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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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?
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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…).
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).
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Over seven years ago, I opened up my Lechmere review by saying that it was a station on its last legs. Seven years later, those legs have finally crumbled: yesterday was the 98-year-old terminal’s last hurrah, with the station now in the process of getting demolished and relocated across the street for the Green Line extension. Despite the ongoing pandemic, a good number of people (adorned with masks, of course) still came out to ride the last train, and I was one of them! Let’s take a look back at this former piece of history.
Okay, first of all: I gave the original Lechmere a 6? A 6??? In my head I thought it was a 4, which even then is too much, but apparently nope, 13-year old me thought it deserved a 6 because it was an outdoor Green Line station with faregates. “At Lechmere, though, there are fare gates, making much less waiting time.” Great sentence construction. “The Lechmere busway, on the other hand, has no qualities.” No qualities? None at all? So it’s just…a void lacking any characteristics? And ultimately it got a 6 because “with the MBTA’s budget problems and the West Medford extension just around the corner, a big renovation isn’t necessary.” That’s like saying my waste is eventually gonna get flushed down the toilet anyway, so maybe it’s not so bad – really, though, it’s still a piece of poop that deserves less than a 6/10! Gosh, these old posts…they sure are fun to look back on, huh?
A bunch of people were converged in the busway talking and taking photos, including some fans of the blog (great to meet you, if you’re reading!). The MBTA’s remaining RTS bus, 0309, was there to celebrate the occasion, too. Nathan and I did a walkthrough of the busway, talking about how awful it was: it was always such a pain to run to the buses that boarded in the outside area, while the inside was just so decrepit and unpleasant!
One of the big praises of Lechmere is with its design, and I certainly agree that the Boston Elevated Railway was great at designing transfer stations. Unfortunately, the MBTA has had a habit of unraveling those transfers, and this one was no exception: it was supposed to be set up with two busways, such that buses could pick up where trains drop off, and drop off where trains pick up; instead, everything was changed to board and alight at the busway on the outbound platform. I thought that transferring here was always a hassle.
After all, who could forget that classic Lechmere experience of being on a train screeching down the viaduct, watching your bus pulling away and knowing you’ll have to wait another 20 minutes (or longer!) for the next one? And the companion experience of coming in on a bus, seeing that there’s a train waiting on the other side, and joining the crowd in running through the dingy underpass only to hear the wheels screeching and knowing it was too late? There were no countdown clocks here, either, so you just had to stand there hoping the next train was soon.
Speaking of that dingy underpass, that’s where the group headed next as the departure of the last train got closer. The busway on the other side isn’t used as much of anything any more – it’s just a road running alongside the station with a few parking spaces. There is that mysterious “Trolley Snacks & More” convenience store, though, which I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen open! Also, if the new sign is to be believed, this is where the shuttle bus to North Station will be boarding (I guess it’s started today, so maybe someone can confirm if they’ve seen it?).
Okay, I guess having faregates at an outdoor Green Line station is kinda unique, and it’s certainly great to have them there. As far as ease of access, you’re right in front of the train once you pay! The whole station is on such a narrow strip of land that there’s no room for excess space – those gates lead right onto the platform.
While the inbound platform is slightly wider than the outbound, this is also the place where people actually, you know, wait. The E is so unreliable that you would constantly get a crowd here, and it could be harrowing standing there on this tiny strip of space with nowhere to go. As the train came in, I would always suck in my stomach…just in case.
Also, it took me until the last day to realize this, but Lechmere is like the Ruggles busway of trains. You know that manic energy in the Ruggles busway? How buses will come out of nowhere honking their horns and blasting open the doors in random places? While you can’t totally replicate that with trains, it’s such a classic Lechmere moment for a train on the second track over to suddenly pull up with the doors open ringing its bell! There was always this feeling of not knowing exactly what was going on, and whenever a train boarded from that second track, the crowd would swarm on it. As much as I rag on this station, you can’t deny that it was a unique one!
The crowd of transit enthusiasts and MBTA employees (plus one regular rider who was probably bemused by all the commotion!) were all ready to get onto the very last inbound train, which departed at 12:30 AM. Screeching up the twisty line to the viaduct for the last time, most of us rode all the way to Heath Street. As things progressed, the train got more rambunctious and, for some people, more drunk.
