MBTA Round-Up: Forest Hills Busway, Quincy Adams Gate, and NEW GREEN LINE TRAIN!

I’ve been away from this system for a couple months, so I had a lot to catch up on. This past week, I’ve been going to all the places where the MBTA has done something new, and it’s now time to put them all in a post!

First up, we have the new Forest Hills Upper Busway. This is something that the MBTA really hasn’t publicized that much, as far as I can tell, and I really don’t know why. I mean…just look at the before and after!


The MBTA went all-out on this thing. Of course, the obvious improvement is that it’s beautiful, but there are other upgrades like more layover space for buses and fully-sheltered walkways from the main building. The berth assignments make a lot of sense, generally putting together routes that go in the same general direction; in particular, it’s nice to see the 38 and 39 share a berth now that the 39 has lost its exclusive busway (a change I approve of), which will streamline trips to JP Center for passengers. The one flaw here is that the benches in “Zone B” (the outer one) no longer have anything behind them, so they’re not fully sheltered and are susceptible to getting rained on. Other than that, though, the Forest Hills Upper Busway now ranks among the best on the system for me.

Another view of the busway.
The berth signs were generally good, although they did unfortunately screw this one up…
This handy-dandy map was facing TOWARDS the Orange Line station! Someone should turn it around…
The fully-sheltered walkway.
A neat side effect of the busway is that it now covers up part of the formerly open parking lot.

But even less talked about than the busway is the work going on north of the Arborway! I was shocked to see how different the area looks without the Casey Overpass. Bike and pedestrian infrastructure has been dramatically improved in innovative ways to the point where it almost feels like you’re in a suburb of Amsterdam. Catering to these new paths and connections, the MBTA is building a new headhouse up here, replacing the former exit-only hut that didn’t really go anywhere. It’s really exciting stuff, and I didn’t even know it was happening!

One of the new paths. I love how pedestrians are separate from the bikes, which is really how it should be if the space is available – bikes should be treated as high-speed vehicles.
A BIKE ROTARY????? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The new headhouse, seen from the main entrance.
Hopefully this plaza gets a little more inviting once the trees grow out.
Oddly, one can just walk into the headhouse. This is the view from the doorway, because I was too nervous to actually go in.

So great things are happening down at Forest Hills! The original station scored an 8, but I’ll have to check back when this new entrance opens up. Honestly, given the Upper Busway improvements plus the new paths and headhouse, the station could be on its way to a 9. I’ll link the original post here, but we’ll have to wait until the entrance opens to see if it’s enough to change the score.

Next, we move on to Quincy Adams, where I finally got to see the new opened gate for myself. I came in on the 230 on Independence Ave; now that it’s finally connected to the station, there’s actually a “Red Line connection” announcement, which was a great touch. The entrance itself looks fantastic, and it came with a new traffic signal, an accessible path to the elevators, and signage improvements all throughout the station. I already updated the original review‘s score, but I’ll link it to here for the pictures.

The new signal. The bus stops haven’t seen an upgrade, not that they really need one. Now that the gate is open, I would love to see a T symbol out here to call more attention to the entrance!
Yay!!!! Weirdly, the other gate still says “no trespassing”.
The pathway towards the elevators, with new signage and a wheelchair accessible ramp.
Independence Ave signage was plastered all over the station – I loved this one in the elevator. Unfortunately, the one in the other elevator was half-broken off.

And finally, we have the one I’m sure many of you came to this post to see: the new Green Line trains. Let me tell you, these things have evaded me for the past week! I slept through the first trip because I had no idea it was even happening, then I missed its single round trip on its second day of service the next Monday.

Yesterday, I was committed to getting it. I had my eye on the tracker all morning, and when that train (3901, in this case) left Riverside, I immediately rushed down to Park Street. Having written down the train before it, I got really excited when it came in. The new one was next! But…huh, interesting. 2 minutes until the next North Station train, 8 minutes until the next Lechmere. I didn’t think the new train had been that far behind the one in front of it…

When the next trolley from Riverside did come in, it was just…a normal train. I was livid. I still have no idea what happened to 3901, but I stood there waiting for far longer than I want to admit, still hoping it would come. Of course, it never did.

My mother had planned a meetup with family friends this morning at 11:30, which seemed to be when the new train was leaving Riverside every day – that meant I wouldn’t have a shot at getting it. But my dad woke me up at 9:30. “I convinced your mother to push the meetup half an hour ahead. Let’s see if we can get that new train.”

So we headed out, hoping to arrive at Riverside at around 11 and catch the new train on the way in (and no, there definitely was no hope in making it to the family friends by 12 in this scenario). We were at Kenmore when suddenly, I saw 3900 going in on the other side. “There it is!” I said, and we raced off the train to cross to the other platform. Hopping on a North Station train, we could take this to Park Street and then get 3900 on its way back out. And it…was…amazing!

My pictures at Park Street weren’t great, but here they are. It looks so futuristic! I love how much bigger the destination signs are.
The futuristic interior. It was a very smooth ride, with practically no sound, even on tight curves. The trains have 10% more capacity than older ones – it really did feel more spacious in there.
The seats are hard plastic, but not insanely uncomfortable. Here’s the nice wheelchair area.
One screen showed the next stop and its connections, while the other screen showed a reel of Spanish manufacturer CAF’s other trains. It was a little ironic to watch trains speeding across the European countryside while we sat on a Green Line train stuck in the Central Subway! This screen might show ads later on, but I really have no idea.
The connections were generally correct, but there were a few small errors. For example, it showed connections to the 502 and 503 at Copley, but this was midday, so the 504 should’ve been there instead; it wasn’t. The biggest problem, though, was showing Hynes as accessible. That flat-out isn’t true, and it needs to be changed as soon as possible before the ADA sees it.
The more minimalist screen for when stops don’t have connections. At least they got Beaconsfield’s lack of accessibility correct!
Argh, my camera didn’t capture this very well. These screens just show what the announcements are saying. The announcements, incidentally, are terrible. They use the Blue Line chimes when they come in, which sounds great, but it’s a super annoying robot Siri voice at the moment. Fun quirks include saying “Stand clear of the closing doors” for both the front and rear doors (so you hear it twice at each stop), and announcing on which side the elevators are, even though the doors at almost all stations only open on one side anyway. Hopefully we get Frank Oglesby to replace these at some point.
I wanted to try out the stop request, so I hit it before Arlington to see what it would do. It made the bus stop request sound and lit up “Stop requested” on the LED screen. “Nice, nice,” I thought. But then…it stayed lit for the entire rest of the ride! Hmm, might be something to look into.
We got off at Reservoir so we could make it back in time. We got to see the plug doors in action, which seem to be working fine so far. Also cool is that the side mirror folds over the front door when it closes, since it’s only needed for when the train is stopped.
And there it goes to Riverside.

I did that thing I do where I spent a lot more time talking about the bad things than the good things, but this ride really was a joy. Although there will only be 24 of these trains in service, getting one will always be a treat. They offer smoother rides, better passenger information, and more capacity, and if you can manage to get a ride on one, I strongly recommend it!

It’s been great coming back and seeing all the fantastic changes the MBTA has been making. Improvements are constantly being made to the system – the fact that this much can happen in just a few months is truly incredible. I can’t wait to see how else the MBTA upgrades its system in the coming year.

66 (Frankford Transportation Center to Frankford-Knights)

Anyone who’s read my Boston content knows that I love trackless trolleys. I was bound to take a SEPTA one pretty early on. The 66 is the longest and most suburban of the three trackless trolley routes in Philly, running from Frankford Transportation Center on a straight shot up Frankford Ave to the city line. Will the fact that the route’s buses run under the wire raise its score, or will it have enough flaws to override its wonderful vehicles? Let’s find out.

*sniff*…it’s so beautiful!

Our lovely bus glided out of the Frankford Transportation Center up Frankford Ave, running through a few different cemeteries. Once those cemeteries ended, we entered a dense neighborhood of rowhouses, but Frankford Ave was lined with businesses, many of them with parking lots. Also, the trolley wires split into four tracks, showing off one of the 66’s most unique features: during rush hour, a few trips actually run express, so they can pass other trolleys! I’ve yet to try one of these trips out, and none of them are actually scheduled to pass, but I’m sure it’s still a blast anyway.

Trying out the rear window!

The express tracks ended near the intersection with Cottman Ave, and this was the location of the 66’s first short-turn – this one only happens at rush hour, and it takes all of twelve minutes to get to this point. Meanwhile, there were still lots of businesses along Frankford Ave as we continued, but the side streets were still all residential. There really isn’t much else to say here!

