, 2:42, 3:35, 3:39, 4:39. AHGGHHAHGAHHGH!

325/326/351/352/501: Wait…so when they say these express routes are getting suspended (presumably temporarily, but they don’t actually say that), does that mean that every other express route will not be suspended? Will the 503 be running but not the 501, for example? I mean, that doesn’t make a ton of sense, does it? If I, the person who spends hours poring through schedules looking for and documenting the most minute time changes, can’t figure this out, then this is officially confusing.

439: Alright, guess our final route is this five-times-a-day thing. Many of the route’s departure times are changing, and it’s worth noting that the inbound midday trip will now run through to Wonderland. Also the once-a-day “Range Road” variant is kaput, whatever the heck that was.

I guess we can’t expect to have a ton of amazing schedule changes given the pandemic, but overall this was a pretty rough round. Although we saw fantastic frequency increases on the 16, 47, and 112 (still can’t get over that) and some efficient reroutes on the 39, 74, 75, most of these updates are what we always seem to see: lowered frequencies and less consistent timetables. I understand that these changes are required due to limited resources and traffic (although how much traffic really is there right now?), but it doesn’t make them any less painful.

CCRTA: Boston Hospital

So…funny story, I actually have ridden a big chunk of the CCRTA. But, er, all the pictures are on my other computer. Which is back at school. So for now, we’ll have to cover the one CCRTA route for which I have photos, and this one is…well, it’s a doozy. You’ve read the title. This is genuinely a bus that goes from Cape Cod…to Boston. We’re travelling over a hundred miles in a minibus!

So how did this come about? Well, my family was going to Truro for the weekend to stay with some friends. And sure, I could’ve, you know, driven down with my parents like normal…but this was the perfect opportunity to take a ride on the Boston Hospital shuttle! I could take it all the way to Wellfleet, have my parents pick me up on their drive, and we’d be just one town over from Truro! Plus this meant that I could review the whole thing without having to worry about how the heck I’d get back home from the end of the line.

The service runs five days a week, serving various towns on the Cape before heading up to Boston and dropping off at a variety of hospitals. Similar to the MART Boston Shuttle, the arrival times are totally unrealistic, but this one treats it less like an actual timetable and admits that the times are “approximate”, so it feels less inaccurate – after all, the stops are by request, so it’s not going to be doing them all. I wanted to get picked up at Tufts Medical Center, since I was interning at the T at the time and Tufts is in walking distance of the office. So…now I had to call the CCRTA to make my request…oh no.

I dialed the number (open Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM) and prepared for the worst. And…well, it actually turned out to be quite possibly the least intrusive call I’ve ever done for one of these routes! The woman on the other end was very nice, and all she needed was my origin, destination, name, and phone number. That’s it! GATRA, take some notes!

The boarding process could’ve gone better, though. I was told that the bus would be showing up at Tufts at 2:45 – knowing how sketchy these call-in services can be, I arrived 20 minutes early just in case. I had asked to be picked up at the Floating Hospital for Children, so I was waiting near where the Silver Line stops, constantly looking around to see if a CCRTA minibus had arrived. When 2:45 rolled around, I started getting nervous.

Well, don’t you look out of place?

Just out of curiosity, I tried crossing to the median of the street for a better vantage point…and I saw the CCRTA minibus parked way down near the South Building of Tufts. C’mon, that’s not the children’s hospital! Oh well, I sped-walk over there and told the driver my name. He said he was going to leave soon if I hadn’t come, so…good thing I crossed the street. “Wanna buckle up?” he rhetorically asked as I got on, sitting behind a person already on the bus. Yeah, yeah, gimme a sec to settle in – I’m gonna be on this thing for three and a half hours, I want to be comfortable!

Crossing Stuart Street.

Before heading on our merry way, we had to deviate up to several other hospitals in the Mass General complex. For those of you familiar with Boston, you know that that is a significant deviation. For those of you familiar with Boston traffic, you know that that is a long deviation. Well, every journey has to start somewhere…and for us, it was a left onto Stuart Street and a right onto Park Plaza, which became Charles Street as it cut through the Boston Common and the Public Garden.

Boston Common versus Public Garden – vote which one you like more in the comments!

We turned onto Beacon Street at the edge of the common, running past the lovely brick apartments along here (including that ridiculously narrow 12-story one that sticks out like a sore thumb in what I think is an endearing way!). At the gold-domed Massachusetts State House, we swung a left on Bowdoin Street, a narrow road squashed between the State House and a line of apartments and businesses. The road widened to four lanes after the Capitol, though, and we soon hit the wide brutalist wasteland of Cambridge Street.

The State House!

We were on Cambridge Street for a very short amount of time before we took a right onto Staniford Street. To get to our first MGH stop, we made a turn onto the very narrow and very twisty O’Connell Way. Two people got on here, whom the driver greeted by name; one of the passengers said we were “right on time”, that time being 3:05. The website claims the bus leaves Boston by 3 PM, but…I dunno, I guess schedules are out the window here.

Making our second stop.

Our next stop was the Wang Center, which was just a few streets away. The driver announced he was going to go to the bathroom here, heading out of the bus with the doors open a smidge. During that time, a new passenger arrived and squeezed through the partially-open doors. “Oh no, I didn’t open the door all the way!” the driver exclaimed upon coming back and seeing our new rider, whom he also addressed by name. “Did you make it through okay?”

Government Center.

“Alright, let’s go to Cape Cod!” the driver announced. “Hopefully the traffic isn’t too bad. Should we listen to the traffic report?” The traffic report!! The bus was awash with the nostalgically grainy sounds of WBZ NewsRadio 1030 and its “Traffic and Weather Together” segment – although let’s all admit it was way better when they called it “Traffic on the Threes”, which is a significantly catchier title. Meanwhile the bus made its way back onto Cambridge Street, running past Government Center and City Hall.

This looks familiar…

Cambridge Street became Tremont Street and we crawled in traffic along the Boston Common. There was some real deja vu when we took a left onto Stuart Street, over a half hour since the last time we had traversed it. We were actually going somewhere now, though: Stuart Street became Kneeland Street as we entered Chinatown, and heading onto Lincoln Street, our bus finally made its way onto an on-ramp for I-93. Finally on our way!

Ooh…who will get to the Cape first??

We were in the HOV lane (woo!), so we were able to speed past the normal traffic as the highway twisted through the industrial Newmarket area. The excitement was short-lived, though: reaching Dorchester and its view of the rainbow gas tank, even the HOV lane got congested. It was a slow crawl through the residential neighborhoods of Neponset, the marshes south of there, and the tunnel beneath East Milton Square. But hey, at least we were finally out of Boston!

Obligatory shot with that gas tank in it.

Moving into the more suburban neighborhoods of Quincy, we only had a few more exits to go before ours. Traffic actually cleared up for a bit through this final stretch, but just before we pulled off onto Exit 7, it started to pick up again on the main highway – luckily we didn’t have to deal with it! It is at this point that I took a photo of myself holding up three fingers for some reason. Like…I know where we are, I don’t know why I felt the need to remind myself that this is where the section on Route 3 begins!

Oh hey! Also no, I’m not including the three fingers picture.

But yes, Route 3, the highway to the Cape and the bane of everyone’s existence. Luckily it was cooperating today: we made it through Braintree, our last stint of proper civilization for a while, no problem. After Braintree, while there were certainly patches of development around the highway, we sure as heck couldn’t see it. As far as we were concerned, it was just the woods.

Yeah, like this.

I-93 really keeps things interesting, since you’re going through so many various areas and development patterns, plus the highway has some twists and elevation changes. Route 3, though…every single time I drive to the Cape, I always remark on how much of a slog it is. It’s just all forest, with really very little else! And at least Route 24 (also a woodsy highway) is kinda noteworthy in the fact that it’s straight as an arrow – Route 3 curves often enough that not even its lack of curves can be a defining feature.

Ooh…but I do see a shed over there!

One amusing thing was the “parking area” in Norwell – I always find it funny when these amenity-less “rest stops” are just slapped onto the side of the road. And Route 3 is such a short distance from end to end that I can’t imagine truck drivers needing to sleep there or anything – it feels like it’s just a location where you pee in the woods! Still, the exits on Route 3 are pretty far apart, and since they’re numbered sequentially instead of by the mile (for now, at least…), progress feels slow.

Does an exit on the left instead of the right count as a landmark?

We entered the impossibly huge town of Plymouth, where while the exits do get closer, the scenery doesn’t change much besides the occasional glimpse of a shopping plaza. A well-placed rest stop at Exit 5 seems like a good place to camp out if bridge traffic is backed up this far, but luckily it was still smooth sailing for us. The scenery went back to being, yes, woods for our final push towards the Cape, though.

Well, hey, short scraggly woods are a form of variation.

We were incredibly lucky – despite the snag earlier on I-93, I guess that was more evening rush traffic from Boston than traffic heading for the Cape! We were able to cross the Sagamore Bridge at full speed, no problem. Once we got over the Cape Cod Canal, Route 3 turned into Route 6 and made its way through the splurge of development on the other side of the bridge, including a fake Dutch windmill. Why not?

Crossing the bridge!

Of course, after the initial excitement of finally being on the Cape proper, Route 6 enters…the woods. Yeah, once we left the vicinity of the bridge, it was pretty much just back to what we had been seeing before. Pulling off the highway at Exit 6 in Barnstable, we made a deviation into a park and ride facility served by the main intercity buses that run to the Cape. There wasn’t much in view besides a Burger King and a gas station, but two out of the four other passengers left the bus here.

Woods…but it’s the Cape!

Those passengers weren’t the only ones to leave the bus here, though: the driver also stepped out of the bus and got on the phone. We hung out for five minutes as he talked outside before getting back on, announcing that his daughter was having a baby! Not the kind of thing I was expecting to hear on the CCRTA Boston Hospital shuttle, but hey, fantastic news!!