At Heath Street, the train went out of service, but we were all allowed to stay on for the non-revenue trip back to Lechmere! Expressing through every station on the line was bizarre – I mean, how many riders can say they’ve gone through Copley or North Station without stopping? Returning over the viaduct, this would be the last ever outbound train to traverse the stretch of track that descends to Lechmere.
While expressing through all those stations was fun, I could have never anticipated that we’d get to go around the Lechmere loop! I mean, this is non-revenue trackage, how awesome is that?? And as we screeched around it, annoying the residents of the apartments nearby for the last time, I realized that as much as I can’t stand this station, I’m also gonna miss it a teeny tiny bit. It’s not often you see a streetcar yard shoved up in the middle of an urban neighborhood, after all!
Now it was time to take the remaining trains out of the yard. Everyone snapped pictures as each of the vehicles pulled out from their spots and headed onto the viaduct for the last time. And with the final train, 3802, trundling out of the station, Lechmere Yard was, for the first time in probably quite a while, completely empty. Yeah, I definitely gave this station a lot of flak, and to be honest, it deserved it…but there’s also no denying that it was a special place. I’m happy it got a good sendoff. Until we meet again in a different form, Lechmere…it’s been nice knowing you.
Some routes make a ton of sense as crosstowns. Take the 15: it runs straight across Girard and operates frequently all day every day to really maximize its usefulness. SEPTA has lots of routes like that. But then…there’s the odd, odd case of the 64. Ostensibly it’s trying to be both an east-west crosstown in South Philly and a north-south crosstown in West Philly, but it kinda fails at both? Bizarre deviations and an infrequent schedule are on the menu tonight. Let’s take a look.
You know what they say: all South Philly crosstown routes lead to the malls area (they = me, just now). The 64 is no exception, starting at Pier 70 at the northern end of the complex. As we left the Walmart that’s right there, we turned onto Tasker Street alongside a grassy wasteland, then used Columbus Boulevard to get to Reed Street. We took this a block before heading onto Front Street, a road with dense rowhouses on one side and the uber-depressing I-95 viaduct on the other side.
Most of the land underneath the highway was used for parking, but just before we turned onto Washington Ave, there was…A SKATING RINK! UNDER THE HIGHWAY! Bring a date to this incredibly romantic location! And speaking of romantic locations, Washington Ave, the main east-west road for the 64, is way too wide and has some ugly housing along it that definitely wasn’t built at the same time as most of the area’s rowhouses. At least a few parks appeared on its south side.
While normal rowhouses did eventually show up on the north side of the street, the south side remained a bit of a toss-up, featuring anything from a daycare housed in a brand-new building to a shopping plaza with way too much parking for such an urban area (although it was dominated by various Asian restaurants, which was neat). At 9th Street we saw the awnings of the Italian Market, but even there, the road still has this industrial vibe that it can never really shake. There were attempts to change that as we continued: new apartment buildings contrasted sharply with garages and warehouses.
That clash continued as we crossed Broad Street, where sadly, the Broad Street Line does not stop. I’m pretty sure (but correct me if I’m wrong) that the 64 used to deviate to Ellsworth-Federal Station a block south – honestly, it’s close enough that a deviation isn’t really necessary in my eyes, especially given the crazy routings we’ll see later. Washington Ave remained industrial west of Broad, but there were traditional rowhouses on the side streets and some businesses between the industry and parking lots. Another park made for a nice break, too.
Any efforts to make the street look okay were ceased as we got further west. The road went underneath the CSX rail viaduct and then ended, so we took a left turn onto Grays Ferry Ave. This street was mostly industrial as well, but there was a shopping plaza right where we…turned onto 29th Street? Yeah, so here’s where the 64 does an out-of-nowhere deviation into Grays Ferry, and I really have no idea why it exists.