Crossing Pennypack Creek.

We got to speed up for a bit to cross Pennypack Creek, officially entering Far Northeast Philadelphia. It was a notable transition: on the other side of the creek, there were now some regular houses amongst the rowhouses, and the businesses were a lot more car-oriented. We passed a church and a cemetery, then a big ol’ shopping plaza, and soon after that we reached Gregg Loop. This is the route’s second short-turn point, where every other trip on weekdays terminates. The loop also serves certain trips on routes 70 and 88.

Oof, talk about sprawl.

After Gregg Loop, there were a few more businesses before Frankford Ave became lined with houses. We also passed a park and golf club, a small cemetery, and Holy Family University – after that last one, the housing stock actually switched back to apartments. Just after a shopping plaza, we pulled into the Frankford-Knights Loop, which showed up just before Poquessing Creek and the Philadelphia city line.

The Frankford-Knights loop, seen with – ugh – a diesel 66!

At this point, I’m just gonna throw in a mini-review of the Frankford-Knights Loop, since it’s not really worth giving its own review. There isn’t much to it, after all – it’s just a shelter, some bus information, and some bike racks. It basically has everything you would expect for a suburban loop. It is too bad that three out of its four routes (the 129, 130, and 133) go out to the ‘burbs from here, forcing people to transfer to the 66, but honestly, there are far worse routes to be forced to transfer to. 7/10. And now, back to our regularly-scheduled 66 review…

Ah, that’s better. Too bad the sign didn’t get picked up by my camera…

Route: 66 (Frankford Transportation Center to Frankford-Knights)

Ridership: It makes me so happy that a trackless trolley can make it into the top 20 busiest SEPTA routes. Granted, it’s right at number 20, but 11,216 passengers per day is nothing to sneeze at! I’m sure this route gets quite busy during the day, but I must confess that I rode outbound on a Saturday morning, so the bus was never too crowded at any one time – there were 19 riders in total.

Pros: First of all, it uses trackless trolleys. Second of all, the route is beautifully straight, running right up Frankford Ave with no turns to speak of. Third of all, it uses trackless trolleys. Fourth of all, the schedule is generally quite good for SEPTA standards: service is every 3-5 minutes at rush hour, every 8 minutes midday (though every 16 to Frankford-Knights, but based on the ridership I saw, that kinda makes sense), every 11-12 minutes Saturdays, and every 16 minutes on Sundays. The route even runs all night, with service every 45 minutes. Finally, and this is very important: it uses trackless trolleys.

Cons: I have three main problems with the 66. Firstly, this is a SEPTA route, so the stops are way closer than they should be. Also, this is a SEPTA route, so the service patterns at rush hour are ridiculous. The schedule gets too complicated for its own good with three possible termini, plus the express trips that save five minutes at best. I’m all for cool four-track wire arrangements, but it doesn’t seem necessary, especially when, as usual for SEPTA, the 66 is less productive at rush hour than it is midday. Finally, though this route does it a little better than others, it gets infrequent too early. I want to see service at least every 20 minutes until midnight, but it becomes every half hour at 10 PM, and 9 PM on Sundays. Maybe take off some of that excess peak service to run more buses at night (and also to bring the Sunday headway down to a clean 15 minutes from 16 – although that could be done by just shortening the lengthy layovers by a few minutes)?

Nearby and Noteworthy: I must say, I’m captivated by the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion. It seems like an off-the-beaten-path museum with lots of insects and a cheap admission, and the El to the 66 is the best way to get here with transit!

Final Verdict: 8/10
Okay, let me explain my reasoning here. At most times of the day, the 66 is a frequent and direct route straight up Frankford Ave, serving quite a lot on its relatively short journey. It runs all night, so no matter what, there will be a bus coming at some point. That being said, some of the route’s problems bring it down: it has close stop spacing, it’s complicated at rush hour, and it can be too infrequent at times. Overall, this averages out to about a 7 out of 10 for me. Buttttttttttt…trackless trolleys. 8 out of 10. Yes, I am a shameless sucker for them.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

SRTA: North End Shuttle

I hold SRTA to a reasonably high regard in my head. I think it’s one of the better RTAs in Massachusetts. That said…the North End Shuttle is a disaster.

No number, just…”North End Shuttle”.

The route begins at Fieldstone Marketplace, then it deviates to a Stop & Shop across the street. My plan was to get on at the Stop & Shop and get off at Fieldstone (after traversing the whole loop), so I would technically be “going somewhere”. So, we headed up Tarkin Hill Road, which was mostly residential except for businesses at the intersection with Ashley Boulevard (connection to the 4) and at Lunds Corner (connection to the 2). This was the somewhat useful part of the route, where it runs as a crosstown in north New Bedford, but it’s still not serving anything further than a five-minute walk from other routes.

Other attractions: a middle school.

We turned onto Acushnet Ave at Lund’s Corner, and it quickly became houses again. The street eventually led us to a merge with Ashley Boulevard, where we met up with the 4’s terminus at Trucchi’s. Like the 4, we didn’t deviate into that sacred institution, so we stayed on Acushnet Ave, entering uncharted territory. The big question, though: do these not-particularly-dense suburban houses really need bus service?

The route’s…terminus?

Eventually we got a few things of substance. There were a few scattered businesses later on, as well as a small hospital. I would’ve thought a hospital deviation would be a good place to turn around, but no…the bus goes a little further to this dirt patch at the New Bedford/Freetown border and awkwardly loops around there. Okay…

There’s the hospital.

We went back a ways but turned away from the outbound route onto Braley Road. We went by an elementary school and went under a highway, then we turned onto Phillips Road. There were some apartments, but other than that, one side of the street was suburban houses and the other side was…woods. That was more or less it until we crossed that highway again, and the road became Church Street. We passed a few sets of apartments within an eight-minute walk from the 4, there was a brief industrial bit before some more houses, and then we turned onto Tarklin Hill Road to reach Fieldstone Marketplace again.

Some woods, I guess.

SRTA Route: North End Shuttle

Ridership: Oh, you know. 54 people per day. Lowest ridership on all of SRTA. Nice.

Pros: It serves a few places of interest, although aside from that hospital way up on the northern end of the route and a few of the apartment complexes, most of it is within walking distance of other buses.

Cons: Remembering that most of the route’s attractions are within walking distance of better, more frequent routes, the North End Shuttle’s 9-to-5, every 40 minute schedule looks pretty lame in comparison. Then again, the route really doesn’t serve much, so why should it run more frequently? Or…why should it run at all? Something the SRTA really should make more clear is that this route interlines with the 8 to New Bedford. That information might make this loopy stub look a little more appealing!

Nearby and Noteworthy: On the independent section? Really, nothing. If you want to say you’ve taken a bus to Freetown, this is the route for you.

Final Verdict: 2/10
This route is definitely useful for a few people, but very few people. To me, the North End Shuttle feels like a political statement of “Look, we serve all of New Bedford!” even though there really isn’t much to serve in the northern extremities of town. SRTA can do better than this.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Chinatown (BRS)

Once upon a time, Philadelphia was planning on building a loop line around Center City. The Broad-Ridge Spur was built off of the Broad Street Line to the busy department stores at 8th and Market, then onwards to 16th and Locust. Now, there’s no money to complete the loop, 8th and Market is a less busy destination, and the route to 16th and Locust is now operated by PATCO. We’re thus left with this weird little stub of a line, and here is its one independent station: Chinatown.

I don’t think you’re allowed to park th…oh, never mind.

For a station called “Chinatown”, you’re not really expecting the entrance to be in a post-apocalyptic hexagonal plaza surrounded by brutalist office buildings. Well…that’s where it is. There is a nice bus shelter on 8th Street that serves the southbound routes 47 and 61, though. Also, Google Maps Street View would lead me to believe that “Chinatown buses” to New York leave from the intersection of Race and 8th, but I’ve looked at all the companies on GoToBus, and none of them seem to leave from here.

The…uh…mezzanine?

There’s a singular fare machine at the ugly entrance to the station, and then the fare gates are right after. Let’s see…we’ve got a closed ticket window (this was a weekday evening rush, too), one fare gate, an exit-only door, and a huge turnstile entry gate separated from the rest by a wall. Behind all that, there’s one bench and one wastebasket, plus a sign apologizing for “our appearance while we renovate this station for your comfort and security.” Doesn’t look like much construction is going on…

“Hey, do you think we built the platform too long?” “Nah, it’s fine, no one’ll notice!”