Pulling into the park and ride.

Because this review is vying for the record of “most uses of the word ‘woods’ in a Miles in Transit post”, we did indeed re-enter the woods once we got back onto the highway. Besides a rest stop and maybe the occasional series of buildings hidden behind trees, there wasn’t much to see. We passed through Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, and Brewster without much action besides crossing a small bay in Dennis. Also in Dennis, the highway shrunk to one lane in each direction, which can be a real bottleneck in the summer, but our traffic luck continued!

I didn’t get a picture of the “small bay”, so here are some “medium telephone wires.”

The other passengers were getting off at the Orleans stop, which is located at the Shaw’s, not to be confused with the Stop and Shop down the road, which is also a major CCRTA interchange. We headed off of Route 6 at Exit 12, making our way into Skaket Corners, the plaza that contains the Shaw’s. The remaining riders got off here to get into their cars, and now that there was just one person left on the bus (me), the driver turned on the radio as we set off for Wellfleet.

Another shopping plaza. The Cape is honestly super suburban until you get way further out.

Rather than returning immediately to the highway, we took the local road 6A to get back there at a later point. It certainly had its moments of charm – at times it was a leafy two-lane road running past home businesses made out of Cape Cod wood – but it also had moments where it was wider, with shopping plazas and retail with huge parking lots right out front. At one point, in the midst of a section of the latter category, a random rustic windmill showed up on the side of the road. It actually is a historical site, having been built in 1720, but it unintentionally ends up feeling a bit kitschy given its surroundings.

The windmill was on the wrong side, so here’s a rotary.

Soon after the windmill, we hit the big rotary that marks the point where Route 6 goes from being a highway to becoming a regular road. It returns to four lanes at this point, and the wide road moves quickly past the homes situated along it (well, assuming no traffic, of which there was luckily very little). We whizzed through Eastham Center, which was pretty much just a few municipal buildings, a supermarket, and a common with our third windmill of the trip.

Will the movies playing at the drive-in theater show how outdated this post is? Absolutely.

As the road headed further north along the forearm of the Cape, businesses started to show up more often – the most common sights were hotels and motels of varying quality, and a variety of takeout seafood restaurants and ice cream places. The Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre was a unique and welcome place to pass by. But it was pretty much just an onslaught of those kinds of businesses (plus some insanely gaudy souvenir shops), interspersed with more residential sections (and a nice marsh view), until we finally reached the place we were heading for: the Wellfleet Dunkin’ Donuts, the final stop on this insane hospital shuttle. I got out and walked to my parents’ waiting car as the bus pulled away.

From Boston to…Dunks, I guess.

CCRTA Route: Boston Hospital

Ridership: Getting around 3,000 riders in 2014, that averages to around 12.5 people per day. Which…look, I’m not saying this thing isn’t insanely expensive to run, but that’s seriously not bad! Six people in a minibus making the round trip trek from Cape Cod to Boston every day is impressive! Plus, it’s not like Cape Cod is this hospital-less wasteland – there is only one major hospital, in Hyannis, but I imagine it would still take a lot to schlep up to Boston for an appointment. Certainly the driver knew everyone’s names, but I’m curious how regular the ridership is on this route.

Pros: Um, FIFTEEN BUCKS for a trip from Boston to Wellfleet??? That’s a no-brainer. Unfortunately every bus that runs that far up the Cape isn’t running right now so I can’t check fares, but fifteen bucks is definitely a lot cheaper (Peter Pan to Hyannis is $19). Also…you know which bus is still running that far? THE CCRTA BOSTON HOSPITAL SHUTTLE! (Miles in Transit does not endorse spontaneous pandemic trips to the Cape) It’s also just a useful shuttle for people, and it seems to inexplicably get ridership! And the call-in process is so easy – usually it makes for such a barrier to ride these things, but here the process is so simple. I think this is a case where it makes sense to have to call in, too, given how long of a distance this thing travels.

Cons: A way to book online would still be really nice, as easy as the call is. Other than that, the section where you’re running around Boston serving the various hospitals is a little annoying – if you’re willing to take this from anywhere, MGH is the place to go, since that appears to be the last stop it serves before heading on its way to the Cape. Also, from the CCRTA’s perspective, I’m sure this thing is insanely expensive to run, but hey, it does get riders!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I mean, nearly the entire Cape is at your fingertips here! I’m partial to Wellfleet myself (the charming downtown is about a twenty-minute walk from the Dunkin’ Donuts stop), but if you like the suburban sprawl of the Inner Cape…I mean, that’s an option too.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Oftentimes I like to think like the transit agency on this blog. How much does the route cost to operate? Is ridership optimized? Stuff like that. But here…nah, man, it’s a 15-buck journey to WELLFLEET! How could I not give it a good score? Let me book this thing online and you’ve got yourself a near-perfect route, even if it is probably costing the CCRTA a small fortune to run!

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