So to save people a 4-minute walk, we get to do this ridiculous jog involving tiny, residential streets. Sure, it’s a dense rowhouse neighborhood, but this important crosstown route should not be deviating to save people two blocks of walking (one block in the other direction!). I mean, first we got stuck when we tried to make the sharp turn onto 33rd Street, involving some maneuvering to make it around. Then when making the left turn back onto Grays Ferry Ave, there was so much traffic that we spent a period of time just sitting sideways across the road waiting for an opening, blocking traffic going the other way! See why I don’t like this thing??
Once on Grays Ferry Ave, we sped past the little Forgotten Bottom neighborhood before crossing the Schuylkill into West Philadelphia. We turned onto Paschall Ave, a leafy road with run-down rowhouses and some abandoned land, for a few blocks and took a right onto 49th Street, a street adorned with trolley tracks that took us past SEPTA’s Woodland facility. A few rowhouses later, we crossed the Media/Elwyn Line and its station named after our street.
There was a stark change in the neighborhood when we crossed the tracks: there were tons more trees now, and the houses (which were mostly duplexes rather than rows) were in much better shape. Once we hit the hipster haven of Baltimore Ave, though, we had to make an annoying maneuver where we took that for one block just to pop over to 48th Street instead of 49th. I guess that’s the only reasonable way to get over to what becomes the much more major street north of Baltimore, though.
The leafy, charming duplex houses were still around on 48th Street up until we crossed Pine – now there were apartment buildings, plus some businesses at the intersection with Spruce. We soon reached Chestnut Street, and here we annoyingly had to take a right. ALSO: this intersection is home to the CENTRAL CITY TOYOTA, which is the WORST name for a car dealership! FIRST of all, it’s CENTER CITY. *CENTER* CITY. Get it right! PLUS, we’re not even IN Center City – it’s about 20 blocks east! SUCH a bad name, people!
We were only on Chestnut Street for a little bit – once we turned onto the rowhouse-lined Farragut Street, the purpose of the deviation became clear: we were serving 46th Street Station. But…wait, why does this station get special treatment and not Ellsworth-Federal? I mean, this distance is slightly farther, but not by much! But okay, I can handle a deviation to a train station…but then we have to deviate back to 48th a few blocks later?? Make up your mind!
A lot of the housing around here was built later than some of the more traditional rowhouses that came up too. There were also some abandoned tracts of land, a high school, and a random auto shop that gave me Washington Ave flashbacks and probably had no place being here in this residential neighborhood. And then because this route makes no sense, we suddenly turned onto Westminster Ave to head back to 46th Street – or, excuse me, 45th Street! SURE!
Westminster Ave was a real hodgepodge of housing stock. After crossing the 10 trolley at Lancaster Ave, we took a left onto 45th Street, which by this point had become Belmont Ave. This street was all rowhouses, but while their architecture was consistent, the placement was not: there were weird gaps between them, sometimes the width of a house (so likely one was torn down) and other times not, with just these little alleys running between them!
We crossed over the Paoli/Thorndale Line at an intersection with Girard Ave above the tracks (RIP 15 trolley), and there was a bit of an industrial vibe past there, including a U-Haul storage space and a few auto shops (although there were houses and several schools too). Once we turned onto Parkside Ave, we were in the home stretch: we just had to do a strange routing via 49th, Jefferson, and 50th Streets through a bizarre abandoned wasteland to get to the 50th-Parkside Loop (it used to be a rail yard apparently – this website is your new best friend if you’ve never heard of it!). Why we didn’t just turn straight onto 50th from Parkside is beyond me.
Route: 64 (50th-Parkside to Pier 70)
Ridership: I’m not particularly impressed with the ridership on this one. I mean, for a route that’s so urban, 5,036 riders a day isn’t great, especially when spread out over the 64’s 126 daily trips – that’s about 40 riders per trip, each of which takes a little under an hour to complete. Perhaps some evidence could be found in the route’s load profile: check out the loads! They’re genuinely pretty high throughout the course of the route! What’s more, take a look at the chart at the bottom of this PDF – while the route does have slightly lower productivity at peak than midday (alas), its productivity is comparable to much more frequent routes like the 17, 21, and 23! Hmm…
Pros: Okay, this thing definitely serves a ton, I’ll give it that. With some streamlining, it could be a really effective crosstown route. The rush hour frequencies are good: every 8-10 minutes, mostly geared toward school times.