And thus you see the gaping flaw of Chinatown: the platform is built for trains much longer than the ones the line actually uses. I get that this line was meant to be way more important than it is, but this is still a little problematic! The platform itself is fine, with a few benches and wastebaskets where the trains board and not much else.

Oof, that’s not a great look.

Most of the platform seems to have been renovated at some point, but the original wall shows through at the main exit stairs for each platform. At least those are the only times we have to see it. Finally, this wouldn’t be a SEPTA station without exit-only stairs; in this case, they lead to…the middle of a city parking lot. Quick, if we can get to our car before 10 AM, we get the Early Bird Special!

A classic two-car train in the station.

Station: Chinatown

Ridership: It’s the least-used station on SEPTA rapid transit. Only 240 people per weekday use Chinatown, or about 1.5 riders per train.

Pros: The aesthetics of the platform aren’t terrible, actually. It’s a pretty clean station, too, probably because so few people use it.

Cons: Oh, this is just an awfully designed station. The fare line is strange, the platform is far longer than it has to be, and the exit-only stairs lead you into a parking lot surrounded by a chain link fence (yes, they’re useful for getting to some destinations, including a New Jersey Transit stop, but you still get let out in the middle of a parking lot). Because this is a Spur station, it has no night or Sunday service, which certainly doesn’t help its ridership. Also, I’ve been getting spotty cell service on the Broad Street Line in general recently, but it seems to be particularly bad at Chinatown. Anyone else noticed this?

Nearby and Noteworthy: I mean…yeah, the Chinatown neighborhood is great…but also, just take the El to 11th and walk two blocks. Bam, you’re in Chinatown! One thing this station does have all to itself, though, is Franklin Square, otherwise known as the worst of the squares. You know it’s true.

Final Verdict: 2/10
Even if this station wasn’t terrible in every way from a functional standpoint, it’s just really useless! I mean, that’s partly because the Spur is useless, but the only reason to use this station over 13th is if you’re coming from North Philadelphia or from PATCO. And you don’t even have that option nights and Sundays! I’ll stick with the El, thanks.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

SRTA: NB 11 (Fairhaven)

Time for an SRTA route that actually goes somewhere! Today, we’ll be taking the NB 11 out of New Bedford into Fairhaven, which is…a town. That has a very deviation-filled bus route.

Ouch. Not my best photo.

Now, there is a very convenient bridge straight into Fairhaven from downtown New Bedford. But wait, the 11 has to serve Market Basket first! Alright, we’ll take a ridiculously long route, then. We headed up Purchase Street, then we turned onto Hillman Street, crossing over the JFK Memorial Highway. Now in an industrial area, we had to snake around to get onto Herman Melville Boulevard, a truly awful road with absolutely nothing that anyone would want to take a bus to. But hey, at least we’re heading toward Market Basket!

Lovely.

The road became Front Street, and once we went under I-195, we entered a real neighborhood with apartments and businesses and turned onto Coggeshall Street. We performed our little Market Basket deviation and returned to Coggeshall Street, and now it was finally time to cross the Acushnet River into Fairhaven. The street became Howland Road, and we were in a neighborhood of single-family houses.

That line of trees is I-195.

We turned onto Main Street, passing a cemetery and an apartment complex, but it soon turned to houses again. There is a small “downtown” Fairhaven with some pretty dense houses and a few businesses…but the 11 turns onto Huttleston Ave a half mile before it (Huttleston Ave, incidentally, is the direct bridge from downtown New Bedford). This wide street took us past the Fairhaven High School and some suburban businesses.

The side of a Walmart.

And now, we entered the 11’s two-pronged deviation loop. First, we turned onto Bridge Street, passing a Walmart on-street but not deviating into it. Once the road crossed Route 240, there were just sparse office parks with trees and fields in between. We turned onto Mill Road, taking us up to Southcoast Health System, which is where I had to leave the bus for the sake of time.

One of the office parks.

The route does continue, though, if “continuing” means “going back the way it came.” Yes, the bus comes all the way back to Walmart, except this time, it does deviate into the big box store. But it’s not over yet: it continues onto Alden Road, passing a few more shopping plazas, then it turns onto David Drown Boulevard. This takes it to its final deviation at Stop & Shop, and from there, it goes straight back down Huttleston Ave to make its way back to New Bedford (via Market Basket again, of course).

The bus at Southcoast Health.

SRTA Route: NB 11 (Fairhaven)

Ridership: It’s not terrible: about 370 riders per day. The 11 actually ended up being the New Bedford route where I saw the highest ridership, with 12 people total on the ride. However, all but one of them were gone by the time we got to the deviations.

Pros: Fairhaven is reasonably dense for a suburb, and the ridership shows that there is demand for a bus here. Service is also consistently frequent, with service every half hour weekdays and Saturdays.

Cons: Service span is sacrificed for frequency, though: buses stop running at 6:30 on weekdays and 5:30 on weekends. More importantly, though, this route is a mess. Because the bus has to go all the way up to serve Market Basket, it takes forever to actually get into Fairhaven, and once you’re there, the bus skips the densest parts of town in favor of its really convoluted terminal loop. Sure, the route is frequent, but if it’s gonna take you 35 minutes to get to a generic Stop & Shop (which takes ten minutes to drive to), is it really worth it? Not to mention the route screws over everyone living in the actual dense parts of town.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Cap’n Barnacle’s Mini-Golf? Sign me up! Also, downtown Fairhaven looks like a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. The problem is that it’s a ten minute walk from the bus, which already takes 20 minutes just to get to the closest intersection. At that point, you might as well walk the whole way.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Look, I’ll give it points for relatively good frequency and decent enough ridership. But when walking is comparable to taking the bus, you know there’s a problem. Sure, it does provide a one-seat ride from Fairhaven to Market Basket, but the route already serves a Stop & Shop on the other end! Plus, it’s not serving anything on the run from New Bedford to Market Basket, and the whole thing is redundant to the 2 (which also serves, you know, actual neighborhoods on the way up). If you really want to go to Market Basket, just transfer to the darn 2. That said, I’ll be proposing a solution to this problem a few posts down the line…

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Fox Chase

I’ve chased the fox all the way to the end of the Fox Chase Line, and now it’s time to review its last stop! Okay, well, that was a terrible intro. Ahem…Fox Chase Station.

On the platform.

Fox Chase has three platforms split between two tracks. Since this is a terminal station, I imagine that trains can board on either track here, but the one to the west is far superior – we’ll see why in a bit. Out here, the platforms are all narrow, and they’re mostly just meant to provide extra capacity for longer trains.

One of the parking lots.

There’s a pedestrian crossing across the whole station that leads to the two parking lots, one on each side. The 314 spaces in total aren’t managed by SEPTA, but rather by the Philly Parking Authority itself. They have Pay-by-Phone set up, which is great, but if you’re gonna go analogue, you have to pay at these decrepit old machines. The rates are decent, though: 2 bucks per day, up to a total of $14. You could park your car here, take the train to the airport, and go on a week-long trip if you wanted to!

At least this platform gets wide eventually.

Yes, Platform 1 (the western one) does get wider, but it takes its sweet time doing it. The wide part is actually pretty nice, though – it has the only shelter in the entire station, the only benches in the entire station, the only departure board in the entire station, and the only building…in the entire station. Okay, I’m not so mad about the last one. But seriously, doesn’t this say something about how few amenities this place has?

The best photo I could get of the inside of the building.

Like most SEPTA buildings, this one is only open during the morning rush period. For what it’s worth, though, it looks quite cozy inside. It has a ticket office, lots of seating space, outlets, a small library, and various posters and trinkets on the walls (including destination boards for Silverliner IV trains, a sports schedule, and a LEED placard – Silver, apparently!). Welp…too bad it’s only open in the morning rush.

The entrance of the station on Rhawn Street.

Further north, both tracks get mini-high platforms, which for once are located in a convenient place that’s closer to the station’s entrance! Well…unless you drove here. Oh well, it’s a start. Anyway, other amenities here include newspaper boxes, bike racks, and a few wastebaskets. The eastbound stop for the infrequent 28 bus is really well-placed right at the station, but if you want to go west, you have to jaywalk and hope for the best, since there’s no crosswalk here. They were digging up the tracks on the other side of the street when I was here, completing the trailification of the former Newtown Branch.

But wait, there’s more!

Just a block down Rhawn Street is the starting point for the 18, the busiest bus route on SEPTA. It gets its own little loop, which offers…well, not much, really. A bench and a wastebasket, and that’s about it – most of the amenities are for the drivers. At least the loop wraps around a nice park, though. Also, there’s the 24 bus, which just kinda…stops on the street. Yeah.

Waiting for the trip back to Center City.

Station: Fox Chase

Ridership: Believe it or not, this is the ninth-busiest station on all of Regional Rail! It’s busier than Wilmington, Trenton, Paoli, and even Glenside, which sees way more train service than Fox Chase! But yeah, this odd little terminal station that’s still in Philadelphia gets 1,376 riders per weekday. Wonder how much lower it is on Sundays when trains run every 90 minutes…

Pros: Well, geez, look at that ridership! Also, most of those people must walk or take the bus here, since that’s a ton more people than what the parking lots can hold. After all, there are many dense, walkable residential neighborhoods around here, and as much as people want to see service restored to Newtown, the new trail will probably bring even more riders to Fox Chase. As for the station itself? Well, the building is decent and everything is wheelchair accessible. That’s good.

Cons: Basically everything else about the station. Heck, the building is only open during the morning rush, so you’re stuck waiting underneath it otherwise. I realize this is standard procedure for most Regional Rail stations, but for the 9th-busiest stop on the system, I would expect at least a little bit more! Also, while the bus loop is functional, it really needs shelter. Even something basic would suffice.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a cute little village next to the station. It’s not the kind of place you can really come to and walk around for hours in, but it has a few interesting places: a weird furniture store, a classic German meat shop, and a few Italian restaurants with varying degrees of fanciness.

Final Verdict: 6/10
I gotta be honest, most of the ridership for Fox Chase probably comes during the morning rush. And during the morning rush, it really is a nice place to wait, since that great building is open. So…I don’t want to take away too many points. But if you’re here at any other time, it’s a pretty lame station. Also, if you’re here for the bus, then it’s even lamer! So overall, most of the time, you’re getting a lame experience out of this station. Six-outta-ten, BAM!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

SRTA: NB 2 (Lund’s Corner)

This is more like it! I was able to get one of the NB 2 trips that serves Melville Towers – an occurrence that happens only once every two hours. Of course, this is only one of a few random extra deviations that happen on this route, and the rest happen even less often!

The bus at its namesake, Lund’s Corner.

The route begins at Lund’s Corner, a “downtown” that has too many parking lots to be very interesting. We used local streets to loop around to head south on Acushnet Ave, where the businesses quickly thinned out and became dense houses and apartments. Going by Brooklawn Park was a highlight.

This is beautiful!

South of the park, Acushnet Ave became a major retail drag. Lots of stores and restaurants were lined up on either side of the road, and for the most part, it was pretty urban and walkable! The side streets, meanwhile, were packed with apartments.

One of the side streets.

We eventually turned onto Sawyer Street. This was an elaborate deviation to serve a Market Basket, and although the supermarket did get a nice bus shelter, it was still an annoying deviation. Case in point: after serving it, we had to continue out to the Acushnet River only to loop around onto Coggeshall Street to return inland. That’s the only way the street pattern will let you go to Market Basket. We eventually turned onto North Front Street, which went under I-195 and got industrial. 

Bad picture, but it’s seriously a nice shelter!

Using Logan Street to get to Acushnet Ave again, we had a highway on one side and a factory converted to apartments (and then random industrial buildings) on the other. After passing the Whale’s Tooth parking lot, we turned onto Hillman Street, crossing over the JFK Memorial Highway. And now…it was time for the Melville Towers deviation! What adventure would this rare event bring us? Oh…a one-block jog just to get a little closer to the apartment building. Okay…cool. And after that, it was a straight shot down Pleasant Street to the New Bedford Terminal.

End of the line.

SRTA Route: NB 2 (Lunds Corder)

Ridership: This is the third-busiest route on the entire system! It got a little over 800 people per day in May 2014.

Pros: The ridership is reflected in the weekday schedule: service is every 20 minutes all day from 5 AM to 9 PM! Acushnet Ave is a dense, major corridor that definitely deserves this level of service.

Cons: You know…there’s a lot not to like about the 2! For one thing, Saturday service is every 40 minutes, when it really should be at least every 30. I mean, when it’s running every 20 minutes at 8 PM, I doubt it’s getting all that much ridership – maybe service could be less frequent at night to balance out better service on Saturdays? Also, this route should be a prime candidate for Sunday service. Finally, this thing has way too many variants. The Melville Towers deviation happens about every two hours and saves people a one-minute walk; the Whaler’s Cove deviation serves an assisted living facility, but it’s a long deviation, only happens twice a day on weekdays only, and everyone who would use it is eligible for SRTA demand response anyway; and the random “express” route that the first round trip of the day takes adds a lot of complexity for just one trip. The one deviation that makes sense serves an industrial area twice outbound and once inbound, timing with work hours, so that’s useful – so long as people actually use it, of course. And I forgot to mention that they don’t change the running times for the route when they do deviations, so I would imagine some trips get late!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lots of businesses along Acushnet Ave, including some interesting hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants. I’m also fascinated by the New Bedford Museum of Glass, which seems like a hidden gem.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 2 is an important route. But what should be a reasonably direct run down Acushnet Ave becomes a crazy schedule where you have to check to see which of the six mostly unnecessary variants your trip will be doing (main route, express route, industrial park, Melville Towers, Whaler’s Cove, and both Melville Towers and Whaler’s Cove, which happens on one weekday inbound trip). Plus, the Saturday service is less frequent than it should be, and the SRTA really really really needs Sunday service. But other than all those things…the route’s fine?

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Farewell to the AEM-7s

SEPTA is retiring its oldest kind of Regional Rail locomotive, but they gave it one last ride two weekends ago. A free express trip from Paoli to Suburban and back was run for the general public two weekends ago, and it was a lot of fun (save for some rabid railfans, but that was to be expected). The train had an AEM-7 on one end and SEPTA’s single ALP-44 on the other – both are being retired. This is just a photo dump, so enjoy! Click on each picture to open it up in full size.

As a bonus, I got the ALP-44 in service back in September! Here it is in Newark, DE.

Guide to the MBTA’s Winter 2019 Service Changes

Does anyone else get annoyed at the way the MBTA releases its schedule changes now? “Please find your route at www.mbta.com/schedules/bus and check the December 23 schedule for specific changes.” I get that this is more intuitive for people who only care about the routes they use, but I miss when we got a nice list of routes with links to their upcoming schedules. Thus, I present to you my guide to the MBTA’s winter 2019 service changes, as well as what the changes specifically are (versus the vague “weekday schedule changes” statement that we usually get). Enjoy! And let me know if you want to see this kind of thing for future service changes.

SL2: The first weekday inbound trip of the day is shifting from 6:03 to 6:06 AM, and its return outbound trip is shifting from 6:13 to 6:16. Nothing too crazy, but it does even out the morning schedule a little better.

SL3Apparently weekday inbound and outbound trip times are being “shifted”. I can’t for the life of me find a difference between the current and future timetables, so this is definitely a minor change.

CT3: The 7:42 AM weekday trip from Andrew has been shifted to 7:48, and the 8:13 AM is now an 8:20. I assume this was done for timekeeping purposes, but it leads to an annoying quirk where full trips to Longwood Medical Area will leave slightly before short-turns to BU Medical Center, versus now when they leave slightly after. This will probably mean overcrowding on the full trips followed by empty buses doing the short-turn. The MBTA also didn’t upload the winter schedule to the CT2 page, so here it is (you can just replace “2018-fall” in the URL with “2019-winter” to see the winter schedule for any route).

1Okay, get ready for this huge change: weekday midday service, which used to be every fifteen minutes, will now be every fourteen minutes! This is an attempt to squeeze out as much frequency as possible on the overcrowded route, but I wish it was a more substantial change. Also, evening rush service is now every 9 minutes instead of every 8 minutes, probably because the 1 is sooooooo unreliable at that time. Yeah, this route is just a complete mess, let’s face it.

7: There are some very minor time shifts from 8 to 8:30 AM in the inbound direction, but the route is so ridiculously frequent that it doesn’t matter too much.

19: Inbound morning rush service will be every 17 minutes instead of every 16. Also, a former school day-only short-turn trip at 6:55 AM has been moved to 7:01; it now does the full route to Kenmore, and even when school is out.

28: A school trip at 2 PM will be eliminated.

32: Unfortunately, this route is generally losing service to keep buses on time. It will be less frequent at rush hour (though nothing more crazy than running every four minutes versus every three, for example), but weeknights are what really lose out. Buses come every 12 minutes instead of every 10 from 8 to 9:30 PM, and from 10:30 to the end of service, it’s gone from every 20 minutes to every 22 minutes! Ew!

47: Sick of waiting a long time for your 47? Fear not, for weekday midday service has gone from every 23-25 minutes to a consistent…every 22 minutes. That’s with another bus added, too! Can we please cut into the 24 minutes of layover each vehicle will take at Central and make the service every 20 minutes? It would be a lot easier to remember! Heck, while we’re at it, no one would complain if it went down to every 15…

62: A weekday outbound trip at 3:44 PM has been shifted back to 3:40. Also, a few reverse-peak inbound trips are scheduled to take slightly longer – those buses probably run late to begin with, anyway.

64: The poor 64. Morning rush service will run every 18 minutes instead of the current 13 minutes, while weekend service will now be every 75 minutes (down from every hour on Saturdays and every 70 minutes on Sundays). A bus has explicitly been taken off the route for the morning rush, while the weekend service deductions are to keep the service reliable. At least one good thing will come out of this, though: the last trip on weekdays and Saturdays will run all the way to Oak Square, versus now when they end at “Faneuil Square”, mere blocks from Oak. I don’t exactly know who this is helping (since it’s probably faster to take the last Green Line to the last 57 if your destination is Oak Square itself), but it does make the route less complicated.

66: The 66 is in the same boat as the 1; the MBTA is trying to squeeze as much frequency out of this thing as it can. It currently runs every 16 minutes, but it will soon drop to every 15. This is actually a really welcome change, since every 15 minutes makes so much more sense than every 16. Again, though, a more substantial increase in frequency would be great. Morning rush service towards Dudley will also now run every 10 minutes instead of every 9 minutes, probably to keep buses on time.

69: Three trips out of Lechmere at around 2 PM have been shifted by five minutes.

76: The 5:35 PM trip from Alewife will be shifted to 5:37.

80: The 80 will no longer have increased frequency at rush hour. Effectively using three buses all day, peak service will drop to anywhere from every 30-40 minutes, when now it runs in the region of every 20. At least midday service will now be a clean every half hour, although that is technically a downgrade from every 25 minutes, which it does now. Saturday service drops from every 35 minutes to alternating 40-45 minute headways (blech), and while Sunday service is every 70 minutes now, it will become every 80 (double blech).

85: Because of a long-term diversion in Union Square, the 85’s schedule is being appropriately padded. Service will stay every 40 minutes for most of the day, but it will drop to every 50 during the evening rush.

86: Just a few time shifts by a few minutes here and there. Sometimes it makes the headways more even, sometimes it makes them less even. I’m sure there’s a reason for each one. Hopefully.

87: The first major change for this route is that all inbound trips will take longer because of a long-term diversion in Union Square. However, service is generally getting improved! Morning rush service is every 20-30 minutes right now, but it will become about every 16. There’s no increase in service during the evening rush when buses come every 20 minutes, but they will run at that frequency for a longer time. Also, on Saturdays, the 87 will see an increase in service from every 30 minutes to every 25 – this will create service every 12-13 minutes between it and the 88 from Lechmere.

88: Right now, morning rush service on the 88 is every 10 minutes from Clarendon Hill to Davis Square, but only every 20 minutes from there to Lechmere. Starting in winter, every trip will do the full route, so overall service will run every 14-16 minutes. I don’t know how busy those Davis Square short-turns got, but this seems like a decent change overall, and it will simplify the route. Midday service will be less uniform than it is now (it’ll be about every 15-25 minutes, whereas now it’s a clean every 20), but evening rush service will be more even (every 20 minutes, versus every 15-25 right now). Why we can’t just get uniform headways across the board, I don’t know.

For weekends, Saturday service has been downgraded from every 20 minutes to every 25 minutes, although this will lead to coordination with the 87. I would rather see both routes run every 24 minutes, since that would lead to 12 minute coordinated headways – much easier to remember. Also, the MBTA isn’t advertising this coordination anywhere, which is a bad move. If you’re going from Davis Square to Clarendon Hill, for example, you’ll have to check both schedules separately to see what’s coming first. Finally, for Sundays, most midday trips are shifted forward by three minutes, which will make the every 20 minute 87/88 get a little…wonky in the outbound direction. It might be to accommodate the 87’s longer travel times due to the construction in Union Square.

89: Oh, 89, what have they done to you? There’s a lot to unpack here; let’s start with rush hour. Right now, it’s every 10 minutes, split between the Davis Square and Clarendon Hill branches. It effectively ends up running alternating 8-12 minute headways, but that’s not terrible. Now, the route will run theoretically every 15 minutes, but split in the most ridiculous way! During the morning rush, for example, we’ll have headways of 3 minutes, 19 minutes, 7 minutes, 19 minutes, 7 minutes, 6 minutes, 21 minutes, 8 minutes, etc. all in a row! The evening rush is just as bad, although there is a nice part where only Davis Square trips run, and it’s a clean every 12 minutes until a Clarendon Hill run screws it up. Hmm…maybe the 89 should only run one branch?

Middays, the 89 is super clean right now: every half hour, with buses to each branch every hour. Now, it will kinda be every 40 minutes with 80 minute service on the branches, but again, it’s completely nuts! Here are some sample departures from Sullivan: 10:02, 10:28, 11:22, 11:41, 12:40, 1:00, 2:06, 2:20. So easy to remember! On Saturdays, the route will go from every 35 minutes to every 40, but at least the coordination between the branches will be a lot better. There’s a twist, though: now every third trip will go to Clarendon Hill, and the other two will run to Davis. That means Clarendon will get a bus every 110 minutes, which is next to useless. Hmm…maybe the 89 should only run one branch.

Sunday service stays at every 70 minutes, but whereas every bus used to go to Clarendon Hill, they will now be split evenly between Davis and Clarendon. Except in the early afternoon, where two trips in a row run to Clarendon. For some reason. The last trip on Sundays will also no longer wait for the last train of the night. Again, for some reason. Finally, some weird quirks: the last trip of the night, which used to serve both Clarendon and Davis, will now run straight to Clarendon; the first trip of the morning, which used to run straight from Clarendon, will now serve both Clarendon and Davis. Okay, sure. Here’s an idea: MAYBE THE 89 SHOULD ONLY RUN ONE BRANCH!!!!!!

99: Okay, this one’s a lot less drastic: most weekday trips are being shifted by about ten minutes, and a one-off morning rush short-turn from Woodland Road to Malden Center will be eliminated. I particularly like the latter cut, since one-off variants make the route unnecessarily complicated; as for the first one, it leads to a few odd frequencies, but it doesn’t change too much. Outbound service even gains a trip at night!

100: Most Saturday inbound service has been shifted back five minutes.

101: The weekday schedule is mostly untouched. One morning short-turn trip from Sullivan to Medford Square is cut, as are all weekday trips that go “via Malden Square” – thank goodness! I’ve never been a fan of that deviation, since it’s confusing, takes a while, is very well-covered by other routes, and is only about a ten-minute walk from the station. Saturday service will now be every 40 minutes instead of 35, probably to keep buses on time, but I would like to see half-hourly service someday. And Sunday service? It remains as horrible as ever.

108: Minor change first: Sunday departures are shifted back by 20 minutes. More importantly, though, they’re getting rid of the Pearl Street deviation!!!!! Take a look at the current route map to see why I’m so happy they’re killing this thing. It’s gonna save as much as ten minutes of running time once the route doesn’t have to do it!

116/117: I never noticed that the 116/117 bunch together so egregiously on Saturday nights! The two routes leave two minutes apart from each other, so you end up with headways of 2 minutes, then 28 minutes! Luckily, this will end this winter, and they’ll depart on a clean 15-minute frequency.

119: The first few weekday trips of the 119 will stop serving Tomasello Way, leaving The Shops at Suffolk Downs without bus service until around 10 AM.

120: Weekday times are mostly being shifted by around five minutes. There are a few odd gaps in the morning rush, but it’s nothing too terrible. Saturday will also have half-hourly headways all day now, which is great – currently, it’s every 35. Finally, Sunday outbound trip times are shortened, but the schedule itself is the same.

214/216: At the moment, the 214/216 exist in a wonderful harmony where each route comes every 30 minutes midday, allowing for 15-minute service on the trunk section. Well, no more. The 216 will stay every half hour, but the 214 will leave every 34 minutes. I know it’s to keep buses on time, but you can imagine how that messes up the beautiful coordination that used to exist. Similarly, rush hour gets crazier, but at least the two routes run frequently enough then that it doesn’t matter. Finally, a bus has been taken off Saturday afternoon service, so buses on the combined 214/216 will come every 20 minutes instead of every 15.

215: Weekday midday service is every 35 minutes now, but it will be stretched out to every 40.

220: The noon Saturday trip is shifted to 12:02, making it the only trip of the day that doesn’t leave at a time ending in 0 or 5. In other words, it sticks out.

225: Hey, it’s a good change! Saturday afternoon service will go from every half hour to every 20 minutes, plus there will be a new Saturday morning round trip to Columbian Square, leaving Quincy Center at 7.

238: Four inbound trips in the morning rush are departing 5-10 minutes earlier.

240: A few random weekday trips are shifting by no more than 5 minutes.

326: Don’t trust the T with this one – they say an outbound trip at 8:45 PM is being eliminated, but it’s actually an 8:45 AM trip.

428: Whoa, it’s a surprisingly big change for this thrice-daily express bus! The route is getting cut back about two miles down the road to its original (pre-1991) terminus of Oaklandvale (the intersection of Main Street and Lynn Fells Parkway)! I mean, I don’t think anyone takes this thing to the Wakefield High School, so I guess the cut makes sense. Morning rush trips are shifted back 5 minutes, but the evening departures from Haymarket are the same.

435: A couple of time shifts: the 6:40 AM weekday inbound trip will become a 6:28, while the 7:15 weekday inbound trip will become a 7:02.

436: A few random weekday departure times will shift by about 10-15 minutes.

439: Three out of the route’s ten daily trips will shift by no greater than 13 minutes. I’m confused, though, because those shifted trips are scheduled to leave Nahant before they arrive there! I have no idea how that will work.

441/442/448/449: The 448/449 will have the same number of trips, but they’re shifted around to better slot between 441/442 trips. Meanwhile, the 441/442 will come every 20 minutes during the evening rush instead of every 15. Middays and Saturdays, an effort has been made to run buses at a clean half-hour headway. It…sometimes works. Finally, we see an unfortunate drop in frequency on Sundays, from every 25-30 minutes to every 30-40 minutes.

450: When the MBTA says “weekday inbound and outbound times shifted”, they apparently mean one early-morning round-trip will be shifted back by ten minutes (the 5:10 from West Lynn Garage will become a 5:00, and the 5:40 from Salem will become a 5:30). The broad description from the T made me think the changes would be a lot more drastic than this.

Phew, that’s a lot of changes. Remember that these will come into effect on Sunday, December 23rd. Also, like I said, let me know if you like this kind of post, and I can do it for subsequent schedule changes.

19th and 22nd Streets (Trolleys)

Trolley stations tend to be samey, so I’m combining these two into one post. This is the part of SEPTA where the El runs express in the center two tracks and the trolleys make these two local stops on the outer tracks, leading anyone passing through to think either, “Wow, thank goodness I’m on the El!” or “Man, I wish I was on the El.” As for anyone boarding at these stops? How about, “Geez, this station is terrible!”

An entrance to 22nd Street. Don’t trip on that stupid curb at the top!

One of the “fancy” entrances at 19th Street.

Each station has four entrances, one on each corner of their respective intersection. Of the eight total entrances, six are just generic stairs going down into the ground. However, the two southern entrances at 19th Street are different: one is made of metal and glass, and the other is made of stone. But…they’re still just generic stairs going down into the ground when you get right down to it.

The makeshift mezzanine at 22nd Street.

On October 1st, 2018, the westbound platforms at these stations got the new addition of turnstiles and fare machines. I came a little before that, so the turnstiles hadn’t been opened yet, but the setup was there: a few fare gates and one fare machine at each station. This is a great addition to these stops, especially because evening rush ridership here tends to be moderately high in the westbound direction. I can’t imagine how annoyingly long it would take for all those people to pay on board like they used to!

The cramped westbound platform at 22nd Street.

Those columns and stairs really cramp 19th Street’s style! Ha!

Despite generally getting more ridership than the eastbound direction, these westbound platforms are narrow! They both have few amenities other than a few benches and wastebaskets, and people tend to stand, anyway. The overall platform at 22nd is narrower than 19th, but 19th has a bunch of columns in the way (and I don’t think they serve much of a purpose, since 22nd gets away with not having them), plus these stairs and a ramp are needed to traverse the miniscule gap in height between the mezzanine and the platform. It shouldn’t have been built that way to begin with.

The eastbound platform at 22nd Street. Only one person here, and I don’t think they’re waiting for a train.

The eastbound platforms don’t tend to get quite as many people as the outbound ones, but still enough that I think it would be worth putting them into fare control as well. The one at 19th Street is similar to the westbound side, but at 22nd Street, the eastbound platform is huge! Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning, the El runs on the express tracks through these stations. It’s cool when they zoom by, but have fun not being able to hear for the next couple of weeks. Those trains, uh, get pretty loud…

My attempt to get both an El train and a trolley in the same picture at 22nd.

People boarding a 34 at 19th.

Stations: 19th and 22nd Streets (Trolleys)

Ridership: As usual, SEPTA treats these stations like glorified bus stops, so there’s no public ridership info on them. From what I’ve noticed, they never tend to get too crowded, although I’ve seen some decent amounts of people during the evening rush.

Pros: I absolutely love this arrangement where the El expresses through while the trolleys make local stops. The nonstop ride from 15th to 30th on El trains is fast and exhilarating, while the trolley stops are spaced out enough that they don’t feel too annoying (unlike some awful parts of the eastern El – 15th to 13th to 11th? Really???). Also, this may feel minor, but the signage at these stations is actually really good! They point out which exits are best to get to certain attractions and direct people to look for similar signs at street level.

Cons: Fare gates on the westbound side is a great start, but can we finish the job and put them on the eastbound side too? For trolleys at the front of a bunch, there can be enough people waiting to get to City Hall that it’s a significant delay for everyone to tap on at the front. Other than that, these stations just feel cramped, like they’re not using their space very well. Granted, there’s not too much space to begin with, but I’m sure the narrow platforms can be unpleasant to wait at during rush hour.

Nearby and Noteworthy: A ton. 19th Street is close to Rittenhouse Square and its ritzy businesses, some of the museums on Ben Franklin Parkway, and the Comcast Center (go see their free Holiday Spectacular – it’s a ton of fun). 22nd Street, meanwhile, is the closest stop to the Mütter Museum (which I really need to visit someday), some other museums up on Ben Franklin Parkway, and the most crowded Trader Joe’s I’ve ever been to.

Final Verdict: 4/10
I essentially said in my 37th Street review that the base trolley station is a 3. That station made it up to a 4 by having a unique entrance shaped like a streetcar. For these stations, the only thing raising them up to a 4 is the fact that they have fare control. And even then, it’s only on one side! Heck, if I gave half-points, this would probably only be a 3.5! My only hope is that the significant dwell time improvements here will lead SEPTA to install fare gates at the West Philadelphia trolley stations, too. Please.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

SRTA: NB 4 (Ashley Boulevard)

A few years ago, I would’ve vehemently insisted on taking the NB 4 to its weekday rush hour-only terminus at “Industrial Park”, a full four miles past the regular terminus. Alas, Sam and I did our SRTA trip on a Saturday, so we couldn’t do an Industrial Park ride. We couldn’t even get one of the every-three-hour deviation to “Taber Mills Apartments”! Old Miles would kill me.

Hey, it’s a not-terrible photo inside the New Bedford Terminal! You won’t see many of these.

We began our trip by heading straight onto Pleasant Street, taking us straight out of downtown New Bedford almost immediately. It became Purchase Street pretty quickly, and though the neighborhood was mostly dense houses, we were very close to the Route 18 highway, which gave some sections of the road an industrial vibe. Once we went under I-195, the highway curved away and some train tracks were our new friends. Hey, they were on a nicely-landscaped embankment, so they felt a lot less intrusive.

This isn’t the nice part…

We headed down Sawyer Street for a short time before turning onto Ashley Boulevard (oh look, the name of the route!). This somewhat narrow street was lined with dense apartments, a contrast to the commercial Acushnet Ave a block away, which also gets a bus route. Acushnet Ave did eventually curve away, though, and Ashley Boulevard got a bit more retail to fill the gap.

Apartments, apartments, and more apartments.

We ran alongside the expansive Brooklawn Park, and right when we got to it, those apartments became suburban houses. Ashley Boulevard became a commercial street after the park, in the form of awful suburban businesses with parking lots. We passed a cemetery and New Bedford’s giant vocational technical high school, then we turned onto tiny Chaffee Street. This was just the bus’s loop to turn around – the other streets we used were Church Street, Staron Street, and Phillips Road, which led us to our final stop at my favorite supermarket, Trucchi’s.

Nice place to end.

SRTA Route: NB 4 (Ashley Boulevard)

Ridership: This is one of the busier New Bedford routes – it got 14,723 riders in May 2014, or about 545 passengers per day.

Pros: The base route is nice and direct, running as straight as it possibly could given New Bedford’s street network. It runs every half hour on weekdays, a great frequency (plus service runs ’till 9!).

Cons: Every 45 minutes on Saturdays is a little awkward, especially when most other routes come every 40 instead. Also, the Taber Mill Apartments deviation requires going down tiny one-way streets, and when buses only do it every two to three hours, what’s the point? It’s a three-minute walk from the main road! The rush hour industrial park variation is more useful, assuming it gets ridership.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The 4 is mostly residential, so there’s not much. I guess if you’ve just missed a 2, you can use it to get to Acushnet Ave a block away!

Final Verdict: 6/10
It’s fine. Nothing special. The route’s directness is great, especially compared to some other ones we’ll be seeing later. The Taber Mill Apartments deviation feels like a waste, though. Rather than awkwardly run a bus there every few hours, just make people walk three minutes! It’ll make the route much simpler, and probably more reliable, since the apartment trips get the same running time as normal ones when they obviously take longer.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Snyder (BSL)

Of the South Philly Broad Street Line stops, Snyder is the one I’ve used the most so far. I’ve ridden both the 37 and the 79 a number of times (the latter’s review is in the pipeline, but I’m waiting for it to get the electric buses it’s supposedly going to get), plus the station is near the start of East Passyunk Ave – if I’m looking for somewhere to eat in that neighborhood, I can start here and work my way up. But here’s the big question: is Snyder actually a good station? Ehhhhhh…

A bus stop and a station entrance! Wow!

Snyder has connections to three bus routes: the 4, running down Broad Street (plus the Broad Street Owl at night); the 79, running down Snyder Ave; and the 37, which goes down Passyunk Ave on its way to the airport and Chester. Every single one of these stops has just a sign, except for one shelter at…the northbound 4 stop? Okay, not sure why that’s the one that gets a shelter when the 37 and 79 get exponentially more ridership from here. There’s not a lot of room for shelters on Snyder, but south Broad definitely has space for one at the 37 stop.

The one bus shelter and its corresponding entrance.

Snyder has one entrance on each side of the intersection, for a total of four. They all lead to the same mezzanine, and they’re all really simple staircases down from the street. There is also one exit-only escalator that gets a much more prominent sheltered structure over it. A flowerpot was put on top of it to try to make it look more appealing, but…no, it’s really not.

The exit-only escalator.

Each of the entrances leads to a claustrophobic passageway that takes you to the mezzanine. Some are longer than others, but none of them are particularly pleasant to walk through. The station also makes a big deal about the fact that you can bring your bikes down to the bike racks in the mezzanine (although according to the SEPTA website, those racks don’t exist), pointing out that two of the staircases feature ramps that you can roll your bike wheels down. They even have these lovely green paths pointing the way, but the problem is…neither of those staircases have ramps. I don’t know if they were vandalized or what, but if you’re gonna park your bikes here, you’re gonna be lugging them down the stairs yourself.

Jeez, this looks like a bomb shelter.

Oh, this is a SEPTA mezzanine if I ever saw one. It’s pretty big, but it’s full of fences and exit-only turnstiles, and it really doesn’t have much in it. All four entrances lead to only a few faregates, although the station does have three fare machines, which is plenty. Also, have fun using the faregate to nowhere…

Yeah, “USE NEXT WINDOW” is right.

Past the faregates is the waiting area, which is in view of the cashier, who has “direct contact with police.” So no funny business here! Seriously, though, it’s nice that there’s an area where people can feel safe while waiting for the train – this is common for SEPTA stations. It has plenty of seating space, plus wastebaskets, maps, and a lit-up sign that points out when a train is arriving and in which direction it’s going.

The waiting area. That signage is actually great!

The actual platform is as underwhelming as I would expect any Broad Street Line platform to be. Staircases lead down to it from the waiting room, and you end up on an island platform with some benches and wastebaskets sprinkled about. There are big industrial fans on each end to keep air circulating.

Down on the platform.

This thing is not trying to look pretty. Exposed random pipes and wires twist around every which way, while the tracks are covered in the characteristic SEPTA grime and trash. The platform itself is clean enough, but everything else combined with the lack of real-time information just makes this an unpleasant place to wait. Also, because of a provision built for an extension down Passyunk Ave, southbound trains have to enter Snyder really slowly. Considering the extension will never ever happen, it’s a little annoying.

Yup, nothing to see here.

Station: Snyder (BSL)

Ridership: Snyder is the busiest station in South Philly, with 5,953 riders per weekday. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but the station is in a really dense neighborhood with a ton of retail, plus two hospitals and the South Philadelphia High School.

Pros: Yeah, Snyder is in a great location. This is a retail hub of South Philadelphia, and even though there aren’t many, the bus connections here are important and well-used. As for the station itself? Uhhh…an entrance on each side of the intersection is nice…

Cons: The whole station feels cramped and ugly. As usual, there aren’t enough faregates for the ridership it gets, and the bus facilities have a similar problem when it comes to shelter and seating space. Also, you wanna know a glaring issue with Snyder that I haven’t touched on thus far? It’s not wheelchair accessible. Yes, most of the Broad Street Line stations in South Philly aren’t, but that’s still no excuse.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I mentioned the Melrose Diner in my last review, and I talked about the East Passyunk neighborhood in my post on the 45. Also, though I haven’t explored the area yet, there seem to be some funky hidden restaurants a few blocks northwest of this station, including a few breweries, if you’re into that kind of thing (ol’ Miles is underage, of course).

Final Verdict: 4/10
No accessibility, not enough faregates, not even mere benches for the busiest bus stops, and a general feeling of crumbling decrepitness: that’s Snyder. The south Broad Street Line needs an overhaul like what the El got a few decades ago, especially because of the lack of accessibility. There is a ton to do around this station, but if you’re in a wheelchair, tough luck. You’ll have to take (and suffer on) the 4 instead.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

SRTA: NB 10 (Dartmouth Mall)

Yeah…Miles the “Transit Expert” screwed this one up. Guess who was looking at the weekday schedule instead of the Saturday schedule! Guess which route leaves fifteen minutes earlier on Saturdays! What did this little mistake mean? Basically skipping the NB 10‘s entire independent section…

Well…darn it.

The 10 basically operates in a giant loop, serving Dartmouth Mall twice. Because I missed the one going around the loop, I had to wait for the bus to come back and just go straight to the New Bedford Terminal. Let’s talk about the loop, though, because it’s basically the only thing this route has going for it.

After serving the Dartmouth Mall, buses head up to a deviation into Ann and Hope Plaza, previously seen on my NB 9 ride (I wasn’t a fan). The route goes up Faunce Corner Road from there, passing a lot of suburban businesses and going under I-195. A Vanity Fair outlet store, of all things, gets a deviation, as well as the Hawthorn Medical Association. That’s basically where the development ends and Faunce Corner Road turns to farmland, so buses turn around and retrace their steps for a while.

Right after passing I-195 again, the route goes down the residential Cross Road, specifically to serve (but not deviate into) the Cross Road Apartments. It’s all houses until a Walmart, at which point the route turns onto Frontage Road to better serve the giant outlet stores along State Road. This takes it back to the Dartmouth Mall, and that’s when I got on.

Next to a golf course.

The rest of the route is all parallel to the NB 9. We went by the New Bedford Country Club, a cemetery, and some residential neighborhoods, but suburban businesses permeated throughout. We didn’t enter a real urban environment until the road split into two one-way segments, where the houses got a lot more dense and the businesses were corner stores and restaurants integrated into the neighborhood. Finally, we merged onto North 6th Street and came down to the New Bedford Terminal.

Houses along a side street.

SRTA Route: NB 10 (Dartmouth Mall)

Ridership: About 266 people per day. My trip got ten people, and many of them got on at the mall, but I wish I could tell you what the ridership around the loop is like! Shoot.

Pros: The route runs every hour, Monday through Saturday, which I think is all it needs. The idea of a Dartmouth loop is decent, since there’s a ton of development along Faunce Corner Road. I also like how on Saturdays, the 10 coordinates with the 9 to provide half-hourly service to the Dartmouth Mall; on weekdays when the 9 is every half hour, the 10 just gets slotted fifteen minutes after a 9 trip every hour. That’s not quite as good, but it’s the best that can be done when the two routes run at different headways.

Cons: That loop business is pretty crazy – Ann and Hope Plaza is a dying strip mall, and I really don’t see much worth in deviating buses to a random clothing store (Vanity Fair), especially when it’s so close to the road. Aside from streamlining the loop, I also wonder if the route could be optimized better on weekdays, since it and the 9 run with different schedules.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Uhhhh…bargain clothes, anyone?

Final Verdict: 6/10
Okay, hear me out: make it a Dartmouth circulator on weekdays. Run it just around the loop every half hour, with coordinated connections to the 9. It could still go to New Bedford on Saturdays since the coordination is great, but I don’t think running it there on weekdays is as valuable. The problem is that with typical midday traffic conditions, the loop is awfully close to 30 minutes driving, and that’s with some of the lesser deviations cut out. That could affect the 10’s reliability. Well, as it stands, the route basically does the bare minimum as a loopy circulator route, and it’s fine. If only the loop was just a little bit faster, since I think running it as a circulator makes more sense.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

37 (Chester Transportation Center to Broad-Snyder)

I had just committed to Penn. My family flew down to Philly to spend a few days getting more acclimated to the city. We landed at the airport, where every sign told us to take the $6.75 Regional Rail line into town. But my family is cheap; why spend a ton of money on a train when we could take a bus for $2.50 instead? We only did part of the 37 that day, but now, it’s time to do the whole thing. The journey begins in Chester…

The bus laying over at Chester Transportation Center.

Going towards Chester, the bus appears to do a small loop north of the Regional Rail tracks, for some reason. According to Google Maps, this does not happen. Beats me. Going away from Chester, though, we just headed straight onto the route, like you would expect a normal bus route to do. We began on Avenue of the States, which was lined with buildings – some contained businesses, some were vacant.

A side street downtown.

Avenue of the States ended at Chester’s modern city hall, at which point we used 4th Street and Welsh Street to get onto a road known only as Route 291. It ended up becoming 4th Street a few blocks later, anyway. We had definitely left downtown Chester at this point, as the wide road breezed past industrial lots and vacant land. Outside of a prison, we used Morton Ave to deviate to Harrah’s. The bus stop was next to the casino’s parking garage.

A level crossing before the casino.

We came back to East 4th Street, which became increasingly highway-like as we came alongside the Northeast Corridor tracks. We entered Eddystone upon crossing Ridley Creek, where the road got the fitting name of Industrial Highway. Indeed, after going by Eddystone Station (one of the least-used on Regional Rail), there was a ton of industrial development, including two power stations!

One of the factories.

After crossing Crum Creek, the factories turned into office parks, specifically a giant Boeing complex. We went over another creek, Darby Creek, into Tinicum Township. There were a few “airport” developments like hotels and parking lots, and the wide highway became Governor Printz Boulevard. The road split into two one-way segments, and though the scenery was still really industrial, a few unfortunate houses and apartments were squeezed in between the auto shops and warehouses. The side streets were generally more residential.

You enter a much nicer neighborhood if you go far enough down this side street!

We soon entered a marshy industrial wasteland. All weekday trips turn onto Stevens Drive to deviate into the “Airport Business Center,” which is basically just three office buildings. We were truly in airport-land after we crossed some freight tracks, with a ton of parking lots and highway ramps everywhere. At the intersection with Bartram Ave, the long deviation to the airport terminals began. On weekdays, buses do an additional deviation-within-a-deviation to International Plaza, an office park.

Airport scenery.

We made our way onto the main arrivals road (also known as…Arrivals Road). Nearly this whole segment was spent underneath parking garages serving the various terminals. Terminal A had its smorgasbord of international airlines (plus American), Terminals B and C were all American, Terminals D and E had the airport’s non-American domestic offerings, and Terminal F was American Eagle, a subsidiary of…American. If it isn’t obvious, American offers a lot of flights out of Philadelphia.

Talk about a toll booth! This is to get out of the airport parking garages.

Leaving the terminals, we passed the giant Economy Parking lot and made a hairpin turn onto Airport Recirculation Road. It led us past all the car rental places before dumping us off at the intersection with Bartram Ave where we had initially started. We turned onto that, and it was basically a highway running through marshy, disgusting woods.

Who is this practically inaccessible shelter for? I have no idea.

A bunch of airport hotels showed up, and at this point, we turned onto 89th Street. This was a deviation to serve PNC Operations, a PNC Bank office. I’m not sure why this place gets deviations on weekends; on the Sunday I rode, no one got on or off here. After that, we headed up Tinicum Boulevard before going back onto Bartram Ave. Passing Eastwick Station on the Airport Line, we turned onto 84th Street, which crossed over the Regional Rail tracks.

The barren Eastwick Station.

We stayed on 84th until Lindbergh Boulevard, and we were now in a very odd part of Southwest Philadelphia. Both 84th and Lindbergh were giant roads, with express lanes in the middle and local lanes on the outside, separated by a grassy median. We actually travelled in the express lanes, since the local ones are really just meant for people parking at the austere row houses that line the road. This means that each bus stop is essentially on the median, requiring people to cross a small street to access.

The typical housing stock.

At Island Ave, we came across some suburban businesses and…a trolley? Yeah, the 36 trolley runs down here, and it looks really out of place amongst the sprawl! Continuing onward, Lindbergh Boulevard had more row houses to the west, but the east side was now industrial. The road made an s-curve further into the residential neighborhood, and so for a little while it was all apartments.

Yup, this came out of nowhere.

We turned onto 61st Street, heading back east into the wasteland of industry again. In this case, it was specifically a ton of auto scrap yards. It ended at Passyunk Ave, onto which we turned, crossing a bridge over the Schuylkill River. The other side was basically just a sprawling desert of the most unimaginably ugly industry you’ve ever seen.

For anyone coming from the airport, Philly is nice! I swear!

We went under I-76, passed a few suburban businesses, and we were finally in the first proper neighborhood since…I dunno, Chester? Barely. Well, anyway, we were now in the dense apartment and retail grid of South Philadelphia, through which Passyunk Ave runs diagonally. Suddenly, we hit a wall of businesses at Broad Street, and this is where we turned to reach our final stop at Snyder Ave.

Hiding behind the trees.

Wow…the bus I took was 8435, and this one is 8434! What a coincidence!

Route: 37 (Chester Transportation Center to Broad-Snyder)

Ridership: This is a tough route to get efficient ridership on. 3,424 riders per weekday doesn’t seem very high, but it averages out to around 30 people per trip. Hey, that’s not bad, right? Oh wait, the route is over 18 miles long. As far as I can tell, this thing doesn’t get especially crowded at any particular time, since everyone is split up over that giant distance. This leads to an embarrassing farebox recovery ratio of 17% – one of the very lowest in Philadelphia.

Pros: Because it’s a very long route, the 37 does a lot. It connects up Chester, Southwest Philadelphia, and South Philadelphia to each other, as well as to the airport. For such a long route, it also runs with surprisingly good frequency: outside of rush hour, buses run every 25 minutes seven days a week, although on weekends, every other bus only runs from South Philly to PNC Operations. There’s even Owl service on the route, with a bus every hour all night.

Cons: Wait, hang on, why does the night service only go as far as Harrah’s? They really couldn’t extend it a few minutes to Chester? If airport employees live in Chester (and I wouldn’t be surprised if some do), they could use the bus to get to their jobs in the early morning. Also, despite being very frequent (every 9-12 minutes), rush hour service is on the complicated side. Some trips short-turn at the Airport Business Center, and others skip the residential neighborhoods of Southwest Philadelphia, opting for a routing through the Eastwick Industrial Park. At least it’s consistent which trips do which deviations and routings, but the schedule is still pretty hard to read.

Nearby and Noteworthy: When my family ended up in South Philadelphia, we had breakfast at the Melrose Diner. It was really good, and super cheap!

Final Verdict: 6/10
I don’t think the length of the 37 is a bad thing, per se, but it does make it a lot more expensive for SEPTA to run the route. Again, it’s is long enough that the buses are never particularly busy at any one time. I will say, though, that the 37 is one of the few SEPTA routes that actually has higher productivity during rush hour, so the higher peak frequency probably makes sense. And again, for such a long route, every 25 minutes isn’t bad at all, even if it becomes every 50 for the outer half on weekends.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates