Guide to the MBTA’s Fall 2019 Service Changes (Better Bus!)

Better Bus is here, my friends, and I am so excited to have a generally positive service change post for once! Even aside from the changes branded as “Better Bus,” there are a number of others that are great as well. It’s not like we don’t have a few stinkers in here, but a good chunk of these changes made me really happy. It is odd that we’re not getting all the Better Bus changes in one go, but I guess it gives us something to look forward to in the winter! So the information page is here, and remember, these changes come into effect September 1st. This is also the biggest number of MBTA changes in my lifetime, so strap in – it’s a long one.

CT1/1: Oh, we are starting off nice and strong. Get those last “limited stop” CT1 rides in while you can, because that route is toast! Its resources are being put to use on the 1, which is generally improved. There are a bunch of places where service is getting better: every 8 minutes from every 9-10 at rush hour, every 10-11 from every 12-14 middays, and most importantly, every 15 from every 16 on Sundays – the fact that it was every 16 always bothered me. This all comes at the sacrifice of Saturday service, though, which I imagine had to be stretched for better on-time performance: many headways on Saturdays are about a minute longer than they used to be. This is especially annoying because crowding on Saturdays is actually worse than on weekdays. Like, honestly, let’s just get a rail line under Mass Ave at this point…

CT2: Service will be less frequent during the rushes, probably for on-time performance reasons. The headways are a bit random across the board, so it’s hard to generalize; just know that alas, buses will come less often.

SL1/SL4: Aw man, that weird 2:30 AM trip from the airport that turned into an SL4 at South Station is being eliminated. I guess it wasn’t getting ridership, although I think part of that was just the complete oddness of its entire existence.

4: Because the 4 refuses to die, we’re touting the elimination of a deviation on this peak-only route as a Better Bus improvement. Yes, buses will no longer serve Northern Ave, staying directly on Seaport Boulevard like any normal bus should do. Despite this, the 4 has awful on-time performance, because of course it does, so it’s actually losing a trip in the morning rush, with a few schedule tinkers elsewhere.

5/16: I think some of the 5’s resources are being put to the 10 as well, but the most direct replacement for (yay!) the elimination of the 5 is the 16. The 16 is one of those routes that’s so busy that any headway increase is positive, so it’s good to see increased service of any kind. That being said, clockface is thrown out the window, with midday service becoming about every 20-25 minutes, and Saturday service every 20-24, instead of every 30 like it is now. Sunday service gets a slight increase in service from every 35 minutes to every 30 in the afternoon. There is also a new weekday and Saturday midday variant that runs to McCormack Housing, providing better service there than the 5 ever did, while also making the 16 that much more complicated.

7: The 7’s getting a little bit stretched, but not enough at rush hour to make a noticeable dent in headway. More unfortunate is a brief portion on Saturday afternoons when buses will be every 42 minutes instead of every 40.

8: Just a few time shifts on Saturday middays.

9: More stretching. The weekday cuts aren’t the end of the world (like the 7, the 9 is frequent enough that it doesn’t make a huge dent in service), but Saturdays will run every 20 minutes for less time (it will begin far later in the morning than it does now), and Sundays go from a clean every 30 minutes to…every 35. Ugh.

10: I would say this is more of a cleanup effort than anything, with headways getting more standardized. That doesn’t mean there’s not stretching, though: Saturday afternoons see a bit less service (every 23-24 minutes instead of every 22-23), while Sundays become every 45 minutes instead of every 40. They also cut that early-morning variant that skips the South Bay Center, which makes the route simpler. Even though there is some stretching, I appreciate the more even headways and cutting of variants.

11: The inbound 5:22 PM trip on weekdays will now leave at 5:24. I guess this wasn’t a big enough change to put “Schedule Change” on the paper schedule, because it’s not there!

15: OH MY GOD THEY FIXED THE 15!!!!! Of all the changes I’ve covered on the blog thus far, this is far and away the most amazing one. There are off-peak service improvements across the board here. Every 13-14 minutes weekday middays instead of every 17! Every 15-18 minutes on Sundays instead of every 20! And Saturdays…WOW. Now every trip will go to Fields Corner, and the route will run at least every 15 minutes almost all day. These changes are…SO good. I can’t praise this enough.

18: Instead of being a standard every hour all day on weekdays, there will now be a 55-70-55 minute gap midday. Um, okay. There are few minor shifts in the evening rush, too.

19: A few one-minute time shifts in the morning.

21: Some one-minute time shifts, mostly at rush hour.

22: The route sees huge improvements at night, with standardized 20-minute (or better) service when before, there were some 25- or even 30-minute gaps. Saturdays lose a bit of service in some places and gain service in others, but it remains a general every 12-15 minutes for most of the day. Sunday mornings are every 17 minutes now, but that will soon be a clean every 20, which is probably for the better. Sunday afternoon service that’s currently every 18 minutes will shrink down to every 17. Pretty good stuff here, especially those night improvements!

23: There don’t seem to be a ton of weekday or Saturday changes to write home about, although there will now be no gaps longer than 20 minutes at night – awesome. Sundays see some nice service improvements as well, with service every 13-17 minutes throughout most of the day instead of every 16-18.

30: Some new school trips are being added to the route: the round trips will leave Forest Hills at 6:00 AM and 2:05 PM, and Mattapan at 6:32 and 2:38.

31: Really nice standardization on weekdays: every 8 minutes all day. I love it. Weeknight service also becomes every 13 minutes instead of every 15. Now let’s just iron out that annoying “every 21 minutes” Sunday schedule!

34/34E: I’m excited for the larger changes coming to this route in the winter, but there’s some nice variant elimination for now, with the Upland Woods and Xaverian Brothers High School trips on the 34E no longer running. Times on Saturday night are shifted around too, in an effort to get rid of scheduled bunching between the 34 and 34E. The headways are still a little weird, but scheduled bunching is awful and I’m happy to see it eradicated.

36: A pair of school trips, one in the morning and one in the evening, has been eliminated. Also, the 3:35 PM inbound trip will now leave at 3:30 from Charles River Loop instead of Millennium Park, creating…oh, a scheduled bunch. Well, darn. I can’t wait to see the variant elimination that begins in the winter, because that’ll hopefully make things a bit less crazy here.

42: “Weekday schedule changes throughout the day,” but the only change I can find is outbound night service leaving ten minutes earlier. Maybe there’s other stuff I missed?

44: Despite the nice elimination of the John Eliot Square variant on weeknights, it doesn’t affect headway at all, and in fact, the route has generally been stretched. Morning rush service becomes every 18-20 minutes instead of 16-18, and Saturday service goes from every 20 minutes to…every 21 minutes. UGH! Sundays lose service as well, although at least it’s a clean hourly schedule for more of the day,

45: A few minor weekday time shifts, mostly at rush hour; Saturday headways from 6 to 7:30 PM shift a bit; and the last trip on weekends moves from 1:00 AM to 1:15, perhaps to reflect the reality that the last train is always late. We should shift more of those over…

47: Hey, weekday midday service becomes every 20 minutes, down from 22! That’s awesome! Saturday and Sunday service is stretched, though: on Saturdays, it’ll be every 25 minutes instead of every 24 (probably not the worst change in the world), while Sundays go to every 50 instead of every 45 (probably not the best change in the world). But look, one last good thing: that variant on Sunday mornings that only runs to BU Medical Center will be eliminated, with all trips now going to Broadway. The 47 will become a variant-free service!

55: The 9:00 AM trip from Queensberry will leave at 9:05 instead.

57: Looks like stretching. Morning rush service will be slightly less frequent, as will service on Saturday mornings. Still, early Saturday evenings become every 11 minutes from every 13, and Sunday service sees a few small frequency upgrades: every 14 minutes instead of every 15 in the afternoon, and every 17 minutes instead of every 20 in the early evening.

59: Eliot Street people didn’t want to lose their bus entirely, so two trips per day in the peak direction will serve it, while all others will go via Needham Street. Providing this barebones service instead of eliminating the variant entirely is not the way Better Bus should be going, and the T shouldn’t be bucking to political pressure like this (and it gets worse later on). Service will be an impressive every 30-35 minutes on weekdays, though, instead of every 45. Weekends see some time shifts, but it’s still every 90 minutes, alas.

60: Time shifts across the board, seven days a week. Nothing seems to affect frequency.

64: Time shifts on weekdays, with no change to the number of trips. Hopefully we see some more radical changes to this route in the winter.

66: Route 66 riders rejoice: you’re getting better service! No night gaps above 20 minutes anymore! Every 9 minutes in the morning rush instead of every 10! Every 13 minutes middays instead of every 14-15! Every 16 minutes on Saturday and Sunday afternoons instead of every 17! Every 18 minutes on Sunday mornings instead of every 20! Huge improvements to early morning service on weekdays and Saturdays! The one place that suffers is Saturday mornings from around 6 to 8, but it’ll just be every 17-19 minutes instead of every 13-18 – not a horrible change, and at a time where ridership is probably light.

86: Time shifts every day, but nothing affecting frequency.

89: The goal was to eliminate Clarendon Hill service entirely, but political pressure led to the restoration of the Clarendon Hill variant…on weekdays before 9 AM, and between 1 and 7 PM. Still, there has been a huge increase in service across the board: every 10-15 minutes at rush hour, every 22-25 minutes middays, every 17-27 minutes on Saturdays, and every 38-46 minutes on Sundays. It definitely feels like they tried to squeeze out as much as possible from the added resources, leading to the odd headways, but it’s still a lot better than the current service. Sundays are every 70 minutes right now!

90: Wow, it’s pretty amazing how much service you can add if you’re not running through the traffic mayhem to Wellington. Yes, the 90 has been cut back to Assembly (I would even rather see it end at Sullivan and have people transfer to the Orange Line, but oh well), and with that come major frequency improvements. Weekends become mostly hourly, which is nice compared to the 70-minute headways today, but weekdays become every half hour midday. It’s every 45 minutes right now! That’s a huge increase in service! Rush hours become about every 35-40 because of the longer trip time, but it’s still better than today!

91: Firstly, the route is changing to once again use Prospect Street in the outbound direction, meaning that that weird bus-only lane will be used by something other than the CT2! There are running time changes across the board, while Saturdays get stretched-out service in the morning – every 30 minutes becomes every 35-36 minutes, which kinda makes sense given that the current schedule expects a single bus to do the complete round trip in half an hour, which is insane. Sundays just get weird, going from every 45 minutes to every…whenever it wants? I mean, the number of trips stays the same, but the headways are alllllll over the place.

92: Because it’s no longer serving Assembly Square, the 92 sees major frequency upgrades. Rush hour unfortunately gets stretched because buses never served Assembly during those times anyway, but middays go from every 35-45 minutes (which is a gross oversimplification of the insane schedule) to every half hour, while Saturdays go from every 35 minutes to about every 20! Shame there’s still no Sunday service, though.

93: Stretching. Morning rush service will be about every 8-10 minutes instead of every 5-10, while midday service goes to every 20 minutes from every 18 (which at least makes it easier to remember). The clean 20-minute Saturday headway has been replaced with a service with occasional 21- or 22-minute gaps, and Sundays are in a similar boat. Also, the around-the-world late-night trip via the 93, 109, 108, and 104 has been canned, probably because it was always kinda stupid.

95: Again, political pressure screwed things up. The new Arlington Center routing will only be every other bus, while the rest will go to West Medford. Because, you know, having service every two hours on Sundays to each branch will really bring in the ridership! The new headways are all over the place, too, but they’re almost all worse than what they are now (Arlington Center is further away than West Medford, admittedly). At least Sundays go to every hour from every 65 minutes, but again…service every two hours on each branch. They’re gonna end up reverting back to West Medford and calling the pilot a “failure” because no one wants to ride a bus this infrequent.

97: Some minor trip time shifts in the morning rush heading inbound.

99: Not only are we getting stretching, but there’s also some weirdification of the headways. Nights are standardized to hourly, but the rest is all over the place! I mean, the frequencies are generally the same, but it’s a lot less consistent. At least morning rush service gains an inbound trip at the expense of losing an outbound one.

100: Trip time changes throughout the weekday and on weekends after 9 PM. Nothing affects headway, although night service on weekdays actually gets improved slightly: it’ll run every half hour until 10 PM now, unlike currently when the route becomes hourly at 8.

101: Okay, I see they’re wringing this one out to get as much service as they possibly can! Morning rush service will be every 6-8 minutes now, while middays will be every 27 minutes instead of every 30. Saturdays gain service in the morning and evening, with buses every half hour until about 9 AM and from 7 to 11 PM; midday service remains every 40 minutes, unfortunately. Sundays see the biggest increase in service, from every 70 minutes to every…33! Okay, weird headway, but that is a rock-solid frequency improvement right there! Wow!

104/109: These routes see minor increases in service. Saturday nights, for example, will run every half hour after 7. Weeknights will be much more frequent on both routes. Middays gain a bit of service. Saturdays are now “every 40 minutes or less” instead of just every 40. Sundays are every 45 minutes instead of every 55. Sunday morning service is a little more robust…mostly. But the one bad thing is the loss of Sunday morning Glendale Square short-turns on the 109 that helped give it extra frequency during a surprisingly overcrowded time. Now the 109 has just one trip before 6 AM on Sundays, with the 104 gaining one it didn’t have before. I just hope things don’t get too busy.

105: A few time shifts on weekdays.

106: Okay, we’re losing all service past Lebanon Loop – that’s good, it means way simpler service. It also means better service on weekday middays, every 40 minutes instead of every 55. The morning rush takes a slight hit thanks to the loss of Lynwood and Lynde short-turns, but the evening rush will be better, every 20-25 minutes versus every half hour. Weekend service is more or less unchanged, although times are shifted (often making the schedule crazier, especially on Sundays).

108: Generally stretching, although a long gap in the morning is plugged. Aside from that, the clean half-hourly weekday schedule becomes every 34 minutes; the rushes lose some service, particularly with the evening turning into every 24 minutes instead of every 20; and there are some minor time shifts on Saturday middays.

110: I’m seeing mostly stretching on weekdays – you can add about 5 minutes to whatever the current headway is to get a decent idea of what the new one is. Still, weekends get some better service: Saturday mornings will be every half hour until 10, when they’ll revert to more or less their current frequency; and Sundays will run every 35 minutes instead of every 70, a massive improvement!

111: If you thought the 111 couldn’t possibly get any more frequent at rush hour, you were so wrong. They manage to squeeze in even more service in the peak direction, while night service is massively improved thanks to the elimination of the Broadway and Park variant. There’s not a ton to say about rush hour – it’s even more insanely frequent – but night service is now every 6-7 minutes instead of every 10, which is awesome. Weekend service doesn’t seem to change minus a few time shifts and some new Sunday morning 111C’s (which are very much needed).

112: A few time shifts on Sunday afternoons.

114/116/117: Oof, it’s getting hard to look at these tiny schedule fonts to find changes. Rush hour and midday times shift without noticeable frequency improvements, but all other times look a lot better. Weeknights are every 10 minutes straight ’til midnight, unlike the current schedule which has a 15-minute portion. Saturdays are every 13 minutes instead of every 14, while Sundays are every 17-18 instead of every 20. Alas, however, the late-night 117 from Haymarket to Lynn via the 442 is gone.

119: Time shifts on weekday evenings.

120: Two major route changes to the 120: it will no longer do that stupid Liberty Plaza deviation (good), and the start of the route will now be Jeffries Point instead of Maverick (which makes sense). So how do these affect the schedule? Um…weirdly? They definitely squeezed the route as much as possible, but it leads to some odd headways: every 22-30 minutes at rush hour, every 34 minutes during the day, every 26-32 minutes on Saturdays, and every 51-61 minutes on Sundays. Yeah, can’t say I’m really a fan, even if they are generally improvements over the current frequencies.

131: Two midday inbound trips will leave two minutes earlier.

132: Some weekday time shifts, including a new outbound morning rush trip! Not that the route gets much reverse peak morning rush ridership, but maybe they just put what was previously a non-revenue trip into service.

134: The poor 134 has had a rough couple of schedule changes. Luckily, a near-half-hourly weekday midday service is being restored, which is way better than what we have now. Rush hour trips see time changes, too. That variant to the Cambridge District Court is being eliminated. Finally, the last trip on Saturdays is being pushed up by 5 minutes.

136/137: A few minor trip shifts on weekdays. The page says that the 7:25 PM inbound trip is being eliminated, but…uh, nope, it’s just being pushed to 7:27. Hmm.

325/326: Some small time shifts in the evening rush.

350: The once-a-day school trip in each direction to Arlington Center has been canned.

411: So I thought that the elimination of rush hour service past Kennedy Drive would make for more frequent peak service there, but it really affects evening service more. Buses will run about every 20-30 minutes there after 6 PM, while headways during the day have risen to about 70 minutes instead of 65. There’s also an annoying scheduled bunch heading inbound at around 6, thanks to the Jack Satter House variant being way longer than the short-turn to Kennedy Drive. I dunno, it’s nice that Kennedy Drive gets better weekday evening service, but it doesn’t seem like the time that it most needs it…

424: The 424 to Haymarket is no more, which is fantastic as far as resource allocation goes. Plus, they can now run six evening rush trips instead of four!

426: A few evening rush Haymarket trips have become Wonderland trips, allowing for more frequent peak-direction service during that time. Weekend service is slightly more frequent as well, squeezing as much as they can out of the limited resources they have. It’s not much, but it results in one extra trip on Saturdays and Sundays.

428: The 428 won’t go to Wakefield High School anymore, terminating at Oaklandvale proper instead. The effect this has on schedule times is marginal, but look out for some shifts in the morning.

429: The 429 currently has a two-hour gap during the evening rush, but that’s now being patched with a few new trips. Weekends see some time shifts, and you know what that means: the clean, even headways have gotten a lot more messy!

430: The 5:25 PM inbound Saturday trip will leave at 5:20.

435: The Pine Hill variant is being eliminated, which really serves to simplify the route and not much else. There are a lot of time shifts (on weekends, too), but other than that, the only new addition seems to be an outbound morning rush trip to Danvers Square.

436: Some weekday time shifts and a new starting point for an afternoon school trip.

439: The 6:52 PM inbound trip will leave eleven minutes earlier and go all the way to Wonderland. Also, the route now shares a schedule card with the 441/442! I’m gonna miss the 439’s anemic schedule being given its own card.

441/442/448/449: Firstly and most importantly, the 448 and 449 are being eliminated to provide better service on the 441/442. Also, the 441/442 rush hour short-turn point has been moved up to New Ocean @ Eastern Ave, which I’m honestly not in favor of – Central Square is where most people are going. Weekend service is mostly the same with some time shifts and an even more inconsistent Sunday schedule. Weekday middays are also all over the place, losing the half-hourly headways in favor of all-over-the-place headways. So honestly, the only place that sees improvement is rush hour, although it is very good: buses will be super frequent from Lynn, about every 7-12 minutes.

450: Phew, headways are actually streamlined for once: weekday midday service will be a clean every 80 minutes. The evening rush unfortunately loses a trip, though, while on weekends, headways get crazy but at least Saturdays gain a trip.

451: A couple of time shifts.

455/459: Ooh, this is a good one. The 459 is being eliminated, which allows for much better 455 service on weekdays. The headways need streamlining badly (midday service will be anywhere from every 20-40 minutes, and the evening rush is all over the place – every 24-56 minutes), but they are a lot better. Weekends get crazier, too, and there’s some stretching on Sundays that leads to the loss of a trip. The big winner here is midday, and the morning rush comes out well with a bus every 10-25 minutes, but the evening rush is still super empty. Hopefully this whole route gets patched up later.

456: Some time shifts.

465: A time shift, but a major one: the 8:10 AM inbound trip will leave a full 20 minutes earlier!

501/502/503/504: Ah, the big Newton Corner express bus realignment. This is good: in order to keep the 502/504 from having to loop around in the outbound direction, the routes serving Newton Corner in the peak direction will be the ones that don’t have to loop, i.e. 502/504 in the morning inbound and 501/503 in the evening outbound. This leads to time shifts across the board. The 503 loses a morning rush trip, but the 502 gains one. 504 midday service gets crazier, but no trips are lost.

Okay! I think this round of changes has been the most positive one I’ve ever done! There are still a lot of rough ones, particularly crazier headways and stretching, but there’s a lot of good stuff, too. I mean, the 15 alone made it worth it, but most of the Better Bus changes were good ones as well, not to mention the positives that weren’t considered part of the program. I’ve been seeing a lot of people online complaining that the Better Bus Project is only eliminating routes and nothing else, but the truth of the matter is that without additional resources, the only way to increase service is to cut it elsewhere. Frankly, I think the MBTA did a great job given that their funding has, as far as I know, remained the same, and I’m super excited to see what they come up with in the winter.

18 (Fox Chase to Cedarbrook Plaza)

Welcome to SEPTA’s busiest bus route, the 18! And I know what you might be thinking: “You stupid hack-fraud idiot, the busiest route is the 23! Duh!” But oh no, my dear detractor: because the 23 was split in two, the 18 now gets more daily riders! Let’s take a full trip on it and see if it truly deserves to be the new king of the SEPTA bus network.

A bus basking in the sunset at Fox Chase.

It’s interesting for SEPTA’s busiest route to be shaped like a big U (with some squiggles on one end, but we’ll get to that) that doesn’t go anywhere near Center City. A crosstown service, it begins at Fox Chase, runs down to Olney Ave, goes straight across, and then makes its way back north to Cedarbrook Plaza. My friend and I began at the Fox Chase Loop, which is exclusive to the 18; from there, we headed down Oxford Ave, quickly leaving the pedestrian-oriented businesses around the train station for more suburban affairs with parking lots.

Hurry up!

We had to wait for a train to pass at an oddly-shaped level crossing with the Fox Chase Line, which bizarrely gets a bus stop, too. Oxford Ave was then sandwiched between the train track and people’s backyards without even a sidewalk, but we soon reentered civilization and got that basic amenity back. The neighborhood was mostly duplex houses, but a few businesses were around, too.

The busy intersection with Cottman Ave.

Cottman Ave was a major intersection dominated by a monument and the bright lights of Chuck’s Alibi, a seafood restaurant, with other businesses too. We merged onto Rising Sun Ave here, which was a major commercial street, playing host to a ton of different shops in one- and two-story buildings. There were a few residential blocks, too, with housing stock ranging from narrow single-family houses to big apartment developments.

A flashy auto shop.

We passed the Knorr Street Loop, which still has old trolley tracks in it, but is only used by a few late-night and early-morning 18 trips. The constant businesses along Rising Sun continued as we kept gaining riders, some going for short distances and others staying on. We went by a park that took up multiple city blocks, and within it was a recreation center and a library.

That is a…narrow intersection.

Aside from a few churches and a school, it was all commercial along the road until Adams Ave – here, we got to see a small shopping plaza, a large shopping plaza, and an even larger factory. We travelled through the woods for a bit as Rising Sun Ave crossed Tacony Creek, and on the other side, we made a right onto Olney Ave. The street passed some rowhouses and a school before crossing over the Fox Chase Line and going by a long, skinny shopping center.

Rising Sun Plaza.

Olney Ave became mostly residential after that one shopping center, lined with rowhouses and duplexes all with slightly different looks. The businesses mostly showed up at major intersections, particularly at the retail powerhouse of 5th Street. The road went under the SEPTA Main Line, which had a park next to it, and we passed more rowhouses and parking lots for Einstein Medical Center.

A very…apocalyptic 5th Street. That sky is terrifying!

Olney Transportation Center at Broad Street was of course a major stop, with nearly everyone on the bus getting off and new people getting on. There are no fewer than three schools around here, plus LaSalle University, so this part of the route gets super busy at around 3 PM. We went by those schools after crossing Broad Street, as well as a park and some more houses.

Whoa…LaSalle sure knows how to dramatically light up a building!

LaSalle had a decently large footprint, with college-related buildings for at least a few blocks. A shopping plaza was the last place before the road became dominated again by regular ol’ rowhouses (and became Chew Ave). Neighborhood-oriented businesses popped up sometimes, too. We went by the fringes of the giant and beautiful Awbury Arboretum, and Washington Lane Station on the Chestnut Hill East Line soon followed.

Near Chelten Ave.

A small park and a small school came between the rowhouses that followed, and then…then it was time for the squiggly part of the route I mentioned earlier. It all started when we bizarrely turned onto Phil Ellena Street, an incredibly local residential road with a big median in the middle. We took that up to the end and then did some tight turns onto Vernon Road, passing the Chestnut Hill East Line’s Stenton Station.

Another bus hiding behind a bush in the median.

Vernon Road changed massively on the other side of the train tracks, turning to a leafy neighborhood with big stone houses. This was brief – it got denser again when we took a right onto Stenton Ave. Then a left onto Upsal Street. Then a left onto Thouron Street. Then a right onto Pleasant Street. Then a left onto Michener Ave. Do you see why I hate this part of the route???

Hi, scarecrows!

But it somehow gets worse. You know how SEPTA loves to have as many complicated variants as possible? Well…during the evening rush, every bus that originates at Fox Chase terminates at the intersection of Wadsworth and Michener. The only ones that run all the way to Cedarbrook Plaza begin at Olney and travel via the “express” routing, which is just a more direct route with limited stops until it rejoins the locals at Stenton and Upsal. So my friend and I had to leave the bus and wait for one of those “express” runs in order to complete the route.

Well…shoot.

The express trip came soon, luckily, because the 18 runs every two seconds at rush hour, and it allowed us to continue on the ridiculously roundabout route we had already begun. We took a right on Roumfort Road, a right onto Cheltenham Ave, and finally did a drawn-out deviation within Cedarbrook Plaza in order to get to the final stop. Bear in mind that all of those twists and turns were in local residential neighborhoods, too – Cedarbrook Plaza was the first business we had seen in quite a while. And in order to get back, we would have to do all those squiggles again, since none of the more direct routes that serve the plaza were coming anytime soon.

Oooh, this is a neat view.

Route: 18 (Fox Chase to Cedarbrook Plaza)

Ridership: Well, like I’ve said already and will say many times more, it’s SEPTA’s busiest route! That turns out to equal a whopping 16,927 riders per weekday, although what does that mean on a trip-by-trip basis? My ride (the long one from Fox Chase to Wadsworth-Michener) got 56 people, which sounds like a lot, but…it was the evening rush, and we were on for a full hour. Hmmm. And what about the route’s load profile? Looks like the busiest any single trip gets is 60 people at one time. On an articulated bus. Meaning, like, a few standees. And that exceptionally busy trip is an outlier, with the vast majority getting a max of 50 people or lower. Again…hmmm.

Pros: This route is like…a giant butterfly, spreading out its wings from Olney Transportation Center to capture riders from both sides of Broad Street and bring them onto the Subway. Free transfers would make that goal easier, of course, but a ton of people still do it. The parts of the route that are straight are really good, and ridership is super high as a result. The route is also finally achieving “15 minutes MAX” status with the upcoming schedule change, with a brief every-17-minute stretch around 8 o’clock getting ironed out to be every 15 (wouldn’t it have been sad if SEPTA’s busiest route wasn’t a 15 minutes MAX service?). Indeed, the route as a whole is very frequent, with service every 15 minutes or better at most times on weekdays and Saturdays.

Cons: As usual, Sundays is where things fall apart to a degree. Every 20 minutes at best? Really? SEPTA’s busiest route should not run every 20 minutes! Also, weekdays have an insane amount of variants, from express runs to various short-turns to a single trip that ends at Rising Sun and Cottman Aves, which is apparently worth giving it its own timepoint on the schedule that’s entirely blank aside from that one trip. SEPTA’s busiest route should not be so complicated! And finally, we have that insane routing on the western side. I know it’s “serving” more by twisting around through the neighborhood, but this is simply not how good transit is run. SEPTA’s busiest route should not be so squiggly!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I think I linked most of the places that looked noteworthy in the post already, with one exception: the Skyline Restaurant. I don’t know why I zeroed in on this place (maybe it’s my love of skylines), but this diner near Chew and Chelten looks fantastic. It’s super homely, and the menu is very very cheap. I hope I can give it a try someday!

Final Verdict: 5/10
The 18 simply does not rise up to its status of being SEPTA’s busiest route. It’s not frequent at all times, it’s overly complicated, and the routing is all over the place. I seriously think, though, that straightening out the western portion can allow for all of the other puzzle pieces of a good transit route to slot into place. Check this out:

Yes, you’re obviously not serving everything by going straight down Vernon Road. For most of it, though, the straightened routing is less than a five-minute walk from its current path, aside from the part that goes further out near the end that is better covered by the H, an admittedly less frequent service. But if these sacrifices are made, running times can be shortened, which allows not only more service hours to play with (more on that in a sec), but also more reliable service. The 18’s on-time performance is a mediocre 79% at the moment, but that could be because it’s sometimes scheduled to take a shorter amount of time than Google’s driving directions! My updated running times make sure that never happens.

But yes, shorter running times also mean more spare service hours. What does that mean? Well, for starters, we can fix the Sunday service and have it be at least every 15 minutes. Awesome. Then let’s add owl service to the 18! Right now it runs from about 1:40 AM to 3:10 AM, which is such a small gap – why not throw in an hourly night service to make the route 24/7, since it’s so close already? Now, these might sound like fairly intensive changes given that we’re only shortening the run time a little bit, but I also propose cutting back on rush hour service. Not a lot, but the route is less productive at rush hour, with about ten boardings per service hour fewer than middays. My evening rush trip was not busy at all, not to mention there’s the underwhelming load profile data. The route is every 4-5 minutes at rush hour at the moment – cutting it back to every 6-7 will free up a lot of time, and it shouldn’t have that big of an effect on crowding. It would be nice to get rid of all the variants while we’re at it, but cutting the express services which save about ten minutes over the locals could be a hard sell.

Honestly, though, straightening up the routing on the western end alone allows for so many positive changes to be made for SEPTA’s busiest bus. This is clearly a ridership-oriented route, but that western part is trying as hard as it can to cover as much as possible. People just don’t want to travel in squiggles! I was also originally gonna make a full schedule for the new service, but, er, I have to pack for college. Maybe someday I’ll finish it. Heading back to Philly tomorrow!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Wollaston

There have been too many openings this week! First the new Orange Line cars, and now, after a year and a half of Yankee shuttles, Wollaston has finally reopened. If you don’t feel like reading the whole post, I’ll just say that it’s a great station and a huge improvement over the old one. For those who want more information, read on!

Interesting placement for the only newspaper boxes in the station.

Throughout the MBTA’s cannibalization of the South Shore parking lots, Wollaston has always remained open. But because you can now get a train from here instead of having to ride a coach bus shuttle, the T has raised the rates – a fairly reasonable $6 a day, with a $3 discounted rate on weekends and a $105 monthly pass. The lot has a hefty 403 spaces, with good sidewalks and foliage throughout. The access road interestingly features a bike lane that even loops around the drop-off area, perfect for dropping off your tandem bicycle friend!

Looks like this isn’t quite ready.

Or if you’re like most normal people, you’ll probably be parking your bike. Like the old station, the new Wollaston features a Pedal & Park with plenty of space for cycles (100 spots), but it’s not open yet. The “Tap Charlie Card [sic] here” sign just points to nothing at the moment! A few people just parked their bikes next to the chain-link fence surrounding the facility. Once it opens up, you’ll be able to park in there for up to 14 days at a time!

The drop-off area, which appears to be being used!

The drop-off area is super well-stocked with benches. There are a few sheltered ones and a few out in the open, but it seems like you’ll generally have a place to sit while you’re waiting to be picked up. The station entrances from here use fancy automatic sliding doors!

The Newport Ave entrance.

While the parking lot side of the station feels pretty suburban, the Newport Ave entrance is right next to a block of businesses. The doors were propped open when I was here, but there was a door-open button in case they end up closed. There was a ramp here for accessibility, but they’re on a side of the entrance that’s currently useless thanks to the roadwork on Newport Ave, which requires you to head back to the inaccessible side to get anywhere. At least it seems like they’ve tried to flood-proof the area more than the old station…thank goodness.

The 211 passing a stop that’s only signed for the 217…

Oh, but Wollaston has bus connections over here! Yes, you can connect to the rather infrequent 211, and the practically nonexistent 217. For such limited connections, I guess I would expect the stops to be less-than-great, but they really are bad. Getting to them requires walking a few blocks down Newport Ave, which goes up a hill, and both of the stops are signs. One of them only announces the Wollaston Shuttle (which was just a sticker over the usual “no parking” bus stop sign), while the other only has the 217. Yikes.

Oh, this is beautiful!

But back to the good stuff. Both of the entrances lead into Wollaston’s huge mezzanine, which runs underneath the elevated Red Line platform. The number of faregates is impressive, and four fare machines is suitable, especially when there’s a second set of them that we’ll get to. This is big and spacious, easily capable of handling rush hour traffic. It also has plenty of drainage in case of flooding. There is one minor design flaw, though…

Don’t get any ideas.

So, there’s just this random exit door in the middle of one of the fare lines. It’s nice for emergencies, of course, but…it’s just this weird door that connects to nothing. It’s not high enough to touch the ceiling, and it’s not wide enough to touch the faregates. It kinda feels like it came from the Monsters Inc door factory or something. And of course, if you’re skinny enough, you can in fact slip through. Might want to do something about that.

Another view of the mezzanine from within fare control. Why is that one faregate just open? Also, they kept the original plaque from the old station!

This main mezzanine is by far the most efficient way to get to the train. Since it’s right under the platform, you can go straight up there from either of the entrances. Note, though, that only one of them has an elevator, and the other is just stairs – it could be a good idea to have signage reflecting that. All of the elevators at Wollaston are glass and fast and beautiful!

The other mezzanine, also seen from within fare control.

The second mezzanine is right by the parking lot entrance and it’s a lot smaller…as it should be, which we’ll discuss soon. This is where the station’s customer service booth is, cleverly placed between fare control and the outside world. Unfortunately, accessing it from outside of fare control requires climbing a set of stairs. Someone in a wheelchair could maybe tap on the window from the ramp that wraps around the booth, but hopefully whichever agent occupies it is willing to get up and help if that situation comes up.

Oooh!

Once you enter the station at this mezzanine, you get a couple of extra goodies under the stairs. Firstly (and just barely visible in the photo above) is a water fountain, and I was so happy to see it. Not only is it a water fountain in a T station, but it’s a bottle-filling water fountain in a T station! And it had already dispensed the equivalent of 91 plastic bottles! The water pressure was high, making it hard to drink from, but still – there are not enough water fountains on the T. This was amazing to see.

The inevitable bathroom photo.

And we also have bathrooms here! It’s a single stall each for men and women, but be careful: they don’t lock. Use them at your own risk, or bring a friend to keep watch. While the bathrooms were fairly clean, a bit of strange liquid on the floor and the paper towel dispensers having their contents on top of them instead of inside made me think that their quality will degrade quickly. The women’s room had a dispenser for feminine products, but it was empty and probably will remain empty the vast majority of the time (also, I should note that this reporting came from my female friend, not me – my station sleuthing isn’t that crazy).

It’s a bit of a detour to go this way.

But why did I call this mezzanine inferior to the other one? Because it’s so much more annoying to get to the train this way! You have to climb stairs or ride the elevator (or use an escalator – the only ones in the station are here) up to a bridge, cross the inbound track, and go down again to get to the platform. I think people will very quickly realize that this is a much longer path, and it’ll end up being much less used than the other one. Still, it does provide redundant elevators to the main one, and I think that’s a big reason why they built this bridge in the first place.

The platform.

Wollaston’s platform is just gorgeous. It’s super bright when it’s dark outside thanks to the piercing LED lights, and there’s always plenty of space to wait. Plenty of seating space is offered, from an enclosed waiting area at one end of the platform to benches perched underneath the almost entirely sheltered platform. A currently-unused inspector’s booth sits near the south end. Sure, there are a few signage quirks, like some bugs on the LED screens that are being worked out, a single MBTA map with more faded colors than all the others, and bus connections maps that don’t show the 211’s alternate routing on Sundays that doesn’t actually serve Wollaston (that’s also being fixed), but aside from those small things, this platform is near-flawless.

The first train ever to serve the new station!
The first Commuter Rail train to blaze by the new station, with a Red Line train coming in to stop.
This is a cool view.
The building…beautiful.

Station: Wollaston

Ridership: I’m sure it’ll go up now that the shuttle’s gone! When last we checked in with our good pal Wolly, it was one of the lower-ridership stops on the T and among the lowest on the Red Line, with 4,624 daily riders. That was back in 2013, though – I’m sure a lot has changed in six years, and the newness of the station could draw in new people. I don’t think it’ll ever be more than a local neighborhood stop, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pros: Oh man, where to start? The beautiful building? The spacious platforms with lots of amenities? The spotless mezzanine that flows fantastically? The bottle-filling water fountain? There is so much to love here!

Cons: All small complaints: a few passenger information bugs, the inaccessible-outside-of-fare-control CSA booth, the bad bus stops, and (of course) the bathrooms’ inability to lock. I’m also not a fan of that bridge since it’s a way longer route than the main way, but it does exist for a reason, so I can’t be too upset about it. If the main elevator breaks down, people can still use the bridge ones.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a huge Asian community around Wollaston, so you can expect to find a lot of great restaurants around here. There are a few on Newport Ave, but the “downtown” for Wollaston is up Beale Ave a little bit. There’s a ton of stuff to eat there, and from many different parts of Asia. Also, shout-out to the original “Nearby and Noteworthy” section from the original review, where all I said was “The beach, I suppose.” This blog has come a long way, folks.

Final Verdict: 9/10
I really didn’t like the old station – it got a 3, and I stand by that. It was ugly, it wasn’t accessible, and it encompassed some of the worst aspects of brutalism. But this new one? This is awesome. I mean, we’ll have to see how it fares during a heavy rain, but I love this place. I know it has flaws, but I also tend to be a lot more scrutinizing with brand new stations – the pros WAY outweigh the cons here. And now the Red Line is fully accessible! Oh wait…the elevators at Central and Andrew are both out of service for long-term repairs. Wellll…we’re getting there. This station is still fantastic.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

New MBTA Orange Line Cars!

They’re here. They’re in service. Yes, they’re delayed by who knows how many months, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about! I took the inaugural ride on these new trains, taking photos and many pedantic notes, and now it’s time to present my findings. How do these newcomers stack up to their almost-40-year-old cousins?

But first we have to listen to politicians talk.

Because I’m interning for the MBTA this summer, I was able to get into Wellington Carhouse for the pre-train festivities. They had a few two-car trains lined up, and the audience was mostly workers and representatives from the T, the state, and CRRC, the company making the vehicles. And as he was making his rounds, I was able to lock eyes with the governor. Wow!

Charlie Baker speech-ing.

But the starry-eyed delight wouldn’t last long. Not to get too much into politics here, but the fact that the governor didn’t actually ride the train was super disappointing. I also couldn’t hear anyone’s speeches – their audio was only meant for the press, so there were no speakers. I can only hope that they said good things.

Passengers waiting at Wellington.

Once the speeches were done, everyone started mobilizing. I headed back to the Wellington platform, which by this point was packed with railfans. The new car was waiting just before the station in the yard, and once it started moving, there was a rush to grab pictures. “Stand behind the yellow line, stand behind the yellow line!” yelled out MBTA employees in vain.

I tried my best.

The wide doors opened, and everyone stepped in. The first thing I noticed was how spacious it felt inside. I don’t know what it was, but the wide doors combined with more space for wheelchairs combined with who knows what else made it feel like there was a ton of room. This was a super positive first impression. Then I noticed the beeping…

Later on in the ride, but my best shot of the interior.

We need to talk about the door chimes. When they first open up (which is a long process, because unlike the older trains, they open slowly), there are a few “ding-dongs” to announce it. Then…beeping. Over and over again. And I know it’s meant for blind and visually impaired people, so the annoying beeping has a point. But that’s no excuse for the door-closing chime: the beeps get faster. That’s it. First of all, that prolongs the already incessant beeping, and second, it’s not a good enough warning that the doors are closing. I saw the doors close in several people’s faces just because they had no idea they were shutting!

Moving on to passenger information.

It was amazing being on an Orange Line train that had automatic announcements, and they sounded really good. The T continued its trend of having no two lines’ announcements be phrased the same, such as saying “Approaching: [station]” instead of “entering” like everywhere else. Announcements also include on which side of the train the doors will be opening, and any connections (except bus connections, the existence of which is never announced). The operator speakers did seem a little faint, though.

Uh-oh, that “g” needs a little more space!

Frankly, I’m not a fan of how the LED screens are handled. They’re nice and big, but they scroll soooooooo slowly. So slowly, in fact, that the “approaching” message often disappears before it can finish because the train has already gotten to the station! Plus, two screens on every car are cut off on the bottom, and one is always cut off on the top. It looked like the screens go beyond the frames around them, so they’ll have to make the font smaller to get everything to fit. It would be great if they could scroll faster, too, or even just not scroll at all and have static messages like on the Red Line.

Oooh, this is nice!

A new addition to these cars, and to the MBTA in general, are the LCD screens that show connections at each station. They’re slightly squashed, but that’s such a minor complaint – it’s fantastic to see all the bus and rail connections on here. Sure, it would be nice to see the next departures for each route, but I don’t think that’s a possibility on the signs at the moment. Unfortunately, there was also a number of inconsistencies between the LCD screens, the LED screens, and the announcements, but we’ll get to those later.

This button on certain cars opens up a platform extender for those in wheelchairs. Really awesome!

So the doors closed, and we were able to pull out right away, since the breaks don’t take twelve years to release. The acceleration seems like it can be really good, because we pulled out super quickly, but it was a little more standard on the rest of the trip – maybe the operator didn’t want to screw anything up, it being the first revenue trip. The ride quality didn’t feel too different, but when I rode an old Orange Line car later on, it felt worse in comparison. Overall, it makes for a slightly more enjoyable ride.

These ads are fantastic!

The seats were hard plastic, but overall pretty comfortable. Each car has several fold-up seats to accommodate more wheelchair space beyond the default one – they come in sets of three, and they each fold up individually. People tended not to sit in them, but that might not be the worst thing. Folded up seats mean more standing room, and anyone who’s ridden the Orange Line at rush hour knows that it gets packed.

Don’t throw out your three squares, everyone!

There was an interesting problem when we got to Forest Hills. First of all, the train had to do the “doors will close and reopen” business, which was kind of annoying in itself given that other new T trains don’t have to, but then the door up front kept beeping! “This is that problem we’ve been having,” someone said as they opened up a panel to get the door unlocked. This actually seemed to happen at Oak Grove, too, again in the front car. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed in the future.

The crowd at Forest Hills.

There was one more interesting quirk as we were heading back up north. You know how the doors open on both sides at Sullivan and Wellington? On this train, they opened at the exact same time! Alas, it was probably because it had a second operator, but for that brief moment, it was magical. Less magical was the fact that the individual beeps for each door were out of sync! It was so annoying, and made it even harder to tell which one was closing (if it even was closing).

Bad headway, but those will hopefully be improved as these trains continue to be rolled out!

As an overall verdict, I am so happy that these trains are here. I can’t wait to see Orange Line headways get better and better as more of them enter service. However, there’s no ignoring the fact that they’re not perfect. The ride quality didn’t feel markedly better, especially when compared to the super-smooth Blue Line trains (maybe the track’s better on that line?); the door problem that happened twice felt like a real concern; and the constant beeping will haunt my nightmares. Still, consider my verdict on these trains to be an overall positive one. They have more capacity, they have the ability to accelerate a lot faster, and the accessibility improvements are fantastic. That being said, enjoy my bulleted list of every passenger information glitch I could find!

  • The northbound announcements were different between Sullivan and Wellington: “The doors will open on both sides of the train” was Sullivan’s line, while Wellington got “The doors will open on both sides.”
  • Super pedantic, but it would be nice if the transfer to the Green Line at Downtown Crossing mentioned the Winter Street Concourse in some form, especially since they have it come last – even after the Silver Line.
  • The “approaching Tufts” announcement going southbound didn’t play until we stopped there.
  • On the southbound trip, Back Bay was not announced – Mass Ave was announced twice.
  • Back Bay was announced on the northbound, but the announcement and LCD screen listed the Commuter Rail lines in different orders. The announcement had it more correct (east to west), so perhaps the screen was ordered the way it was for space reasons?
  • There seems to be an inconsistency with Mass Ave, with some announcements saying “Massachusetts Avenue”, and others saying “Massachusetts Ave” (which is kind of blasphemous to begin with – it’s either Massachusetts Avenue or Mass Ave, no exceptions!).
  • Why is every Commuter Rail line announced except at North Station? It has the same number of lines as Back Bay! They just say “Commuter Rail lines” at North Station.
  • Also regarding Commuter Rail announcements, it’s a little odd that every line with branches is considered two, with the most egregious example being “Providence Line, Stoughton Line.”
  • At Forest Hills, the middle screen didn’t show anything.
  • Some of the listed bus connections were for variants of routes that only happen a few times a day, and at times where you wouldn’t be connecting from the Orange Line (e.g. the 15 at Tufts), but this will probably be changed soon.
I hope to see you again soon!

8 (Olney Transportation Center to Frankford Transportation Center)

Long before the limited-stop Boulevard Direct, which offered frequent service, specially branded 60-foot buses, and upgraded stops was created, there was the 8. Running between two of the biggest transportation centers on SEPTA with limited stops in between, this route offers infrequent weekday-only service, normal 40-foot buses, and mostly unsheltered stops. Okay, not the best start, but maybe it can recover…

Oooh, “EXPRESS”!

We already had a decent ridership showing from Frankford, with the vast majority of riders being students. Running down Pratt Street, it was mostly rowhouses, aside from a few businesses and a church at the intersection with Oxford Ave. We soon turned onto Roosevelt Boulevard, having made a total of three stops, including Frankford – not bad at all!

It’s carmageddon on Roosevelt Boulevard.

The stops during the route’s trafficky portion on Roosevelt Boulevard were even further apart, with just three of them along the 1.6 mile stretch. Two were at the streets where the bus turns on and off the road, while the middle one was at the only non-residential area on the segment, serving Northeast Tower Center and Friends Hospital. Once we turned onto C Street, we were on a much narrower road (well, Roosevelt sets a low bar) that turned and became Fisher Street when it crossed the retail thoroughfare of Rising Sun Ave.

The sun was actually setting when I rode the route, but we’ll let it slide.

Going through a neighborhood of semi-detached houses, we used Front Street to get onto Tabor Road. Despite the fact that the 8 is limited-stop, it’s actually the only service that runs on this part of Tabor. It does stop a little more frequently along here, about every two blocks…otherwise known as the frequency at which every SEPTA route should stop! “Express”? More like “normal stop spacing.”

A nice residential side street.

It didn’t seem like Tabor Road generated much demand on its own – sure, it had dense rowhouses, but most of the side streets were cut off by the Fox Chase Line to the south, while the road ran in a diagonal getting closer and closer to Olney Ave. Other points of interest included the Fox Chase Line’s Olney Station and a few businesses on and around 5th Street. The road got industrial as it went under the SEPTA Main Line, although some of that would-be wasteland was occupied by a church.

Electrical stuff and then, in the background…church! That’s really cool!

Tabor Road was a block away from Olney Ave at this point, and instead of taking advantage of the parallel service to make more limited stops, they only got closer together. We passed an apartment building and then the huge Einstein Medical Center complex, with all of its associated parking spilling out over multiple blocks. Finally, we turned onto a weird busway next to Broad Street that was exclusively for the 8, ending our trip at Olney Transportation Center.

Lots of students heading back toward Frankford!

Route: 8 (Olney Transportation Center to Frankford Transportation Center)

Ridership: Given its infrequent schedule, it’s not a huge surprise that the 8’s total ridership is low, at about 2,650 riders per weekday. That being said, it’s a short route with not a ton of trips, and that ends up making for great productivity. I mean, the route ranks 70th for ridership, but 35th for fare recovery ratio, and that’s with most of the riders being students whose fares are subsidized by their schools! Speaking of which, this route seems to cater extremely heavily to students, which is most apparent when you compare its summer schedule to its school day schedule. A few passengers actually rode from beginning to end, which is rare for a SEPTA route.

Pros: L-I-M-I-T-E-D S-T-O-P-S!!!! And while they’re only truly limited on the eastern half of the route, even the western half’s stops are placed at a normal distance apart. That makes this route part of a very exclusive SEPTA club where I actually praise the stop spacing instead of criticize it. It’s also a fairly logical routing, creating a one-seat ride between two of SEPTA’s busiest stations. The 8 is insanely frequent at rush hour, at least when school is in session, running every 5-6 minutes in the morning and every 10-15 in the evening.

Cons: The rest of the schedule is lacking. If midday service is only going to be every half hour, with no night or weekend service, is it even worth running the route then? And summer service only runs every 20 minutes during the rush! It absolutely has its place during school times, but I wonder if the resources at other times would be better spent pumping up service onto the R (which would ideally be “limited stops” too). It would still form a crosstown, just requiring a transfer to the Broad Street Line to get up to Olney. Daily reminder that SEPTA needs free transfers, by the way!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Most of the businesses served by the 8 are local convenience stores that serve the neighborhood around them. The most interesting spot seems to be 5th Street, which has a great library and a highly-rated Portuguese restaurant nearby.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 8 is essentially a school bus, and in that sense, it accomplishes what it’s trying to do. I can’t praise its limited stops enough, even if the western half is just regular bus stop spacing. However, although I don’t know the ridership on a trip-by-trip basis, I would wager a guess that midday service is a lot less used, given the lower frequency. If the route were run only at rush hour, the midday resources could be used to increase the R’s frequency, which is a much busier route during those times. (EDIT: I totally forgot about SEPTA’s load profiles when writing this – the one for the 8 basically confirms that ridership is super high at school times and only decent outside of that.)

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Seaport/North Station Ferry

Um, what? Has anyone else heard of this? I only discovered it by reading a recent CTPS report that gave it a passing reference on page 28. It said that the “Massachusetts Convention Center Authority” contracted Bay State Cruises to lease a few boats from New York and run a ferry from North Station to the Seaport District as a one-year pilot, generally meant for Seaport employees but open to the public by advance reservation only. Also apparently it’s been running since January?? Well, I was seeing a movie in the Seaport District the next day, so needless to say, I made a quick decision to take the scenic route there.

Signage, I guess?

The ferry leaves every 20 minutes from each pier during weekday peak periods. Despite the relatively frequent service, you still have to buy a ticket for an individual trip in advance. I picked the 5:40, but having to choose an individual trip makes the service lose what should be a “turn up and go” mentality, at least for the public – participating employees ride for free, and can presumably board any boat. The tickets are “$4” each, but there’s a $1 purchase fee, so it’s basically $5. At least I bought for me and my friend, so we were able to save a dollar by doing two tickets in a single purchase.

Oh…shoot. There it goes.

So…the Orange Line tends to be really infrequent at rush hour. And leave people behind. And if that, say, happens to you, then you might end up missing the 5:40 boat that you specifically bought a ticket for. But it’s not entirely my fault! To “track” its two boats, the ferry website links to each of them on vesselfinder.com, which doesn’t seem to update very often – it showed the boat down at the Seaport District and I assumed it was late, so we took our time getting to the dock. It was just pulling away when we arrived, having left right on time. Maybe the 49 Euros (?) per year Premium upgrade on VesselFinder gives you more frequent tracking updates. Because every transit service should require a fee to get good predictions for its vehicles!

I didn’t know about this ferry, but clearly a lot of other people do!

Lovejoy Wharf was surprisingly easy to get to, although there’s no signage from directly within North Station. I know the MBTA used to run ferries here (one to the Seaport, coincidentally enough! The old system looks very confusing), but the wharf’s current incarnation is very new, not showing up in Google Street View images as recently as last October. It’s super basic, with just a few ramps – if there’s any kind of unsatisfactory weather, this will not be a pleasant place to wait at.

Inside the boat.

When the Moira Smith showed up and started dumping out all of its passengers coming from the Seaport, I was worried that the crew wouldn’t let us on, since we had tickets for the 5:40. “I’ll check your tickets on board,” the attendant said as we stepped on. As we settled down in the rather nice boat interior, the ferry took off at 6:00 on the nose. At least now if our tickets didn’t work, they wouldn’t be able to kick us off?

The view of the super developed North Station area.

Luckily we wouldn’t have to worry. The attendant scanned our tickets, no problem. The boat sailed under the North Washington Street Bridge, and we made our way around the edge of the North End. The Financial District came closer into view while on the other side, we could see planes taxiing at Logan Airport.

A sailboat, the MBTA Charlestown Ferry, and the other Seaport/North Station Ferry walk into a bar.

We steered clear from the normal Downtown Boston wharves, though, moving toward the squat, stubby buildings of the Seaport District. After going by some people nonchalantly sitting on the side of their sailboat that was tipped at a 45 degree angle, we pulled around into the little basin next to the ICA. The boat docked at a weird diagonal pier jutting out into the water.

The pier at the Seaport.

While Lovejoy Wharf had been lax about fares, it was much more official down here. A sign proclaimed that you must show your ticket to board, and ferry officials were standing at the entrance making sure everyone had paid. Of course, this was the peak direction, and most of the people getting on were employees who just flashed smartphone tickets. Perhaps the fare officials go to Lovejoy Wharf in the morning?

Oh no!

Fan Pier, the Seaport stop, didn’t have a lot to it. It featured a little more than Lovejoy, since at least there was a shelter at the end of the pier, so people can stand under that in inclement weather (no benches). An A-frame sign would’ve provided much better navigation than the signage at Lovejoy, had it not been on the ground with “Ferry to Seaport” up instead of “Ferry to North Station.” I propped it up so it was pointing to the right place. Yay!

The length of Fan Pier.

Route: Seaport/North Station Ferry

Ridership: Two very different camps: going toward North Station, it was lots of people coming from work and flashing their passes; the other way was super light (four people on my ride) and more casual, with a group of three women buying their tickets right on the boat. This article from March has more specific ridership information, saying that most peak-direction boats get 50-75 riders, adding up to 650 a day in the ferry’s first month of service. Each boat carries 100 people, with 85 slots for employees and 15 for the general public. Also, apparently the fares used to be $13 – eek!

Pros: These two boats are replacing twelve former shuttle buses, taking traffic off the road while still providing good service and almost certainly a faster ride. It takes about 17 minutes to go one way, where previously the only options were the traffic-ridden 4 (“this is a great bus” – not one of my better reviews), a convoluted three-seat subway ride, or flat-out walking. It’s entirely paid for by the companies, so obviously employees come first with their free rides, but the general public fare of $5 is not terrible – it’s on par with the half-hourly Encore ferry that I swear I’ll ride at some point, and cheaper than the $6, super infrequent Winthrop Ferry that’s been out of commission all summer. Plus, both of those only go to Long Wharf, while this is great for North Station Commuter Rail connections. It’s a nice ride on a decent boat, and it seems to run bang on-time.

Cons: So, the service is clearly great for employees, but what about the general public? Well, it only runs at rush hour, so if you’re using it for leisure travel, you’re probably only going to be able to take it one way. Being forced to buy in advance is a turn-off for those making spontaneous plans, and why should I have to pick a specific journey when it’s on a 20-minute headway? At least the attendant let us ride even though it wasn’t our ticketed trip! Best strategy if you have a smartphone is probably to wait to buy the ticket until you’re at the dock, since it’s unlikely the public slots will fill up on any given trip. Finally, there’s something that employees and the public alike can agree on: that tracker is horrible!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I’ve been inexplicably going to the Seaport with friends a lot this summer, which is bizarre to me because I thought of it as a wasteland a few years ago. Now it’s a fun place to be, with walkable streets, lots of (often expensive) restaurants, a bit of retail (which Boston needs more of), a decent luxury movie theater, and of course, the ICA. It gets packed at night, something that’s just exciting to experience in a not-very-nightlifey city. I consider most of the area to be too boujee for me, but I guess there’s something about it that keeps me coming back.

Final Verdict: 8/10
For the purpose these ferries have set out to serve, the service is amazing: free passes for employees, frequent service during the rush, and a quick, direct ride to North Station. They get let down by what’s provided for the public, forcing people to buy their tickets cash-free in advance and not having a great span of service for leisure travel. However, there understandably is much less of a market for North Station to Seaport travel outside of peak times, so I can’t get too upset about the downplaying of public usage. If you’re trying to get to the Seaport, the ferry is a fun option, but you’re probably going to end up on the Silver Line most of the time. And if you’re looking for a fun off-peak ferry ride, look no further than the fantastic Charlestown Ferry.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Merion

Merion is the true first stop on the Main Line. Overbrook? That’s not really the Main Line. It’s within the borders of Philadelphia, there are rowhouses within its walkshed, and it even has a few tall-ish buildings around it. Now compare that to Merion, which aside from one fancy apartment building (“Merion Manor”? C’mon.) is completely surrounded by big fancy houses. Now that’s the Main Line.

The building on the inbound side.

Merion’s inbound building was built in 1914, and it’s both beautiful and functional. It has long awnings on either side that give shelter to bike racks (accommodating about eight bikes if the space is used well), wastebaskets, newspaper boxes, and parking vending machines. I absolutely love the two little nooks it has that offer seating and train information, protecting riders from rain, sun, and wind since they’re tucked into the side of the building.

Well hey, it’s not easy to get a picture inside a closed building.

The building has more seating, bathrooms, a water fountain, and a ticket office inside, but of course it’s only open during the morning rush. There’s not a lot to write home about with the rest of Merion’s inbound platform – it’s pretty short, and there’s not much beyond the shelter of the building. The whole thing is low-level, so it’s not accessible, and it has those little steps that are meant to help people get onto the train more easily. A little path leads out to Idris Road.

The tunnel between the platforms.

A tunnel links the two platforms together, and it tends to be a dumping ground for leaves and rainwater. The outbound side is where most of the parking is, but there’s not a lot to begin with: 60 regular spaces ($1 a day), and 27 permit spaces on the inbound side for $25 a month, which is actually more expensive than just taking a regular space every day. I guess the extra cost comes with the convenience of getting a guaranteed spot. They’ve made sure to cram as many spaces into the tiny lot as possible, including a few isolated single ones in the middle.

The outbound platform.

Merion’s outbound platform is really nice, despite the fact that outbound traffic from here is probably very small. There’s a building on this side, too, but it’s occupied by the Merion post office. Still, it has long awnings that shelter benches, wastebaskets, and train information. One end of the platform has a little shed with blocked-out doors and windows, but there are two bike racks next to it.

Some freight cars were blocking the track closest to the platform, so we had to get off on the second track.

Station: Merion

Ridership: Third-lowest on the Paoli/Thorndale Line, and pretty dead on a Saturday. On the average weekday, the station gets 286 riders, with the residential surroundings ensuring that this one is very commuter-oriented.

Pros: The buildings are both gorgeous, and they serve functional purposes too, even when they’re closed (or occupied by a post office). It’s hard to beat the inbound side’s nooks with the benches in them, but the outbound building offers a ton of shelter, too. While the parking does fill up, it’s impressive that they managed to fit 87 spaces here to begin with!

Cons: Obviously the lack of wheelchair accessibility, but this is such a meaningless station that it’s not as big of a deal as with others. I’m sorry, but when SEPTA’s “alternate directions” here tell you to take a bus to Overbrook and walk, it’s kind of a sign that the station may be a little too close to its neighbor! Overbrook and Narberth, the neighboring stops, both get way higher ridership – Overbrook is in a denser area, and Narberth serves a town center. But little Merion is just in the middle of a residential neighborhood, a two-minute train ride from either of its neighbors. It serves a specialty crowd, to say the least.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Merion Botanical Park is a beautiful park right next to the station, and while it’s small, it’s a lovely place to sit down and reflect on whether Merion’s train station should exist or not. The true purpose for the Merion visit, though, and the reason my friend Jeff took me here, was to have lunch at Hymie’s in downtown Merion, a little under a mile away. While it’s easier and cheaper (although not necessarily faster, depending on Schuylkill Expressway conditions) to get there with the 44 bus, Hymie’s is an amazing Jewish deli with giant portions, and you should totally go there if you haven’t already.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I like this station a lot, but it’s hard to give something a high score when your main complaint is that it probably shouldn’t exist. I also recognize that there is absolutely no chance that this station will ever be eliminated, so as long as we’re stuck with it slowing down Paoli/Thorndale trains, we might as well acknowledge that it has a ton of character. Still, this feels like one of the only stops on the Main Line that doesn’t “have” anything around it – no downtown, no nearby college (Saint Joe’s is closer to Overbrook), no big park-and-ride…it really is just for the neighborhood. And I’m just not sure if it’s worth stopping almost every train on SEPTA’s busiest Regional Rail line for a station that “really is just for the neighborhood.”

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Service Change: Scotland, Part 1 – Edinburgh and Glasgow

Let’s talk about some Scottish transit! I took a bunch of pictures of all the stuff we rode, so I figured they shouldn’t go to waste. We begin with Scotland’s two largest cities and their respective transit systems…

Two trams at Edinburgh Airport.

There are two main ways of getting between Edinburgh Airport and the city center: the first is the Airlink bus, which we’ll discuss later, but because of total rail bias, we took the Edinburgh Trams (yes, plural, it’s weird) to the city upon our arrival. Well, actually, it wasn’t just rail bias – we bought Spirit of Scotland rail passes for £189, which give eight days of rail travel over fifteen days, and one of the services they cover is the tram. Might as well use one of our travel days to save £6 each! For what it’s worth, though, it’s only that expensive if you go to the airport – a ticket in the “City Zone” is just £1.70.

The inside of the tram.

You can tell they had airport passengers in mind when they designed the inside of the tram, in that there is a lot of luggage space. The trams also have Metro newspapers and clear automatic announcements. We only rode once, but there was constantly a ticket inspector on board, essentially acting as a conductor; he would walk his way through the car after every stop to check tickets. He didn’t like the fact that our Spirit of Scotland passes were on a smartphone, but he let us stay on anyway.

Basically just a big field!

The outer section of the tram is twisty and middle-of-nowhere. It curves its way through open fields, serving a park-and-ride and a huge bank, then it passes the tram depot and stops at Edinburgh Gateway (with a connection to commuter and intercity rail lines). There’s a stop for the huge Gyle Shopping Center, then it’s more fields and office parks.

Yeah, this pretty much exemplifies that.

The tram eventually parallels a rail line, entering a residential area. It goes by a golf course (lots of those up here) and a rugby stadium, then at Haymarket (one of Edinburgh’s main rail stations), the line’s street-running section begins as it enters the city center. Most of it is in reserved lanes, but it was still slow-going. We passed Waverley, Edinburgh’s largest train station, then made a few turns to York Place, the final stop.

A tram leaving York Place.

Okay, let’s talk about the bus now. Lothian Buses is Edinburgh’s main bus provider, and they operate four specialized services to the airport. Three of them are half-hourly and operate to various points outside the city center, while the fourth is the Airlink, an express route straight into the city that runs around the clock every ten minutes (every fifteen overnight). It costs £4.50 to ride one of these, and drivers actually give change, unlike every other bus in the city.

Two Airlink buses waiting at Waverley Bridge.

Although the Airlink buses don’t have the novelty of being a rail-based service, they do offer one major touristic advantage: double decker buses, baby! Nothing beats sitting at the front seat on the top deck, especially when you’re just visiting a new city. We took these to get back to the airport on the last day, so it wasn’t quite as exciting, but it was still a great experience. The buses have automatic announcements saying the next stop, and screens up front show departure statuses, as well as (this was so cool) the length of the security line!

Using the transit lanes downtown.

We rode this bus on a Saturday morning, so the streets were dead. The limited stops made the trip even more of a breeze. We sailed out to Haymarket in no time, and it was residential west of there. There was a stop at the Edinburgh Zoo, after which it started getting steadily more suburban. It was basically a highway after we sailed under the Gogar Roundabout, and we made the airport exit off of that soon after.

A double decker express route. I like it.

So, between the bus and the tram, which is better? Honestly, there are good arguments for both. The tram is more expensive, but it’s more frequent (every 7 minutes), generally doesn’t have to deal with traffic, and accepts rail passes. However, the bus offers that double decker view, plus it’s faster than the tram during less busy periods and it runs all night. If you’re flying both in and out of Edinburgh, I say try both! They offer totally different experiences that are both worth it.

WHY???

Of course we rode some regular buses, too. We started at the bus station next to Waverley Station, where we purchased our £4.00 day passes. These cover every non-airport bus operated by Lothian, as well as the city zones of Edinburgh’s two exurban bus systems; a day pass for everything is £9.00. But…why is it a scratch-off? Yeah, you get this weird lottery ticket thing where you just scratch off the day you’re traveling and show it to drivers. Better have a coin handy!

Man, you cannot wait until the last minute when taking photos of these things.

Most of inner Edinburgh is really touristy, so my dad and I’s decision-making process for deciding where we wanted to go was “What runs the furthest?” We decided to head out to Gorebridge, since there are two routes that run there – we could get a different experience on the way back. The one that came first was the 33, so we hopped on that. Something that’s really nice about Edinburgh’s bus system is that it very reliably uses double deckers on most of its routes – there are definitely more of them than there are singles, as far as I could tell.

Running through the Southside from the best seat in the house.

The vast majority of Lothian routes run from one side of the city to the other via the center, so many of them are long. The 33 takes almost two hours from end to end, but even from the city center to Gorebridge took a while! The bus cruised through the Southside on the A7/A701 (the actual street name kept changing), passing vibrant businesses with apartments on top. It got residential when we made our way onto Dalkeith Road, though.

Two single-deckers running the other way.

We traversed a rotary near a shopping center, and it was a lot more suburban after that. Suddenly, we approached the giant Royal Infirmary hospital complex, which a ton of routes serve. We were one of them, deviating to the bus station within the complex. It was a lot of farmland from there (in a double decker bus, remember!), with a few small villages and a park-and-ride deviation in between.

The first of many sheep sightings, although no others were this close to a huge city!

We travelled through the mining villages of Dalkeith, Easthouses, and Mayfield, the last of which got a sizable deviation through the development. The next town was Newtongrange, another mining town, but this one had a proper Main Street, a train station, and the National Mining Museum Scotland. Gowkshill was a tiny village before Gorebridge, which got a housing development deviation before we made our way down Main Street to the little bus turnaround at the end of town.

Our ride home.

The 29 is the route back from Gorebridge, and it runs slightly more direct. The routing was the same until Newtongrange, where we ran up towards Eskbank instead. We deviated into its Tesco (a huge UK supermarket chain), but then the road just ran straight through the middle of nowhere. We didn’t hit civilization again until Gilmerton, and then it was pretty consistent suburban development until we rejoined the 33 for the rest of the trip into the city.

What a view!

Our next trip was to Leith on the 34. There are a number of frequent bus routes between the city center and Leith, most of which terminate at the Ocean Terminal mall. Interestingly, because of construction on Leith Walk, the route had to be detoured. The buses’ destination signs actually reflected this, showing “Route Diverted” above the regular destination.

It’s a 34! Promise!

Even without the detour, the 34 is still one of the more roundabout routes between Edinburgh and Leith. A couple of Swedish tourists sitting next to us up front found this out the hard way – they had a set tour time at the Royal Yacht Brittanica in Leith, and they ended up being late for it. The bulk of the route was a nice jaunt through urban residential neighborhoods, including along a few roads that seemed too small for a big ol’ bus, although it got more commercial by the end.

Passing the 35 on a main road.

We would’ve ideally gotten a 35 back, since that route runs closer to where our hotel was, but we just missed one when we arrived at Ocean Terminal. The next best option would’ve been a 22, since that’s the fastest route back to Edinburgh, but I felt like doing another twisty one. Thus, we hopped aboard an 11, which…left five minutes late. And the route runs every 10. Uh-oh.

The 11 at Ocean Terminal. Lots of buses queue up along this long road with awful (and sometimes incorrect) berth signage.

The start of the route was beautiful, as we got to run alongside the harbor for a bit. We soon returned to regular residential roads, picking up higher-than-average amounts of people since we were late. But we would get later: there was construction that required running Newhaven Road as a signal-controlled single lane with very long wait times. We barely missed the green light, and to add insult to injury, another 11 passed us and made it through.

The view along the harbor.

The traffic was even worse when we came to the closed Leith Walk; this detour was affecting almost every route that runs to Leith. We had to make our way through the New Town with a ton of other buses, sitting in what felt like endless traffic. When my dad and I finally got off the bus, there was another 11 close behind. Oof.

Traveling with the pack on the detour.

Still, these problems were beyond Lothian’s control. I thought this was a great bus system overall – there are a ton of bus lanes all around the city, the stop spacing downtown is really good (but worse outside of it), and the frequent network is expansive. Sunday service is often much worse than weekdays and Saturdays, though, with routes that run every 15 minutes the rest of the week suddenly becoming every half hour. That’s probably my biggest gripe with Lothian overall (that and the weird scratch-off day tickets), but I was pretty impressed otherwise!

Inside Edinburgh Waverley.

Edinburgh Waverley is the city’s main train station. Scotland’s second-busiest after Glasgow Central (which we’ll get to), Waverley is in a perfect downtown location and has a ton of tracks with frequent service all around the country. It’s also a complete mess. Some parts of it are way too small and others are way too big, and what should be a simple through station ends up having all these weird stub-end tracks and platforms in random places with awful signage trying and failing to link it all up.

The main waiting area.

Most of the station is architecturally bland, save for the main waiting area that doesn’t have nearly enough seats or space to accommodate everyone. There is a ton of retail here, though, from fast food places within the station to the Waverley Mall, a shopping center that gets direct access. I’ll end on this amusing note: coming down from one of the escalators, they have a screen that exclusively shows security footage of people humorously falling down the escalator and explains how you can avoid doing what they did. Alright, I may dislike this station, but it gets points for that.

Our chariot to Glasgow!

There are four ways of getting between Edinburgh and Glasgow by train. The fastest route (via Falkirk) runs every 15 minutes and takes 45 minutes; the slowest route (via Shotts) runs every hour at best and takes 90. Well, Shotts it was! Plus, this would let us see Glasgow Central, which we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to take a train into. This line was very recently electrified, back in April, and our train was the newest one Scotrail has.

Ultra-modern!

Compared to the standing-room only Falkirk trains, our Shotts one wasn’t busy at all, especially considering that it was the evening rush. The train was super nice, boasting automatic announcements, free Wi-Fi, and outlets. But the highlight had to be the bathroom, which was beautiful. It even talked to you, reminding you to lock the fancy sliding spaceship door after you got in!

Come on, you know I had to include a shot of this.

Like almost every other rail service in Edinburgh, we first traversed the wide semi-underground right-of-way to Haymarket, the city’s other main station. From there, we had a few stops in the suburbs, each one draining a few more people from the train. After a few stations, though, we were in farmland.

Many cows.

The stations along the line were mostly in very small, self-contained villages. The biggest town along the line is Livingston, a sprawling mess where all the houses look the same and the town center is a mall. And the line doesn’t even run through Livingston proper – the station is called “Livingston South” and it’s on the edge of town, not that Livingston really has a “center” to begin with. One of the other Edinburgh to Glasgow lines serves Livingston North.

Crossing the River Clyde in Glasgow.

The line is called the Shotts Line, and Shotts is probably the largest town exclusively served by it. That’s not saying much, though – it has less than 9,000 residents. Carfin was the first station located within Glasgow’s vast suburban reach, and we joined up with more lines as we travelled through it. Cambuslang was a major stop, and here we split off from the Argyle Line, which makes frequent stops in a tunnel beneath Glasgow’s Argyle Street. Meanwhile, we took a nonstop aboveground route to Glasgow Central.

The train at Glasgow Central.

I gotta say, it was so refreshing to come here after Edinburgh Waverley. Not only was the architecture absolutely incredible and the station awe-inspiringly grand in scope, but it flowed so well. The waiting area was huge and had plenty of seats, while shops and bathrooms were laid out on the outside walls. The underground area where the Argyle Line stops wasn’t nearly as great, but the main station was just fantastic.

People waiting for their trains.

Glasgow’s bus system is much more in line with the rest of the UK. There are a bunch of different private companies running the show (sometimes even sharing routes), and while there is one clear standout (First Glasgow), you’ll see a parade of different companies around the city. It doesn’t help that First doesn’t even have a consistent livery – they paint their buses however they want, in some cases giving specific routes their own wraps. Talk about sacrificing operational flexibility…

So to my understanding, this is subsidized by SPT but operated by First, which is different from other First routes, which I believe are just directly paid for by the company. I dunno, who cares, the bus is so cute!

First does operate a pretty good bus network, though. It has a huge arsenal of routes that run every 10 minutes or better, called the “simpliCITY network” (although they’re often much worse on Sundays). Sometimes that means a single route and sometimes it means a trunk line with a million branches, but they’re very well-labelled on the map, and often VERY long. There are fare zones, although they’re relatively easy to figure out, and a day pass within most of the urban area is just £4.40 if you buy on a phone (£4.60 on the bus).

The prefix before each number on the real-time screen represents the company operating that route.

My dad and I started with the 2, or at least the western half of it, since it runs from one side of First’s service area to the other. It’s a direct trip down straight roads, running to a town called Clydebank on the western end. Two buses in a row showed up at the stop we were waiting at, and the one we chose had a broken farebox, so…yay, I guess!

Two buses: one is operated by McGill’s, and the other is the 2 that was behind ours.

Something that’s interesting about Glasgow is that it’s actually a very American city. The downtown is encircled by freeways, much of the city center is in a grid formation, and for a European city, it’s really sprawled out. Riding on the 2 felt a lot like being in Philly, and there was even one side street that had super Philly-esque rowhouses. The route sometimes had abysmal stop spacing, but it was pretty straightforward, minus a deviation to serve the major bus/train hub at Partick.

LOOK AT THOSE ROWHOUSES ON THE RIGHT!

It was generally urban the whole way down, and it got more residential the further we went (sometimes in the form of apartments and sometimes in the form of rowhouses). We went by a really bizarre little ferry across the River Clyde at one point, and soon after that we made a right and a left, entering a more suburban neighborhood. After a few more twists and turns, we made it to the Clydebank bus terminal, in a downtown that’s dominated by an indoor mall.

The bus terminal at Clydebank.

While I appreciate the multimodality of the Clydebank bus terminal (it’s right next to the train station, which gets half-hourly service), it’s not great as a bus terminal. It’s basically just a few bus shelters on the side of the road, because I guess they couldn’t turn one of the many parking lots in the area into a real terminal. Still, you can’t beat the connection to the railroad, and a lot of the important routes here are frequent enough that you won’t have to wait too long.

Look out, it’s gonna tip over!

The bus we took out of Clydebank was the 60, which takes a rather roundabout route back into Glasgow. More importantly, though, it uses double decker buses! Also, the farebox was working, meaning we could buy our day passes – they’re these awful little receipts with QR codes on them that you have to shove into a scanner on the bus. Yeah, you know what, I’ll take Edinburgh’s scratch-offs.

Pretty cool to be in a double decker on a road like this!

North of Clydebank, it got suburban quickly, and the 60 took a winding route through it all. I’m not sure why this route gets double deckers while some of the more urban routes don’t, but I can’t complain – it was an interesting ride, including some sections of purely undeveloped areas. Ridership was light.

A slew of buses in central Glasgow.

An awful freeway interchange meant that we were getting into the city center, which the 60 passes through and continues onward. We decided to stay on, despite the overwhelming heat up on the top deck, so we made our way through Glasgow’s congested downtown and out the other end. The other side of the route was similarly twisty, eventually ending in a suburb called Easterhouse (with a full-on shopping center deviation along the way).

Nice shelter at the shopping center, though!

The Easterhouse bus stop was at the very edge of the town. It was just a little turnaround at the side of the road, almost in the middle of nowhere (well, the edge of nowhere, I guess). From here, we got a 41 back into town, which was much more of a straight shot. Maybe because of that, its ridership was higher.

Our 60 laying over.
This is just such a cool place to take photos!

But of course, there’s no way to close off a post about Glasgow transit other than talking about the subway. The third underground metro system ever built, this fifteen-station loop hasn’t been expanded once since it opened in 1896. Although it’s only open from 10 AM to 6 PM on Sundays (ugh), it’s actually a useful circulator at other times, connecting much of the inner portion of Glasgow with a much better service span (6:30 AM to 11:40 PM) the rest of the week.

Thanks to a recent modernization project, all of the stations look great.

Our Spirit of Scotland passes were supposedly valid on the subway, so we decided we would take the loop just to say we’ve done it. As fun as it would’ve been to get a smartcard (they use CharlieCard readers!), we couldn’t pass up on the free ride. Unfortunately, the subway employee at Buchanan Street had a problem with the fact that the pass was on a mobile phone, and directed us to the Scotrail office at Queen Street nearby. They directed us back to the subway, and luckily a manager came out and gave us free tickets for one loop. But it was an ordeal, and I guess the moral of the story is that you should probably get paper Spirit of Scotland passes if you want to ride the Glasgow Subway. Or the Edinburgh trams. Just get them on paper.

This is the entire length of the platform.

The stations are all tiny because the trains are all tiny. They originally all had super narrow island platforms, but the modernization converted some of the busier ones, like Buchanan Street, into a two-platform arrangement. The service is split into two “lines”, Inner and Outer, but it really just dictates the direction in which they travel the loop.

It’s so tiny!!!

Well, I don’t want to imagine what this thing is like at rush hour, but late in the evening, it was very pleasant! The seats are super comfy, making the cramped experience feel a lot nicer. Unfortunately, because the cars are so small, wheelchairs are only allowed on board if they’re folded. The trains are also quite short, at just three cars long. I wonder if people get left behind during the busy periods.

Our car in two different states of busyness.

The whole thing is underground, and the stops are generally close together. Some of them have park-and-rides, and they vary wildly in terms of ridership. Buchanan Street and St. Enoch are the two busiest, since they’re right in the center of town and connect to Glasgow’s two main rail stations, while the third busiest, Hillhead, is close to the large University of Glasgow. West Street is by far the least-used station, since a recently-built highway tore through the neighborhood around it and destroyed most of the buildings. It gets about 265 riders per day, while Buchanan Street gets around 6,650.

The entire length of St. Enoch’s platform.

We got off at St. Enoch, the closest stop to our hotel. The Glasgow Subway is a fantastic little service, and they’re constantly modernizing – their new driverless trains are expected to go into service in 2020. Will it ever expand, though? It seems like every proposal to expand has fizzled out thus far, but maybe one day. Until then, Glaswegians should certainly be proud of their little Clockwork Orange.

“Take a photo of me by the tunnel so people can see how small it is!” -my dad.
The beautiful St. Enoch entrance.

Riding the Entire Lexpress in a Morning

Well, we’ve done Burlington, now it’s time to do Lexington. Lexpress is a system that I felt a little more familiar with going in, not only because I had been on it once before, but also because the system is just a heck of a lot more intuitive than B-Line. First of all, like I said in that original post five years ago, Lexpress’s name is “the best thing ever” – still true. Branding is important. But it’s also the name of a French news magazine, strangely, which sometimes makes it difficult to Google the bus system.

So how is Lexpress intuitive? It has six routes operated by three buses, all of which converge at Lexington Center, where odd-numbered routes leave on the half-hour and even-numbered routes leave on the hour. See, I can describe the whole system and its schedules in a sentence! That’s a great sign!

Less great are the fares, which I will now describe in much detail, because I think they’re hilariously complicated:

  • Single ride (adult): $2.75. Yes, like B-Line, the base fare is more expensive than the fare to take the MBTA bus from here to Alewife. It’s cash-only.
  • Round-trip (adult): $4.00. This is a weird, semi-hidden one. If you spend $4 when you board, the driver will give you a free pass for your next ride, effectively cutting the cost to $2.00 a ride. This fare type is only available for the adult fare.
  • Single ride (student): $1.75.
  • Single ride (senior/disabled): $0.75. But between the hours of 9 AM and 2 PM, people in this category ride free. Except further down the page, it says they can only ride free until 1:30. Uh-oh.
  • Transfer: free. This is a nice one, especially given the hub-and-spoke nature of the system. My favorite quirk here is that you can also transfer to the B-Line for free, a single ride on which would normally cost $3.00! So if you wanted a 25-cent discount on B-Line, you could potentially take Lexpress for a block just to get the transfer slip. Alas, despite the fact that the MBTA publishes a schedule card for Lexpress, there are no transfers to it.
  • Ticket Book (adult): $20. Okay, so this gives you 14 tickets for 20 bucks, making each ride cost $1.42. You can only order these by mail or at the Community Center, Michelson’s Shoes, or the Lexington High School.
  • Passes are sold in one year, six month, three month, and one month increments. While the one year passes are only valid from July 1st to June 30th and one month passes are only valid from the first of the month, I guess the three and six month variants are valid from whenever you buy them? The price per trip on the passes decrease dramatically, with the monthly pass costing an already pretty cheap $60, while the yearly pass is $350 – about $29 per month.
  • The senior/disabled passes are discounted at various rates from the adult passes, but it’s totally random how much the discount is – it’s 50% off the yearly adult pass, but a whopping 66% off the six-month pass! Three months is about 64% off, while the one-month is about 58% off.
  • There’s also a $725 family pass for the year, valid for two adults and two minors. I don’t know if this gives passes to each person or if it’s just one pass and the family has to travel together, but it’s an option, I guess.
  • Students under 18 can buy a “Youth Summer Fun Pass” for $60, valid for July and August. It’s basically a buy-one-month-get-one-free deal.
  • Middle or high school students who have already purchased an annual pass for school buses can spend an additional $50 for an “After School Flexpass.” This is meant for students doing after-school activities, and it’s only valid after 3:10 on school days only.
  • If you lose your pass, you can get a replacement, but it costs $20 for adults and $10 for seniors/people with disabilities.
  • Refunds for monthly and annual passes are available “under certain circumstances.” You have to submit a request form to the Lexpress office in writing. So hopefully your “circumstances” qualify for a refund, otherwise you’ve just wasted a whole lot of time.

Phew! That’s a lot to think about! Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about fares when I rode: every year in May, Lexington has a “discovery day” where Lexpress not only runs a rare Saturday service (usually it’s weekdays only), but it also runs for free! And yes, just to confirm that I am super slow and way behind, this was last year’s discovery day. Oof.

The stop at the Burlington Mall.

My friend Eli and I began with an exciting multi-modal transfer: going from the MBTA 350 to the Lexpress at the Burlington Mall, which serves no less than four bus systems (the others being LRTA and B-Line). But because nothing makes sense in this world, the Lexpress and B-Line stop in a different location than the MBTA and LRTA. Somehow, though, the Lexpress stop ends up being nicer than the MBTA’s, with fancy benches and even a few bike racks!

Each bus has two routes on the destination sign, since they run back and forth between them.

Lexpress’s route to the Burlington Mall is the 5, which we sorta gave short shrift, since it takes different routings going inbound and outbound. Alas, we only covered the inbound route. Our bus left the mall, heading onto the very wide Middlesex Turnpike, which runs past offices and suburban businesses. We turned onto Adams Street, where the offices spilled over for a bit before getting replaced with a woodsy residential neighborhood.

Rear window! This is closer in to the Center.

Across the street from an elementary school was a big field, and past there, the houses started to get denser. We turned onto Hancock Street, joining up with the 6, going by the historic childhood home of John Hancock (now a museum). Soon after that, we crossed the Minuteman Bike Trail and passed historic Lexington Common before entering the Center. For the first time of the day, we pulled into the Lexington Depot Lexpress hub.

Two buses in the loop.

The 5 is an important connection to the mall, but for a route with such a big destination on the other end, it’s annoying that it runs in a loop. Because of that, if people mid-route want to travel to the mall, they have to wait in Lexington Center for half an hour in one of the directions. The 5 has to do this in order to save time and make it back for the pulse, and even then, it’s not given enough time on the less direct outbound route. I can see it easily getting back late, although luckily it’s paired with the less traffic-prone 6 so it can get back on schedule.

The 4 in Depot Square.

Next up was the 4, which has no fewer than five part-time deviations – the 10, 11, and 12 o’clock trips are the ones with the most, serving three of them when I rode, although the third one now serves an additional place, bringing the total to four. The 4 is a strange route, serving Lexington Center twice in a figure-8 formation. We left Depot Square on Mass Ave, merging onto Bedford Street at Lexington Common.

Pulling into Stop & Shop, very important.

I don’t know why only four trips, from 9 to 12, deviate into Stop & Shop, but those are the ones that do it. The bus goes into it with the supermarket on the left, meaning people have to cross the little feeder road to get on or off anyway – it might as well just stop on Bedford Street. We then pulled into Greeley Village, a housing development whose furthest residence is a four-minute walk from the route. This deviation gets five trips a day, from 9 to 1. There’s also a variant that deviates up to Sunny Knoll Ave, entirely duplicating the MBTA 62 and only running on the 4’s first trip and the last three.

Wow, they put a bus route on this?

We came out of the village on the tiny and badly-paved Sargent Street, then we turned onto the much more normal Hill Street. Passing the Lexington Golf Club, the road was residential with woodsy houses, with similar scenery as its name changed to Paul Revere Road. That didn’t last long (much like Paul Revere compared to Samuel Prescott…heh, history joke), and we took a left on Mass Ave when the road ended. It was also mostly houses, and it led us back into the Center.

Wow, driving in the left lane, huh? Power move.

We ran through the Center, turning onto Woburn Street on the other side. It quickly turned to houses, and sparse ones at that. There were a few businesses and a small apartment complex (which got the final part-time deviation of our trip) when we turned onto Lowell Street, then we made a little loop via Winchester Drive, Fiske Road, Fairlawn Lane, and Lowell Street again. All it did was serve a neighborhood of giant houses about a ten-minute walk from the normal route…maybe a family there has a kid who uses Lexpress to come home from school?

Yeah, dunno why we’re serving this.

I mentioned at the start that the 4 now has a new deviation that it does in conjunction with the previous one – it takes Bryant Road in order to directly serve another apartment development, Emerson Gardens. The normal route, meanwhile, runs straight down Maple Street, meaning that section gets no service for part of the day, and the route just gets even more complicated. We returned to Mass Ave, running by a (free!) museum and historic tavern on our way back to Lexington Center.

A long road through the forest.

The 4 is the worst Lexpress route. Not only is it way too complicated, with no fewer than seven route patterns (out of eleven total trips!), but it’s also hopelessly unreliable. On the trips that do the most deviations, it can at best take 30 minutes, and that’s assuming no traffic (tough bet, given that it has to run through congested Lexington Center twice) and no one getting on or off. Cutting the little loop through that fancy residential neighborhood could help, as could getting rid of some of the deviations (which would also simplify an overly complex service). I mean, it was five minutes late on a Saturday

The very brief urban-feeling section of Waltham Street.

We hopped onto the 3 next, which is the route I had been on before. We went down Waltham Street, which quickly went from businesses to houses, with a bit of retail as we turned onto Marrett Road. There were a few offices and industrial buildings at the intersection with Spring Street, where we took a left, but it was residential again until we swung onto Hayden Ave. Now we were in office park land.

A big, barren highway interchange.

Between each giant office was a bunch of forest. We turned onto Waltham Street again, going under Route 2 and passing some businesses (including a cute farmers market) before entering Lexington Ridge. Rather than looping around the apartment complex, the bus just reverses its way around, and we were back on Waltham Street. Coming back, we took Concord Ave instead of Hayden Street (all houses) and used Lincoln Street (mostly houses, with some parks as well) instead of Waltham Street to return to the Center.

Coming up Spring Street.

The 3 serves some major office parks and housing developments, which hopefully translates into decent ridership. It’s a little less loopy than other Lexpress routes, and it’s a more reasonable length, but going in via Lincoln Street still seems time-consuming. I guess it’s mainly to serve Lincoln Park, maybe for after-school activities. Also, the running times seem really tight for the route’s length (like, near-impossible to do, even in a car), but that’s a problem across the board for Lexpress.

The whole 6 looks like this.

The 6 just feels like they needed a route to compliment the 5 and just sent a bus to the middle of nowhere. I mean, the whole trip, you’re just going by these increasingly larger houses with wider gaps in between them, and you’re travelling down these tiny woodsy roads with no sidewalks, and that’s it! It has a few loop-de-loops, but all they serve is more of the same. At least it takes about as long as Lexpress schedules it for, but I doubt it gets too much ridership outside of school hours.

Our first glimpse of the Route 1&2 bus!

The 1 is the route that most directly duplicates MBTA service. Indeed, we ran straight down Mass Ave along with the 62/76, directly following those routes aside from a deviation to the Lexington Community Center. This was Mass Ave, though, so the houses were denser than the ones on many of the other routes. Where the 62 and the 76 split up, we followed the 76, heading onto Pleasant Street from a roundabout.

We left the 76 by turning onto Peacock Farm Road, which was as rural-feeling as it sounds. However, we did enter a properly dense (for Lexington standards) neighborhood with a grid street pattern, turning into Baker Ave. Turning onto Taft Ave, we made our way to Mass Ave, using it for a block to get onto Bow Street. This was a jog to serve another relatively dense neighborhood, and we returned to Mass Ave soon after to head back to Lexington Center.

Okay…”dense.”

Despite being mostly redundant to the MBTA, the 1 has a good place in the network. It serves some of the most transit-friendly neighborhoods on the Lexpress system, and it’s the route with the most bidirectional service. It does have a really odd rush hour-only variant that goes to Arlington Heights, of all places (that would be fun to ride), but all trips other than those ones time out pretty well. One thing, though: the route should serve the Community Center on the inbound, not the outbound. Both it and the 2 serve it on their outbounds, meaning anyone who needs front-door service there has to ride around to get back to the Center. The 1 is bidirectional while the 2 is a loop, so it makes more sense for the 1 to do it in the opposite direction. People can still take the 1 outbound and walk three minutes from Mass Ave to get there.

Anyone starting to think that a lot of this town looks the same?

And our final route, the 2, begins with a strange outbound-only loop that entirely duplicates the MBTA 76. The inbound comes straight up Waltham Street, but the outbound travels via Mass Ave and Worthen Road, serving a few fields and that’s about it. We turned onto Kendall Road from there, followed by Marrett Road, serving houses that got increasingly further apart. After making a deviation to the Community Center, we headed down Follen Road.

This road could use a repaving.

This sidewalkless road was leafy and residential, as were the various other streets that we twisted our way down. We eventually crossed Route 2 on Pleasant Street, then we made a left onto Concord Ave to deviate up a big ol’ hill and serve Avalon at Lexington Hills. Coming back, we took Concord Ave straight over to Waltham Street, and we used that to cross Route 2 and return straight to the Center. It was mostly residential, but we also passed a small golf course and a field. The 2 is a decent route overall, although eliminating the Worthen Road section on the outbound would help with timekeeping.

We ended up taking a 1 to Mass Ave and walking to the 77 from there.

Lexpress Routes: 1 (Depot Square – East Lexington via Pleasant Street & Mass Ave), 2 (Depot Square – Avalon at Lexington Hills via Worthen Road, Follen Road, and Waltham Street), 3 (Depot Square – South Lexington via Marrett Road, Spring Street, and Hayden Ave), 4 (Via Bedford Street, Hill Street, Mass Ave, Woburn Street, & Maple Street), 5 (Depot Square – Burlington Mall via Grant Street & Middlesex Turnpike), and 6 (Depot Square – Estabrook School via Hancock Street, Grove Street, and Cottage Drive)

Ridership: Okay, Lexpress doesn’t appear to publish ridership by route. And I took down ridership numbers throughout the day, but I feel like they’re totally unrepresentative because the buses usually don’t run on Saturdays, and it was free service for an event. Lexpress does at least have overall system data, and in Fiscal Year 2017, the system got 63,582 riders (about 265 per day, or about 4 people per round trip). Well, it’s much better than B-Line! The vast majority of ridership is students and seniors, with only about 16% of riders being regular adults.

Pros: It’s impressive how comprehensive this system is with just three vehicles. And not only that, it manages to keep clean, clockface pulse headways throughout most of the day, and even though the routes become every 70 minutes in the evening rush, this represents the increase in traffic at that time. I actually applaud Lexpress for being receptive to potential delays during that time and scheduling accordingly.

Cons: I brought up the problems with specific routes throughout the review, so here, we’ll be talking about overall systemwide problems with Lexpress. Firstly, I think the fare system is overly complicated, and sometimes expensive. Passes are cheap, but the single-ride fare of $2.75 is excessive, especially when the “round-trip” fare is $4.00. Why not just make the regular fare $2.00 in that case? Is it just an effort to shell out money from people who don’t know about the round-trip discount? Also, while this could be difficult to coordinate with the MBTA (although they partially fund the system, so maybe it’s possible), free transfers to its buses could bring in new riders, especially from commuters. Finally, I think that timekeeping is a general issue here – some of the routes are just too long, and cutting deviations or jogs could be the solution.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I think most of the historical attractions in Lexington are already covered by MBTA buses – most of Lexpress is for the residential areas.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The Lexpress isn’t really a system designed to get high ridership. If anything, it feels like a school bus system mixed with a council on aging shuttle that happens to be open to the public. Unlike something like B Line, though, this system is actually useful for getting around Lexington. Yes, it still suffers from really confusing fares that can sometimes be overly expensive, and some of the routes are worse than others, but Lexpress overall isn’t bad!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

34th Street (MFL)

University City is truly a neighborhood of opportunity. The confluence of some of the brightest minds in the country, this area offers amazing hospitals, brilliant colleges, and exciting new research happening every day. 34th Street is right smack in the middle of all this, opening up new horizons for anyone with two bucks to take the El here.

Oh, unless you’re in a wheelchair. Yeah, sorry, you’re not welcome here.

Three out of the four station entrances are visible here!

Yes, this (very well-used and important) station has no elevators to speak of. Every entrance is just a hole-in-the-ground staircase with a useless screen. Still, I like that there are stairs on all sides of the intersection, and they all lead to one mezzanine, meaning you can use any of them to go in either direction. The bus stops around here are just signs, serving the 30, 31, 49, and LUCY. It would be great to see a shelter at the stop on 34th south of Market, since it serves a ton of LUCY riders in the morning commute; also, the stop on Market east of 34th probably gets a decent amount of riders for the 31 to Mantua, although I’m less sure about this one. But better safe than sorry, right?

Down in the mezzanine.

Woah…34th Street has a cool mural in the mezzanine? Okay, I gotta admit, I’m usually rushing through here whenever I use this station, and I guess I never paid very close attention to the far wall. Well! It’s awesome to see some art here! It certainly brightens up the otherwise cramped-feeling room. But it only gets more cramped when people park their bikes down here, as someone did when I took my photos (see below). There is a clear need for more bike racks; the mezzanine is probably too small for a Snyder solution (i.e. putting racks in there), so it’s up to the City of Philadelphia to install more at street level. There are only two bike racks up there! Although SEPTA actually points them out on its website, which I’m quite impressed by.

It looks identical, but this is in fact the other side of the room.

For a station that gets a lot of first-time university riders, three fare machines is not enough, and you’ll often see long lines waiting for them. Also: at least one of them is almost always broken. I don’t know what it is, but this station has some sort of magic power that only allows a maximum of 66% of its fare machines to be working at any given time. And as usual, SEPTA, there’s lots of room for more machines. Still, there are plenty of wastebaskets and recycling bins in useful places; the faded bus maps are outdated, though.

The little bit within fare control.

Okay, after satisfying its fetish of including as many exit-only turnstiles as possible, SEPTA managed to pack in a whopping…five fare gates. Oof, wouldn’t want to be here in the evening rush. They’re split into two sets; one of them just leads to two staircases to the platform, while the other one has the addition of a few benches where people can wait within eyesight of the cashier.

On the platform.

34th Street’s island platform is light on benches, and they’re all in the center of the station, because that’s obviously the best way to spread riders throughout the length of the train. People do scatter, though, often sitting on railings or the stairs to compensate for the lack of seating. And of course, the less time you spend looking at the disgusting tracks, the better.

Er…well, it’s definitely a fixer-upper.

Station: 34th Street (MFL)

Ridership: It’s the fourth-busiest station in West Philly, and the top two are 69th and 30th (both major transportation centers)! And the station has seen a lot of growth in recent years (at one point it was an “A” (“B”?) stop, meaning it only got half the service at rush hour, which is hard to believe now), making the high number even more impressive: 7,076 riders per day. And it’s a huge mix, from workers in the area, to students, to residents of nearby Powelton Village.

Pros: Talk about a great location. You’ve got Penn, you’ve got Powelton Village, you’ve got that other school, my arch nemesis forever and ever and ever, arrrghghghahgghgh – this station’s right in the center of it all. I also have to give props to that mural in the mezzanine that I apparently never notice. I’ll be looking out for it every time I use this stop now!

Cons: First and foremost, the station isn’t accessible. That’s a huge problem not only given the station’s ridership, but also the number of jobs around it. And it would be one thing if SEPTA was working on it, but…they’re not. There’s nothing about it in the 2020 Capital Budget. That makes it the busiest station besides the hot mess known as City Hall not to be slated for accessibility upgrades. And many stations with far lower ridership and importance are getting the go-ahead. Look, obviously SEPTA should be committing to 100% accessibility, and maybe there are engineering reasons why 34th Street can’t be upgraded easily, but it seems really odd that it wouldn’t be a priority!

Anyway…other things I hate about 34th Street: some inadequate bus stops, a really inefficient and low-capacity mezzanine, a dreary platform with not enough seating even though there’s plenty of space for more, and walls that ooze out sludge like a strange science-fiction monster.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The intersection of Market and 34th plays host to a 7-Eleven and a Wawa…across the street from each other. Come on, 7-Eleven, you know you’re fighting a losing battle here. Other than convenience stores, there are student-oriented restaurants up on Lancaster Ave, while down on Sansom Street is “family weekend row” – the really fancy restaurants that see by far the most patronage during family weekend. Finally, there’s my favorite place to go from here: the Hill College House dining hall. Mmmmm!

Final Verdict: 3/10
Gosh, I’ve been giving a lot of low scores recently. What can I say? This station just isn’t good! And it would be one thing if it had all the stuff that was bad about it, but it also had elevators. Then it would just be a generic SEPTA station. But when you realize that it’s in a really booming area and SEPTA has no plans to make it accessible…that’s when the score really drops.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Canton Junction

I’ve gotten a few social media comments on my critical look at Canton Center telling me that Canton Junction is the worse of the two. I guess the answer to which one is worse comes down to one question: do you prefer a tiny little nothing station, or do you prefer a giant post-apocalyptic steampunk mess of rotting footbridges? Hmm…

It’s a monster!

So…layout. They don’t call it a junction for nothing, as this is where the Stoughton Line splits off from the Providence Line. Both sets of track get their own platforms, and the only way to connect them on the high-speed Northeast Corridor is, yes, footbridges. Lots and lots of footbridges.

I wonder if you could film a horror movie here late at night.

Canton Junction is the definition of a “screw you” station. If the train is there and you’re just making your way up the steps, you’re not gonna make it. You gotta give yourself two minutes just to get over the bridge and to the right track, and if you require the ramps, triple or even quadruple that amount. It’s a long climb.

The actually rather nifty wayfinding system.

Despite the maze-like tangle of footbridges, Canton Junction makes it surprisingly easy to find your track. Each one gets a letter, and there are a ton of signs everywhere explaining which train numbers stop at each track and where they stop. So let’s see what the sign says at, I dunno, Platform A: “Board here for outbound Attleboro Line traiins 801 and 829.” Okay…the signs are a bit out of date and they have their fair share of typos, but it’s a good idea! Just…please upgrade them.

The Attleboro…er, Providence Line platform.

So the only platform that gets weekend service is…pretty bad. It’s super drab (although the looming footbridges don’t help with that), and a lot of the wastebaskets look like they’re on their last legs. The inbound side has a bike rack on it, but it’s so broken that no one in their right mind would ever want to park their bike there. Even with the mini-high platforms, only the outbound side gets a bench. Because that makes sense!

The outbound Stoughton platform.

Outbound Stoughton trains share a bit of the platform with inbound Providence trains, but the Stoughton one curves away with the tracks. I get that there are fewer amenities on this one because Stoughton is so close, but the big problem here is that the mini-high platform is a longgggg walk away (and that actually matters, since off-peak trains only drop off there). Also, it’s when you’re on that mini-high that you realize how close Canton Center is – it’s very clearly visible a short way down the tracks.

The Stoughton platforms…from above.

The inbound Stoughton platform come to the rescue, so to speak, but it’s still not great. For example, the footbridge seems like it could easily drop people off right at the mini-high, but instead, it leads to a sidewalk at street level. And because the low-level platform is on a slight embankment, you have to go up another staircase or twisty ramp to get to it, and then another for the mini-high! But because this platform is staggered north from the others, the mini-high is actually in a normal place. Still no bench on it, though.

In the shelter of the station building.

The inbound Stoughton platform is mostly bare, but that’s because it’s home to the station’s building, and underneath that is where most of the amenities are. Not only does it have benches, wastebaskets, and bike racks that are actually in decent condition, but it’s all sheltered under the building’s awning. But…what’s up with that fence separating this seating from the platform itself?

Inside the building!

The building is home to a cafe, Copper City Espresso, and it is just fantastic. Of course, coffee and snacks can be bought here, but the building also functions as a waiting room and as a love letter to the railroad. Many of the original labels on the rooms are still there, and the walls are decorated with cool posters like an 1891 map of Massachusetts and a diagram showing the evolution of the American flag.

The back half of the room.

There are a bunch of benches in here where passengers are free to wait for their trains. The cafe offers free wifi, and the bathrooms in the back are near-spotless. Funnily enough, the MBTA website says that “Fares cannot be purchased at Canton Junction”, yet it goes on to list Copper City Espresso as a place where you can buy tickets – needless to say, tickets can indeed be purchased at Canton Junction. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the cafe wants to expand its opening times to weekends (outside it even says “Sat/Sun closed (for now)”), they’re currently only open during the morning rush, like almost every other MBTA building.

This lot looks a bit sketchy.

Canton Junction offers a ridiculous amount of parking: 762 spaces, and that’s just the amount provided by the MBTA. An unofficial dodgy-looking lot provides some additional parking. While the MBTA charges the classic $4 on weekdays, $2 on weekends, the sketchy lot is just $3 per day, plus the monthly pass is $10 cheaper. Be aware that the lots can be up to a quarter mile away from the station, adding further time to the “going up and over the footbridge” time that you need to allot as well.

Oh, it’s you. The T only has two of these locomotives.
An outbound heading for Stoughton.

Station: Canton Junction

Ridership: Canton Junction’s ridership is very concentrated in the morning peak, with 1,025 out of its daily 1,099 riders boarding at that time. I guess that explains why the place was kinda dead when I was here in the midmorning.

Pros: Everything about the building! It’s one of the best ones I’ve been in, and I’m so happy I was able to come here before noon to go inside. A copious amount of car parking is provided, so much that from what I can tell, it doesn’t fill up.

Cons: The footbridges are the most glaring flaw here. It takes forever to climb them, and they’re in pretty bad shape. Combine that with the excessive amount of parking sprawl, some of which could be replaced with transit-oriented apartments and businesses, and you’ve gotta give yourself a lot of time to get to the train here. The platforms themselves are also terrible, except maybe the inbound Stoughton one, but even then, it has that fence separating the shelter from the platform.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from a pizza joint across the street from the station, Canton Junction doesn’t have a ton to offer…except for the way-cooler-than-I-realized Canton Viaduct, which the Providence Line goes over just south of the station. It was the longest and tallest railroad viaduct in the world when it was built in 1835, and it’s now the last surviving viaduct of its kind. It also just looks awesome, and I’ll bet it offers great photo ops.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Yes, Canton Junction is still a bad station, but I think it’s better than Canton Center for one reason: that cafe. Not only does it offer refreshments, wifi, and a place to wait for morning commuters, but because the station ridership is so peaky, it doesn’t even matter too much that it closes outside of the morning rush. Of course, practically everything else about Canton Junction is awful, but the building knocks it up a few points for me.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Girard (MFL)

It seems like every other ISEPTAPHILLY post pertains to some event or SEPTA Perk happening near Girard Station. That makes sense – this neighborhood, Fishtown, represents ground zero for Philadelphia’s rapid gentrification, making it a real “hot” place to be, for better or for worse. Let’s see if its rapid transit station matches the hype.

Hopefully a trolley shows up and not a bus…

But we begin our journey not in the rafters of the El, but on the street to wait for the 15 trolley. This is one of its “center island carstops,” which only make things more inconvenient for passengers: not only do cars still drive in the middle anyway, negating any speed improvements, but now people have to cross the street, too! And while a streetside stop could conceivably have room for a shelter, these center island ones almost never have the space. Yup, it’s just two bare platforms for the 15 at Girard, without even a bench. The 5 bus stops here, too.

That payphone probably doesn’t work, huh?

It’s pretty dingy around the station entrance. I mean, you combine the overbearing nature of the El with station architecture that doesn’t look like it’s in the best shape, and it ends up feeling kinda dingy and disgusting. The station has both street and SEPTA-provided bike racks in its vicinity, although (of course) SEPTA’s website proclaims the station to have none.

The station’s singular entrance.

Despite the fact that there are two staircases from the platform to the street, only one of them actually goes to an entrance, and that’s the one on the inbound side. The other side does get a sign saying “No Entrance; Enter Across Street”, but you could still climb up the stairs if you wanted. You would get blocked by exit-only turnstiles on the outbound platform, though. There must not have been enough room to put them down at street level.

The bottom of the elevator.

The station has only one elevator that runs down to the street, and it doubles as the elevator from the mezzanine to the footbridge. Also, the button light doesn’t work. I waited here for a while before just taking the stairs, assuming the elevator was broken down (since the button wasn’t lit up), but I guess it must’ve been taking care of a trip up on the footbridge; I saw it running later. This arrangement does lead to a really annoying journey for those who are disabled who are either going outbound from here or arriving on an outbound train: they have to take the inbound elevator to the mezzanine, pay their fare, take the same elevator to the footbridge, cross it, and take the outbound elevator back down. While I can sort of overlook it at the low-ridership 63rd, I’m a lot less forgiving when it’s a huge station like Girard that sees a good amount of outbound traffic anyway.

Oh…is this it?

The mezzanine here is small and cramped, in no small part due to the fact that we’re elevated and space is at a premium. Still, for a station that probably sees a lot of one-time riders (such as those heading to nearby concerts and bars), two fare machines for the whole thing is tiny, and I’m sure there’d be room for at least one more. One thing you could do to make more space is eliminate the second cashier booth: I’m sure it’s barely used, if ever. That would make room for more faregates or another machine. As for the main cashier booth, SEPTA claims on the website it’s only open from 6 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Friday. Well…it was occupied when I was here on a Saturday, so something’s up!

On the platform.

Girard’s platform is standard fare for the El, which makes it a reasonably nice place to wait. It has a number of benches, wastebaskets, and recycling bins, although more seating would be welcome – it’s not uncommon to see people using railings as makeshift seats. The entire platform is sheltered, so you don’t have to worry about getting exposed to the elements, although just missing a train can be brutal in the cold winter.

C’mon, finish your chips!

The station has two footbridges, and they’re practically identical; the only difference is that one of them has elevators. But I find it odd that it even has two bridges to begin with. One of them is right near the entrance, while the other (inaccessible) one is shafted further down the platform. Which one do you think most people will use? Unless you’re arriving on an outbound train and you’re in the last, I dunno, one and a half cars, the second footbridge is basically there for decoration. More paths are better than none, but I would rather see fare machines on the outbound side than a second bridge to it.

Although full disclosure, this photo was taken from that second footbridge…
Bonus trolley photo!

Station: Girard (MFL)

Ridership: Third-busiest on the Frankford section of the El! In other words, 5,154 riders per day, which is…less than most of the stations in West Philly. Yeah, the Frankford side of things tends to get less ridership at each individual station. But the point is that Girard gets a lot of people, and a good amount of off-peak travel too.

Pros: I’m always partial to elevated stations, and waiting on the platform above the road is always pleasant. The station is the centerpiece of a booming area, and luckily many of the new restaurants and bars have sprouted up within walking distance. A decent amount of bike parking lets riders come from places further afield.

Cons: The elevator situation makes getting here a royal pain for those who can’t use stairs, and that general layout is frustrating, especially for a station that gets demand from both directions. The mezzanine is a victim of the lack of space above the road, although even then, it’s not being used to its utmost potential. The trolley station down on the street is just horrible and if I was only reviewing that, it would hands-down get a 1.

Nearby and Noteworthy: So much! I don’t even like Fishtown as much as the zeitgeist says I should, but there’s no denying that you could go to a different establishment here every day for a month (or longer!) and get a totally different experience. My family always goes to Joe’s Steaks whenever we’re here, since they make cheesesteaks that don’t make you feel like you’ve thrown your body off a cliff afterward (plus they’re really good). The Fillmore offers both a nightclub and a concert hall in the same building, while it’s places like Barcade that make me wish I was of drinking age (why does the comeback of the arcade have to take place almost exclusively in bars??).

Final Verdict: 4/10
Alas, the gateway to what some call Philly’s hottest neighborhood is, well, kind of a bad station. I love that it’s elevated, and I look at that aspect of it fondly, but then you remember how intrusive that is down at street level. I’m glad that the station is accessible, but from broken elevator buttons to a really long journey for outbound passengers, it’s borderline unusable in a lot of cases. And that trolley station. Ugh, I hate that thing. Why build all this inconvenient infrastructure if you’re not going to have dedicated lanes?

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Canton Center

The Stoughton Line has terrible stations, apparently. Stoughton was awful, and Canton Center isn’t much better.

Yeah…this is kind of it.

A small platform with almost nothing but a single shelter and a few benches underneath. A parking lot with 215 spaces, as well as a few bike racks. A crumbling mini-high platform, with nothing but a wastebasket on top, that occupies so much of the platform that wheelchairs have to go through the parking lot in order to access the ramp. And that’s Canton Center.

Having “STOP”ed at the crossing, the train is ready to proceed.

Station: Canton Center

Ridership: Just 469 inbound passengers per weekday, which makes it the least-used station on the Stoughton Line…since Stoughton is the only other station. But besides TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction (which get too little service to have high ridership) and Hyde Park (which is too close to the city for many to justify paying the Zone 1 fare), this is also the least-used station on the Providence Line!

Pros: Parking’s 4 bucks on weekdays and 2 on weekends. So, the standard amount. Bike racks, those are nice. It’s accessible, always a plus. There’s a shelter with benches under it that’s pretty close to the mini-high. And the station has a flag-down bus connection to the MBTA 716.

Cons: There’s basically nothing to it! The mini-high has nothing but a wastebasket on it, wreaking havoc for the people who board here during off-peak times. All…25 of them. Yeah, you know what, that makes sense that this station is only used by morning commuters who don’t want to pack onto overcrowded Providence trains. Because Canton Junction is just 0.7 miles away, and that gets far more frequent service and, believe it or not, far higher ridership too! But hey, at least trains don’t block the crossing when they’re stopped here. Oh wait, that’s because the station has the ridiculous arrangement where they have to inch forward, STOP to let the gates come down, and then proceed. I don’t know which level-crossing-near-station arrangement is worse!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Canton Center is basically just one street, but it seems pleasant enough – a few restaurants and cafes, but nothing much else that makes it worth coming here. In the opposite direction, though, is the Museum of American Bird Art, which comes complete with lovely hiking trails around it. It’s a ten-minute walk from the station (or 17 minutes from Canton Junction…).

Final Verdict: 2/10
Yeah, you know what, I did phone this one in. Not like the station’s trying very hard! I feel a deep sense of malice towards this stop, not because of its awful mini-high or its stupid level crossing situation, but because it’s so close to Canton Junction. I get that a decent amount of people commute from here, but I can’t stop the voice in my head from screaming “Just go to Canton Junction! It gets better service! Then we can close this stupid stop down!” Oh well…even besides that, the station’s still awful. Once the Stoughton Line gets extended to the South Coast, stopping here will feel like even more of a waste of time.

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Race-Vine (BSL)

For family weekend, my parents stayed at a hotel from which Race-Vine was the closest station. It was still faster for me to just take the El and walk, but hey – new station review. Let’s do it.

An entrance on Race.

None of Race-Vine’s entrances at Race Street amount to much more than “thing sticking out of the ground.” The intersection has three entrances on its north side: two staircases and an elevator. The stairs to the east were enhanced by a mysterious puddle demarcated by some dirty traffic cones, while the ones to the west were decorated with chipping paint and rotting concrete.

Good timing on the bus’s part.

Based on what I had seen on the staircases, I was worried about the elevator, but it was actually decently clean inside! I found it interesting that they made it all glass, since all you can see on the way down is the paint chipping off the elevator shaft, but I’ll take it over no view at all. This is the only elevator at the station, unfortunately, so anyone coming from Vine has to make their way down here.

Man, City Hall is just incredible.

There’s a direct bus connection here to the 4 and 16, which both run on Broad Street, as well as the southbound 27 from the Plymouth Meeting Mall; the northbound stop gets a shelter. The Vine Street entrance doesn’t get any bus stops, since the buses stop north of the Vine Street Expressway instead. Many of NJT’s Philadelphia routes stop near here, too, with a sign (and only a sign) a block south at Broad and Cherry. Weirdly, on Google Maps, all of these stops are combined into one, and it’s called “Broad St at Cherry St”! That’s very confusing. And very wrong. And just very bad.

Down in the mezzanine.

Okay, it’s a SEPTA Broad Street Line station in Center City. Will the mezzanine be a normal size, with effective resources to handle large amounts of people? Or will it be way too big, with too much empty space and just two fare machines, despite the fact that this is the Broad Street Line’s primary station for the Pennsylvania Convention Center and thus probably gets a huge surge of one-time riders during conventions who need to use the machines? Uh-oh…I think it’s the latter…

Past the faregates.

Beyond the faregates, it’s…more empty space! And of course the sign pointing to the southbound still says “AT&T,” but the really sad thing is that that’s not even the worst signage mistake at this station. The elevators are down little ramps for some reason, but again, they were both pretty clean. Although signage to the convention center is decent outside of fare control, it’s practically nonexistent inside of it. So if you’re going to a convention and you just got out of a train, you’re out of luck if you’ve never been here before and don’t know to take the Race Street exit.

Up on Vine Street.

Okay, the Vine Street entrances have a lot more class than the Race Street ones. There are two of them, both south of the intersection (since the north side is occupied by the monstrosity known as the Vine Street Expressway), and they are a lot more obvious to passing pedestrians. The staircases coming down from them are cleaner, too. Race-Vine technically “has” bike racks in the form of roadside ones along Broad, but they’re not just for the station and feel more like general-use city racks.

The Vine mezzanine from beyond the faregates.

The not-in-fare-control part of the Vine mezzanine is a lot smaller than the Race one, which is both a blessing and a curse. It feels a lot less overwhelming to be in there, but SEPTA also skimped out on amenities, providing just a single fare machine. Plus, on the Saturday morning I was here, there was no cashier manning the booth (maybe there never is), which I guess means that many of the faregates have to be locked up so no one can jump them. Instead, you have to use giant turnstiles with Key readers in front. Once you’re past those, the room is much bigger, and it has nothing in it aside from staircases down to the platforms.

The platform.

Okay, credit where credit is due, this platform was cleaner than most other SEPTA platforms. The tracks had less trash on them, there was less paint chipping on the walls and ceilings, and there were fewer places that looked like they could collapse at any moment. It wasn’t pleasant by any means, but it was better than most. The station has island platforms for both local and express trains, and there are benches and wastebaskets laid out along the whole thing. Oh, and that signage error I mentioned? There’s a sign that says “Local to Fernrock” as one word. Oof.

SEPTA…getting your own terminal wrong like this is not a good look. This is worse than usual.

Station: Race-Vine (BSL)

Ridership: It’s actually quite low: a little under 3,000 riders per weekday. It’s the fifth least-used station on the Broad Street Line, not including stops on the Broad-Ridge Spur. Why could this be? Well, City Hall is only two blocks south – if you’re going to transfer to the El, you might as well just walk. Plus, to the north is the Vine Street Expressway, effectively a giant void that cuts off much of the neighborhood to the north. Maybe it gets more riders during conventions, but on a daily basis, ridership is light.

Pros: An accessible Broad Street Line station? Yeah, I’ll take it! I also admire the general cleanliness of the station compared to others, both with the elevators and with the platforms (for the most part).

Cons: Okay, so we had everything that was already bad about it, which ranged from small things like sign errors and weird Google Maps bus stop mishaps, to big things like inefficient mezzanines and grimy staircases at the Race Street entrance…but when you also throw in the fact that very few people (less than seven per train. Seven!) use it, it makes it that much worse. Why do express trains stop here again?

Nearby and Noteworthy: It’s the closest stop on the main Broad Street Line to Chinatown, so if you’re coming from South Philadelphia, this is the place to get off. In the other direction, it’s the closest Broad Street Line stop to the Parkway Museums. As for right around the station, you’ve got a few hospitals, the convention center, and (okay, actual cool one) the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. But honestly, for a Center City station, there’s not a ton around here…

Final Verdict: 3/10
I feel inclined to throw it a bone for being accessible. That’s not the case for way too many Broad Street Line stations, so…I’ll give it that. But aside from the issues with the station itself, it’s not good if I’m questioning the existence of something I’m reviewing. It’s 0.2 miles from City Hall, the busiest station on the network, and that plus some other factors really hurts its ridership. At the very least, express trains should skip it; they stop way too frequently in Center City to begin with.

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Stoughton

The poor Stoughton Line has been having a rough couple of weeks. No one has given it much thought in the wake of the crippling Red Line derailment, but it seems like there are delayed trains on the weekday-only line on a daily basis. Riders have even started a Facebook page to keep track of late trains, which they say the MBTA underestimates. Now, I don’t ride the Stoughton Line, so I can’t speak on that…but I can speak on the fact that the line’s final stop is not good.

The mysterious-looking building.

Start with the positives, though: Stoughton has a really impressive building. Constructed out of granite in 1888, this structure is gorgeous, right down to the “Stoughton” sign over the entrance that sadly can’t be seen very well in the dark photo above. This is also the only train station in Massachusetts with a clock tower (CORRECTION: Forest Hills has one too), although the clock doesn’t actually work. The problem with the building? It’s not open, and it hasn’t been for years. Hopefully the town can do something with it now that they’ve bought it.

One of the three lots.

Stoughton is one of the rare Commuter Rail stations that’s located in a downtown, but also has a ton of parking. The station has 361 spaces spread out between multiple lots spanning a few blocks downtown. Parking costs $4 per day on weekdays and $2 on weekends. There are also bike racks (and a few benches) underneath the awning of the building.

The low-level platform.

The station’s low-level platform is between Wyman and Canton Streets. It’s fine; most of it is sheltered, and underneath it are newspaper boxes, maps and schedules, and a digital sign. What’s missing, though, are benches. And this isn’t even one of those terminals where the trains hang out at the station for a while and you can just board – no, the trains go beyond it, so passengers do have to wait here. Not having even a single bench on the platform is unacceptable.

What hot garbage is this??

So…Stoughton’s platform is bisected by Wyman Street. And the mini-high is on the second half of the platform. Okay, okay, okay: on the one hand, I get it. The station’s right in a downtown, and you need space for a mini-high, and you gotta expand the platform somehow. Sure. But…that doesn’t change the fact that whenever a train is stopped here, it spills out over the road, simultaneously blocking traffic on it and on the next block, since that crossing goes down too! And because of that, trains have to continue beyond the station to a tiny siding to lay over! The crossing on Wyman Street doesn’t even have gates, I guess because the train blocks the way by default? But that could lead to nasty situations when it’s approaching the station and someone thinks they can beat it…

The mini-high platform.

This second platform is a lot shorter than the other one, and aside from a sign and a wastebasket, all it has is the mini-high. Once again, though, there are serious problems: sure, it has a bench, but the shelter is tiny and not at all effective at keeping rain off the platform. Even worse, it’s hard to call the platform accessible when the entrance to it from the street is blocked by the pole for the level crossing light. People can walk around it, but it’ll be a tough time getting a wheelchair past that.

There’s barely a train in here, but this was the best I had.

Station: Stoughton

Ridership: It’s below average as far as the Providence(/Stoughton) Line goes, but 917 riders per weekday is still great for Commuter Rail standards. Plus, the station gets fewer trains than the rest of the Providence Line, so that’s more riders per trip. And for what it’s worth, Stoughton is by far the busier station between it and Canton Center, the other stop on the branch.

Pros: That building, man. I really hope Stoughton goes through with its redevelopment, because that thing deserves to have something great in it. Besides that, I guess the amount of parking is decent, but if Stoughton ever revitalizes its downtown, those lots are taking up valuable space. The BAT 14 bus runs past here on its way to Brockton from Canton.

Cons: Although I had a multitude of problems with Stoughton, none better encapsulate the awfulness of this station than the platform arrangement. The station bisects a road…whose level crossing gets no gates…and also blocks wheelchairs from accessing the mini-high easily…and trains end up jamming two major downtown streets when they’re stopped here. Phase 2 of South Coast Rail would supposedly move the station south, solving the level crossing problem, and YES, that can’t happen soon enough!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I sorta hinted at the fact that Stoughton’s downtown is kinda dead, and…yeah, it is. There are a few restaurants that don’t look especially notable, so I’ll say the Stoughton Historical Society museum instead – maybe it can make what seems like a boring town a little more interesting. Be aware that it has very limited hours, though.

Final Verdict: 2/10
Harsh? Maybe. Deserved? Probably. Even the things I like about Stoughton have caveats: the building is abandoned at the moment, while the parking lots take up a ton of downtown land. And the things I don’t like? That platform arrangement alone is enough to make this station one of the worst on the Commuter Rail!

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