Cons: Every 20 minutes on weekdays? Every 30 on weekends? Every 45 minutes at night, running a truncated route from Pier 70 to Kingsessing, that ends service as early as 11 PM??? This is an urban route – these headways are awful! And hey, speaking of the route, what the heck is the route this thing takes? First there’s that Greys Ferry deviation, which almost certainly inconveniences more passengers than it benefits – some of the turns are so tight, and getting back onto Greys Ferry Ave can be a pain! And then the route in West Philly? Oh gosh, don’t get me started. It makes sense in theory: first you gotta deviate to serve 46th Street Station, then you gotta come back to 48th to directly serve the middle school over there. But this is a distance of two blocks we’re talking about, and this is what should be a high capacity urban route. For maximum straightness, staying on 48th Street would be great, but I get that serving the El station is important. But then the route should really just stay on 46th until it has to swing over to Belmont Ave – that middle school abuts 47th ANYWAY, so students would only be walking a block to get to the bus! All this twisty business just seems like it’s discouraging ridership; riding it through that section just felt so inefficient.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I know they tend to be embroiled in controversy (and honestly for good reason), but it doesn’t curb my curiosity about the Mummers Museum, which this route passes straight by. But of course, countless other restaurants of so many different cultures are served by the 64 as it tears its way through South Philly!
Final Verdict: 4/10
I mean…if the schedule’s bad and the route’s bad, then what is there to salvage it? Certainly the 64 serves a lot and it seems to get good ridership throughout its journey. I think the low overall daily ridership is more representative of the fact that it doesn’t run very frequently – I would love to see this thing get a frequency increase to every 15 minutes! Also the Greys Ferry deviation could definitely stand to be straightened out; the situation in West Philly is a little more complicated, but I think there should be efforts there too, whether the route travels mainly on 48th or on 46th.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
While the North Shuttle acts as a park-and-ride route for northern Bellingham, the South Shuttle has ulterior motives: it runs from Forge Park to almost the Rhode Island border, and across that border is the sixth largest city in the state, Woonsocket. I wonder what this could possibly be trying to serve! When the driver asked where I, the sole passenger on the bus, was going, I said Hilltop Farms, the last stop on the route mere steps away from Rhode Island. “Okay,” he said, “We’ah gonna take a shoahtcut.”
That “shoahtcut” involved going the complete wrong way: instead of taking a right onto Central Street, we took a left instead, running over to Grove Street to head south on that. Well, given that it was dark and Grove Street was pretty much all forest, my pictures came out terribly! Aside from a few housing developments and industrial buildings, it was super barren.
There was a bit of civilization in the form of a residential neighborhood at the intersection with Washington Street, onto which we turned. It’s a shame it was so dark, though – amongst the houses along here were some patches of farmland! But while there was a consistent stream of houses now, they were often covered by trees, so especially in the dark, it still felt equally woodsy!
We had actually been in Franklin this whole time, finally entering Bellingham along this stretch. There were a number of lumber stores and auto shops around the intersection with Lake Street, and soon houses along the road got denser. By the time we finally merged back with the normal route (“shoahtcut” complete, I guess), there were actually a ton of businesses (with parking lots) and even some apartments along the street. The driver accidentally drove past Hilltop Farms, and with an apology dropped me off at a pool place a few businesses down. I didn’t mind – quicker walk to Woonsocket!
GATRA Route: Bellingham South Shuttle
Ridership: Well, if we remember from last time, the two Bellingham shuttles get a combined 19 riders per day, equalling around two people per trip. That means this one theoretically averages four commuters per day, although given that I rode soon before Christmas, there was no one else on my trip. Also, yeah…four commuters a day. Not great.
Pros: Well…its two trips in each direction per day time with trains, and it almost makes it to Woonsocket…
Cons: I’ll be honest, in its current state, this thing makes so much less sense than the North Shuttle. First of all, there’s only one park-and-ride location on the route, and it’s at Bellingham Marketplace – not even the closest stop to Woonsocket. And while northern Bellingham has a lot more going on in terms of residential density, especially in the neighboring town of Milford, southern Bellingham is sparse: I can’t imagine many people going out of their way to park at Bellingham Marketplace for this thing, even factoring in the cheaper cost. Indeed, thanks to the data from Jules’s guest post on this route, we can confirm that even on a normal day, no one’s using this to park – they’re all taking it to the end or close to it (also, his trip took a different “shoahtcut” from mine – this thing just doesn’t like to follow its prescribed routing!).
Nearby and Noteworthy: Um, neon pool shop, hello?? But also, despite the longish walk to downtown Woonsocket, this is the quickest way to get there by transit if you happen to be travelling at rush hour. Jules also mentions the Beef Barn in his guest post, and…yeah, that place looks awesome.
Final Verdict: 2/10
I’ll give it to GATRA that the southern terminus of the shuttle is in a pretty dense residential and commercial area. But you know what’s a really dense residential and commercial area? Woonsocket. It would really do GATRA good to figure out the bureaucratic logistics of getting this thing across state lines to at least the RIPTA stop on John Cummings Way. It’s just a four minute drive beyond the current terminus, but it could potentially help or add to the 328 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Boston…or indeed, the combined 1,745 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Bellingham or Franklin (source: this really cool document)! At the moment, the Bellingham South Shuttle just feels unfinished.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
It’s a testament to the size of SEPTA’s suburban network that so many Regional Rail termini have bus connections. While the 22 to Warminster is nowhere near the odyssey of the 55 to Doylestown, it’s still impressive that an entire Regional Rail line can have a local bus pretty much paralleling it the whole way! Would there be much less need for a bus if Regional Rail had more frequent service and cheaper fares? I mean…yeah…
The 22 doesn’t actually begin at Warminster Station – to get to the real terminus (because we don’t play around here at Miles in Transit), you have to walk about ten minutes down the road to its odd little terminal stop: no sidewalk, an apartment building on one side, and a fenced-off industrial one on the other. Unexpectedly, three people were already on the bus at this first stop, but that’s still no excuse to leave two minutes early the way we did! We crawled through a housing development, eventually popping back out onto Jacksonville Road.
Jacksonville Road was a mix of transit-oriented apartment complexes and likely-unintentionally-transit-oriented industrial buildings. We performed a deviation into Walmart, because…I dunno, why not?…before coming out onto Street Road, a wide avenue with suburban houses and businesses. We took this up to York Road, where we hung a left to start heading towards Philly, passing more businesses.
The sprawl was consistent, leading us all the way down to the intersection of County Line Road, which acts as the dividing line between Bucks County to the north and Montgomery County to the south. While the road remained mostly commercial, the businesses were now mostly in houses, consisting of home medical offices and funeral parlors and stuff like that. Soon we entered downtown Hatboro and York Road became its pedestrian-friendly main street a block away from its train station.
We crossed over Pennypack Creek south of downtown Hatboro, passing through a residential neighborhood before going under I-276 into an industrial area. The entrance to the Upper Moreland High School appeared around here before a brief residential section, but that devolved into the giant suburban businesses of Willow Grove. We performed the route’s deviation to the Willow Grove Park Mall, a hub for other suburban SEPTA routes as well as the terminating point for most 22s coming from Olney.
York Road, the street we were on before, headed in another direction, so we were now on a different main drag: Easton Road. There were lots of auto dealerships along here (all named after and presumably owned by someone named Marty Sussman), but also lots of other car-related businesses like tire shops and used car dealerships! It did change to more traditional retail eventually, and with relatively tasteful parking lots for such a car-oriented area.
We passed Rosslyn Station as the Warminster Line awkwardly had a level crossing across a four-way intersection. After that it was a real mix of stuff, from houses to a huge variety of businesses, including a mini-golf course!!! We also got some fabulous Tudor style buildings at the immensely charming Keswick Village, whose main street branches off from Easton Road.
A buffer of houses separated Keswick Village and Glenside, another nice downtown with a bunch of businesses. This one has a Regional Rail station, too. Easton Road served as Glenside’s main street, but the businesses along it got more suburban the further away we got, and a brief, almost rural section took us through the campus of Arcadia University. We travelled through a highway interchange with Route 309, then a huge cemetery lined the road as we came alongside Cedarbrook Plaza right on the Philly border.
Indeed, we turned onto Cheltenham Ave outside of the plaza, which literally forms the border between Montgomery County and Philly. Along here, we passed a giant church along with several smaller churches, as well as rowhouses on the Philly side of the road. Lots of businesses surrounded the intersection with Ogontz Ave, including what is known on the 22’s schedule as the “Cheltenham Square Mall”, but what in real life appears to be called “Greenleaf at Cheltenham”.
The Philly side of the road was pretty consistently rowhouses, but on the other side was this absolutely massive planned housing development. Retail showed up too, more often than not accompanied by parking. Soon after we passed a cemetery, we turned onto Broad Street at its very end – it sure is weird travelling down Broad Street up this far, when it’s just a leafy road lined mostly with rowhouses.
Because SEPTA likes being confusing, the 22 only stays on Broad Street in the northbound direction. Southbound people? Nah, you’re going on Old York Road. It basically just curves a tiny bit away (no more than a block) from Broad Street for a bit before curving back. It was home to a few apartment buildings, some churches, and a ton of rowhouses. Just before the road merged back into Broad Street, we took a left onto Nedro Ave before swinging a right onto the residential Park Ave, a half-block away from Broad. This was just so we could loop into the Olney Transportation Center, which was, coincidentally, very close by!
Route: 22 (Warminster and Willow Grove to Olney Transportation Center)
Ridership: The route gets an average of 4,640 riders per weekday, and most of those are concentrated in the portion south of Willow Grove Park Mall. For example, my ride got a total of 44 people, but just 15 came from north of Willow Grove – plus, the route is significantly more frequent on its inner section. It’s also worth noting that while there’s definitely a contingency of people who commute into the city using the 22, it also has a significant amount of reverse commute ridership, both to Willow Grove and to Warminster.
Pros: Willow Grove is a huge destination, exemplified by the fact that SEPTA can have two rather popular routes that travel there from Olney, the other being the 55. Both of these routes also travel to faraway places, with the 22’s Warminster section seeming to nab pretty good ridership, especially in the reverse-peak direction. It helps that the schedule is so well-optimized: weekday midday service is every 20 minutes as far as Willow Grove, and every third bus continues to Warminster, creating hourly service. Of course, the route is more frequent to both at rush hour, while the Saturday schedule operates every 30 minutes to Willow Grove and hourly beyond – reasonable for a suburban environment.
Cons: Night service is about hourly, despite the fact that some night trips appear to get busier than peak ones. The Sunday schedule is rough, too: it’s about every 40 minutes to Willow Grove and every 80 minutes to Warminster, but not only that, the departure times are really inconsistent to boot (2:50, 3:29, 4:08, 4:50, etc.). I’m also not a fan of the “Old York Road southbound, Broad Street northbound” routing that happens north of Olney – just pick one, they’re both bidirectional streets! The route is long, so on-time performance lags behind at 76%. Also, while variants are kept to a minimum, the nine trips that take an “express routing” and save at most three minutes…come on, let’s keep things simple. And finally, while this is sort of a nitpick, there’s no effort at coordinating the 22 and the 55 to Willow Grove or the 22 and the 16 to Cheltenham-Ogontz (and the latter is along the same roads!), despite the fact that all three run at the same frequency. I know it would be really hard to do so I’m not weighing this too much into the score, but it would be nice.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Definitely there are a few notable places along the route, but Keswick Village really seemed awesome! I loved the architecture there, and it seems like a great place to walk around, get a bite to eat, and see a concert at the local theater (er…once concerts become a thing again).
Final Verdict: 7/10
I’m honestly impressed with this one! The schedule is really solid, keeping things generally simple (besides those few “express” trips) and balancing frequencies well. Nights and Sundays could definitely be better, but it is a suburban route, so I cut it a little bit of slack. While I would say that the inner part of the 55 is better than the inner part of the 22, the strength of the 22’s outer section (including running hourly six days a week and having just one variant past Willow Grove) makes it my preferred route between the two.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Oh YES! THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF GATRA!!!!! And this is a side of our favorite RTA not seen quite as often on here: commuter routes with HORRIBLE ridership! Welcome to the Bellingham North Shuttle!
I suppose it’s not a surprise, per se, that this thing uses unsigned Dial-A-Ride vehicles. I mean, it’s a GATRA commuter route, they couldn’t give a hoot about these. But the, er, unsignedness of the bus gets a little harder to swallow when you realize that there are two Bellingham routes. So in order to find the bus you want at Forge Park (or excuse me, “Forge Park MBTA”), you literally just have to go up to the door and ask if it’s the right one. Boy, have I missed you, GATRA.
Since it was a few days before Christmas, traffic on both the street and the bus was low (I was the only one on). We headed down Central Street, which was wide and industrial, aside from a few restaurants at the intersection with Maple Street. Also at that intersection was an apartment complex, which really would’ve been better sited, like, a mile down the road outside of Forge Park station…
We were in Bellingham now, and development along what was now called Mechanic Street was…weird. Like, businesses here, a cemetery there, whoop, here’s a residential cul-de-sac, hey, who threw a long, narrow cemetery in here? Bellingham Center had a nice town common, but other than that, it had…a shopping plaza? Some other car-oriented businesses? A church? Definitely not one of Massachusetts’s better downtowns…
We crossed a train track and the Charles River before entering a proper residential neighborhood. Among the single-family houses, there was also an apartment complex and a campground of all things (it didn’t exactly seem like this scenic place to pitch a tent and relax under the stars). A brief section of woods led us to Home Depot Plaza, the end of this one-way trip. Yes…now it was time to walk back to Forge Park in the dark. Good times.
GATRA Route: Bellingham North Shuttle
Ridership: Oho, double trouble from GATRA’s ridership data: they count both Bellingham routes as one thing! Okay, so we have to remember that this number is gonna be inflated, so it might be higher than you expect. Andddddddddd…19 riders per day. Oh dear. Split between the ten combined daily trips of the Bellingham shuttles, that gives us an average of slightly less than…2 riders per trip. So the Bellingham North Shuttle attracts about 6 commuters per day. What a time to be alive.
Pros: I give this thing credit that its $40 monthly pass combined with free commuter parking at the locations it serves beats spending $105 a month to park directly at the station. The three rush hour trips in each direction per day all connect to Commuter Rail trains, and that’s nice. Although…I see nothing on the GATRA website about them suspending service on these routes due to the pandemic. Are they just connecting to nothing right now? ‘Cause, like, the Franklin Line definitely isn’t on its regular schedule…
Cons: Okay, 6 commuters a day. What is this thing doing wrong? Well, I think one issue is the bizarre loopy nature of the shuttle: the bus only takes the route I described in the evening rush, while in the morning rush, it starts in Bellingham Center, runs up and deviates into Home Depot, and then hops on I-495 to get to the station. Why? Don’t even bother with that morning rush routing, the evening one makes far more sense – sure, Home Depot people get a slightly longer ride in the morning, but the service will be so much simpler because of it, plus overall trip times would be quicker! But still, that shouldn’t be enough to single handedly drag down ridership this much. Honestly, like so many of these commuter shuttles, it might come down to lack of advertising. It would be fantastic if the MBTA was able to partner with these RTAs to get those schedules printed on their timetables so more people know about them…but of course, then they might lose parking revenue. Sigh…
Nearby and Noteworthy: I wasn’t impressed with Bellingham. But I can confirm from experience that the town common is quite nice.
Final Verdict: 3/10
Alright, GATRA, there’s potential here. Honestly, the service offered is a pretty good deal for commuters, even if it does limit you to three trains per day. The most important thing is to get the word out there so more people know about it! Also, an interesting quirk from the agency’s Regional Transit Plan: they were considering adding midday service to this thing! While it’s a nice idea and it does serve a number of shopping plazas, I don’t think the population is there to support ridership on such a small loop. Interesting thought, though – at the very least, it might attract more than 6 people a day.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates