Guide to the RTAs’ Summer 2019 Service Changes

Might as well complete the trifecta here! There’s a decent amount going on this summer in RTA land, so let’s see how the changes stack up. This time we’ll be including all fifteen RTAs in Massachusetts, plus RIPTA.

BAT
BAT hyped itself up for getting three service improvement grants from Massachusetts; at time of writing, just one of them has actually been implemented, and that’s additional service on the 12 (the Ashmont route). Weirdly, though, even that is off – the press release says they’re adding two additional round trips, when as far as I can tell, far more has been added, mostly in the form of rush hour express trips (although my only point of reference is a timetable from back in March). In any case, I’m all for increased service on this overburdened route, although it should be noted that weekend service, especially Sundays, is still really bad.

What about the other two improvements? New trips to Brockton are supposed to be added to both the 14 from Stoughton and the BSU 28 from Bridgewater. Neither of those have happened yet, but we can only hope they’ll remember to implement them…

BRTA
Gotta give props to BRTA, they did something cool: the BRTA has added night service on its main north-south routes, the 1 and the 21. It’s just two extra trips, but it brings service as late as 11 PM (sort of, even if that trip is basically just returning to the garage), which is impressive for such a rural area!

CATA
As usual, nothing is changing long-term for CATA, although they are adding their usual summer services (the Rockport Loop is already running, while the Ipswich-Essex Explorer and Stage Fort Park Trolley begin this Saturday, June 15th).

CCRTA
CCRTA will be starting its summer schedule on June 22nd, with all of the associated seasonal routes and frequency increases.

FRTA
The most interesting thing they’re doing is adding a pilot program where seniors can ride free every Tuesday. That’s nice!

GATRA
No crazy new routes through the middle of nowhere this time! GATRA’s biggest change is just adding a new deviation to a retirement home on the FAB (Franklin Area Bus). Let’s just check the online schedule to see what it is. Huh…it’s not here? And the PDF is the same, too! What’s the service alert say? “Please check with the FAB driver for the new schedule.” Ah. Expert public relations from GATRA, as usual.

LRTA
This is a huge one: the LRTA is adding Sunday service to ten routes for a 9-month pilot program starting June 16th! Here’s the master schedule: the span is pretty limited (9:30 AM to 5:30 PM max), but the headways are standard, with most of the routes running every hour on a pulse. The three exceptions are the 18 (Downtown Shuttle), which will run every half hour; the 13 (Billerica via Edson), which will run every 90 minutes; and the new combined 15/16 (Westford via Chelmsford Street), which will also run every 90 minutes. Go out there and ride this service if you live in the area, because since they call it a pilot, it’s almost certainly a “use it or lose it” situation. A vibrant city like Lowell deserves bus service seven days a week!

MART
Nothing from MART this time. I eagerly await some random new commuter shuttle at some point!

MVRTA
Nothing permanent, but the 83 to Salisbury and Hampton Beaches resumes service July 1st.

MWRTA
The MWRTA recently (about a month ago) updated schedules for the 1, 6, 9, and 14; I remember trying to figure out what was changing when they first came out, but I guess I didn’t expound enough effort on that because I couldn’t find anything. They’re all just as bad as ever! Also about a month ago, they updated the schedules for some of their commuter routes that I keep trying to pretend don’t exist but I can’t put off forever. These were schedules I was not at all familiar with, but I can’t imagine they changed much other than the running times. Their college shuttles entered into a reduced summer schedule, too.

But there is one interesting change: a new commuter shuttle, the Route 20 Shuttle, has been added. It actually looks awesome, running from Marlborough down Route 20 to Riverside. It makes three round trips in the morning and two in the evening, and if advertised well, it could be a really valuable connection for Boston commuters from Marlborough. I do find it odd that the last evening trip is at 5:30, though – it does return to Riverside at 6:30, but that trip expresses to the yard. You would think that given Riverside’s distance from Boston, there would be one last trip for those who get out of work in Boston at 5 or 5:30.

NRTA
The newly year-round Nantucket bus system enters its summer schedule between June 15th and June 22nd, depending on the route.

PVTA
PVTA is doing the same fare-free senior Tuesdays thing that FRTA is doing! Yay! But okay, there are some actual route changes, too. They’re happening (or happened) at different times, so I’ll put the date in there too.

G1 (6/23): Just a weekday running time update to keep buses on schedule.

G2/G2E (Last April): Ugh, the G2’s service was reduced to half hourly. What was the tradeoff? A new express version of the G2. I guess. Look, it is slightly (literally three to eight minutes) faster to Memorial Industrial Park on the express, but is it really worth the lost frequency on the corresponding local route that probably serves far more people?

B7 (6/23): “Departure times in the late evening adjusted to better accommodate transfers at Union Station.” I guess that just means adjusting the 10:20 trip to now leave at 10:25.

B7S (6/23): Ummm…I don’t get this? It’s a new route…running every half hour on weekdays only…that entirely duplicates the B7 until the end, when it goes to a senior center…but that senior center is already served by the X92. Like, the B7 is already every 15 minutes on weekdays. Even if that wasn’t good enough, why would this unnecessary, duplicative, probably bunchy-with-the-regular-B7 variant be the solution? Just use the bus to improve B7 frequency!

P20 (6/23): The last trip of the night will be five minutes faster.

P20E (6/23): After its stint of being Saturdays only, the P20E makes its triumphant return on weekdays! It has a weird inconsistent schedule, with frequencies ranging from ten minutes to two hours, but I suppose it’s overall more frequent than what the weekday schedule used to be. Back then, it was just every-two-hour R29 trips coming from the garage in Springfield; this new schedule is a combination of those trips and new standalone ones. I dunno, it’s weird, but the P20E is a lot faster than its local counterpart…hopefully people can figure out this schedule enough to find the route useful.

R24 (6/23): The route will travel via Hampshire Street instead of Sergeant Street in Holyoke, eliminating a pointless jog. Sounds good to me – now we just gotta deal with every other pointless jog on the R24!

R44 (this fall): Oh snap, who called it way back in 2017? That’s right: THIS guy! But shameless gloating aside, it is nice to see the PVTA turning the R44 into the bidirectional loop that it’s secretly meant to be. The problem is the schedule – the route would run every seventy minutes with the proposed change! And you can tell that this thing is padded to death – I’m almost certain they could get away with every hour without changing anything. For just one example, one direction takes seven minutes to get between Florence Heights and the Hampshire House of “Corretions” [sic]. The other direction? Sixteen minutes. Sorry, through passengers: you’ll just have to sit there and wait. Also…apparently this will only affect weekday service while weekend service stays the same? Yeah, that won’t confuse people!

LOOP (last April): The rare example of the PVTA unpadding a route! The LOOP was way too short to justify running it every hour, so they amended the schedule to have it run every 40 minutes instead. Yeah, I know, I wish it could be every half hour too…

UMass Routes (last May): Everything at UMass Transit is now running on its summer schedules. The 30 and 31 have an added trip in the evening, though.

RIPTA
RIPTA’s summer service changes come into effect June 22nd. Let’s look at each of them.

QX: The Quonset Express is getting extended to Pawtucket to improve access to the area. I don’t know if this is a sign that the route isn’t getting enough ridership or what, but hopefully the extension can attract new users! The route will also gain a stop in the Quonset area at NORAD.

1: The 1 is supposedly getting updated running times to keep buses on time, but…yeah, no, this new schedule is exactly the same.

13: I love how whenever RIPTA updates its running times for better on-time performance, they give the bus less time because there was too much padding! The 13 is one such example – trips will be scheduled about 3-5 minutes shorter.

29: And the 29 is another example! Trips will be about 5-10 minutes shorter.

61x: Huh, this is an interesting development. This route will gain one new trip in each direction, travelling against the peak. These trips are meant to connect to jobs along Metacom Ave; they’ll start at Exchange Terrace without serving the Downcity Loop, then run express (without the 61x’s weird East Side local section) to Seekonk, MA in order to get to TPI Composites in Warren, RI, and finally they’ll rejoin the regular route to Tiverton. Yeah, it’s a little weird, but with good advertising, I think it could bring in ridership. I do wish the new schedule differentiated between AM and PM trips, though, because it’s confusing the way they shaded everything with the same color.

66: The 8:24 AM inbound trip on Sundays will now depart at 8:13 to better connect to the Commuter Rail, a great change to help out Boston-bound passengers from southern Rhode Island. Now, apparently the route will also now serve stops on Post Road near TF Green Airport. I was originally going to get worked up about this (another deviation!!), but…it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Everything about the two schedules and maps is identical. So…I guess it’s fine, then?

67: The 67 will begin its more frequent summer service.

71: Another effort to keep buses from running early; the service will run about 2-3 minutes quicker.

95x: A new outbound trip in the morning and a new round trip in the afternoon have been added to serve students heading to CCRI in Westerly. Now, aside from the obligatory quip about how summer isn’t the best time to make this change, I think this is a great idea. Not only does it help out commuting students without cars, but it adds service to the most isolated large town in Rhode Island.

Beach Bus and Newport Ferry Shuttle: These seasonal services are starting up again!

SRTA
Back in March, the FR 5 and the NB 8 got new night service on weekdays. I hope that’s going well! As far as upcoming services go, the NB 1 will get a Saturday-only routing from June 29th to August 24th that loops around the peninsula it runs down to serve a beach. I…honestly don’t like this. Having separate routings on weekdays and Saturdays will be confusing, running in a loop that skips out on the major thoroughfare of the peninsula feels like it’s hurting the route’s many regular users for the sake of a few beachgoers, and the beach is literally a four-minute walk from the main road. Like…come on now.

VTA
Martha’s Vineyard’s transit system has already begun ramping up service for the shoulder season, but it goes into the full-force summer schedule starting June 22nd.

WRTA
The WRTA has a series of schedule changes for June 22nd. In classic WRTA fashion, we won’t be able to view the schedules themselves until they become effective, so we’ll see how much we can glean from the descriptions given…

1: “Route will now serve the Worcester Senior Center on all inbound and outbound trips.” I mean…it already does? Maybe this means it’ll deviate in now. It’s a senior center, after all, so I can see why they’d want to make it deviate.

2/6: The 2’s long-standing outbound-only by-request-only Mower Street deviation will be no more. Honestly…fine with me. Also, on Sundays, it’ll form a weird hybrid route with the 6 that serves Worcester State University but only goes as far as Tatnuck Square. Maybe it’s a “best of both worlds” situation, and it’ll be nice for at least part of the 6 corridor to finally get Sunday service, but I just worry the hybrid service might be confusing. Hopefully they make it clear what’s going on – I think MBTA examples like the paper timetables for the 62/76 and 72/75 are good examples of how do do something like this right.

5: I guess the 5 is getting a new layover point? It’ll now end a few blocks south of its current terminus at Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Center, a wildlife sanctuary. It’s probably just the closest place where the bus can lay over in an off-street location. Also, the route will start an hour later, at 7 AM.

7: The 7 will stop directly serving the Family Health Center on Sundays. This makes sense, as the Family Health Center is closed on Sundays.

8/40: A new route! The 40 will be eliminated and its bus will be used on the new route 8, which is honestly a much better usage of that vehicle. This is WRTA’s first true foray into crosstown service, running straight up the important Park Ave corridor from Webster Square Plaza to the Greendale Mall. Obviously there’s no timetable for it yet, and they’ve already said it will only be weekdays only, but I really hope this can open up new travel opportunities for riders in Worcester. It’s a great idea.

11: This route has really barebones Sunday service at the moment, so it’s great to see that it’ll be improved. While it currently starts at 12:30 PM, the new Sunday service will begin at 8:30. Fantastic!

14: Because this route’s ridership is heavily based on Quinsigamond Community College, it’ll only run every hour instead of every half hour on weekdays throughout the summer.

16/31: This loop will be getting more Saturday service! There’s no specific info out, but anything’s better than the six daily trips it provides now.

24/24A: Uh…”all timetables updated” is kinda all we get here. Will the service be better? Worse? No idea. Show us a schedule!

25: Rather than its current weekday service to the Auburn Industrial Park, the 25 will instead use Cambridge Street to cut over to Webster Square Plaza. This is a good change – the industrial park is tiny and probably doesn’t generate a lot of ridership, while Webster Square Plaza is becoming a mini-hub on the system with the addition of the 8. Kinda weird that the weekend service will still go to the Auburn Mall, though – it’s awfully different from the weekday!

26: The 26 is apparently gaining Saturday service! It’s already every half hour, so I’m curious what the frequency upgrade will be. I mean, it would be better if they put the extra bus on the 23 to make that every half hour, then marketed the two routes as one every-15-minute trunk route on Lincoln Street, but that’s besides the point…

29: This route will now express through Charlton Center, probably because of low ridership to that deviation, and it’ll use the extra time to extend to Big Bunny Plaza in Southbridge. Southbridge is a bigger destination than Charlton could ever hope to be, so I think serving more of it is a good idea.

Guide to the MBTA’s Summer 2019 Service Changes

Unlike the SEPTA debacle, the T has been getting better and better at releasing its schedule changes. These ones don’t come into play until June 23rd, and the website has a comprehensive list of everything changing – I’m barely needed here! But I can still make pithy remarks about all of them, right? Let’s do this.

CT3: The CT3’s rush hour short-turns from Andrew to the BU Medical Center are being eliminated. Those trips didn’t get much ridership, and their absence is being used to improve service along the rest of the line. It admittedly doesn’t do much to the morning rush (aside from making the 20-minute frequencies more consistent), but evening rush service improves from every half hour to every 21 minutes (okay, gross headway, but it’s still better). Reverse peak service is also more frequent than it was before, about five minutes better for most of the rush. Not that the CT3 gets at all busy in the reverse peak direction, but it’s still a nice thing to point out.

15: “Saturday schedule changes between 10:00 AM and 6:30 PM.” Does this mean the 15’s abysmal Saturday service is finally getting fixed??? Yes…sort of. Currently, the route operates every 15 minutes in the outbound direction, with every other trip ending at Kane Square; inbound service, however, is essentially every half hour because of really bad coordination. With this new schedule, outbound Saturday service will still be every 15 minutes, while inbound service will now run at (mostly) alternating intervals of 14-16 minutes. So much better. I do have to point out, though, that the Fields Corner trips are scheduled to take seven minutes longer to get from Kane Square to Dudley than the short-turns do, which makes no sense. I should also point out that the service is inconsistent, and gaps can be as small as 11 minutes and as large as 19, with random, inexplicable run time changes being the culprit. And finally, I should point out that this new schedule requires either a one-minute layover at Kane Square (seems risky) or an added bus to the route that just sits there for half an hour. I guess we’ll just have to see: will we get insanely unreliable inbound service, or will we get ridiculously long layovers at Kane Square?

16: A nice quality of life change: half-hourly service will now continue to 11 PM, when it used to end at 10. Anything helps!

21: Well, this is a little bizarre! The 21 will now run every 15 minutes or better all day on weekdays, up from every 20. That makes the 21 one of the most frequent non-key weekday routes on the entire system, which is crazy to me because the weekend service is still terrible! Every 45 minutes on Saturdays? Every hour on Sundays? What’s the deal with that? Still, kudos to the T for that weekday upgrade.

31: Oh yeah, speaking of non-key routes that provide frequent service, the 31 remains a route that is key in everything but name (well, except the every 21 minute Sunday service and infrequent weekend night service, which really make me want to rescind the 10/10 I gave it). This is an interesting schedule change: the 31 will run a consistent 8-10 minute headway all day on weekdays, rather than having a crazy every 5-6 minute rush hour. While on the one hand, the route’s rush hour service never gets significantly busier than midday (barring dropped trips), nearly doubling the headway could lead to very crowded buses. I think I’m tentatively in support of this, especially if the resources gained were used to help out the 21, but let’s just hope things don’t get too busy.

32: Uhhh…yeah, I don’t really get this one. That one Saturday morning 32/33 trip will now be operated as a 33, I guess? Nothing has changed beyond a small adjustment to the running time. If you use this trip, I’m fairly certain you don’t have to worry about anything.

39: In an effort to combat unreliability, weekend service will be slightly less frequent: Saturday service will run about every 12 minutes, down from every 10, while Sunday service will be every 13-14, down from every 11-12.

43: In an effort to combat unreliability, weekend service will be significantly less frequent. While the route currently runs every 20 minutes on Saturdays and every 25 on Sundays, it will soon run every half hour on both days. Particularly for Saturdays, that will make the route next to useless, although in the T’s defense, Saturday ridership by trip is super low. Not that this will help!!

44: The official description says “Saturday schedule changes throughout the day,” but it’s a lot less major than it sounds. A chunk of inbound trips from 6 AM to 9:15 AM will leave about five minutes later, and an extra inbound trip is being added at 7:14 PM. Overall, then, I guess it ends up being a net positive thanks to that extra trip! Woo!

45: Just a few departure time changes here and there, namely Saturday and Sunday evenings.

55: Another case of lost weekend service to help reliability. Saturday service will run every 40 minutes instead of every 35, and Sunday service will be less consistent in the inbound direction.

70/70A: Changes to the 70? Is it good yet? We’re just shifting some weekday trip times? Alright, cool. Wake me up when the route is actually, like, not completely insane.

71/73: Ah, and now we get to the Harvard Busway Renovation. The Harvard Upper Busway will be closed throughout the summer, and it’s affecting almost every route that runs through it (except the 86). For the 71 and 73, inbound buses will terminate at University Road while outbound buses will begin at Story Street. The upside to this, though, is that service will be slightly more frequent because of the shorter trip time! Rush hour will shave off a few minutes from the headway, as will Saturday and night service.

72: For routes that typically board from the Upper Busway, outbound buses will board in the Lower Busway and inbound buses will drop off at Brattle Street @ Palmer Street in Harvard Square. Unlike with the 71/73, this results in a longer trip time, and we end up with some fun headways. The 72, for example, will now run every 32 minutes on Saturdays instead of every 30, and the currently every 40 minute 72/75 will operate every [checks notes] 43-47 minutes. Oof.

74/75: For detour information, see 72 above. These routes aren’t horrendously affected by the detours, actually – they maintain their headways, just with running time changes (inbound trips will take longer).

76: Oh…hi, Alewife route. Just a couple of trips moving by five minutes? Alright.

77: For detour information, see 72 above. Despite being a minute less frequent at some times, the 77 mostly makes it out of this unscathed…with one major exception: my beloved 77A will cease to exist! Yes, because of the detour, trackless trolleys will have to use Huron Ave to get from North Cambridge to the 71/73, meaning no more 77A trips to and from the garage. They had better be reinstated after the detour is complete! I love those things!

78: For detour information, see 72 above. Yikes, we’ve got some rough new headways here: every 37-38 minutes on weekdays, every 70 minutes on Saturdays, and new inconsistent departure times on Sundays.

89: There are lots of time shifts on weekdays and Saturdays, but no frequency is lost (although there are some weird inconsistent departure times now). On Sundays, meanwhile, all trips will terminate at Davis with nothing continuing on to Clarendon Hill. Does the shorter route length mean we’ll get better service than the current every 70 minute schedule? No? Ugh.

93: The 1:08 AM bus from Sullivan will no longer hold for the last train. My guess for why they got rid of this is that some people use its return trip from downtown, and that might’ve been getting late from waiting for the train. Just in case the last train happens to arrive after 1:08, there will be a new 1:40 bus from Sullivan that will probably get nobody (although it does connect to the 2:00 trip from Haymarket – waiting for the last train could’ve also caused the bus to be late for this journey). I guess there are decent reasons to not have the 1:08 trip hold, but the loss of the guaranteed connection won’t help ridership, and the 2:00 trip is on the chopping block anyway.

94: Some weekday headways will be shorter, some weekday headways will be longer, but ultimately, service will be lost. The schedule is kind of a mess so it’s hard to be more specific than that, but ultimately, the route will be running slightly fewer trips than it does now. Also, weirdly, the outbound-only variant that runs via Medford High School will still operate that way, despite the fact that it’s summer and there’s no one to drop off there!

96: For detour information, see 72 above. Wisely, given the Harvard Square detour, one more inbound Davis Square short-turn is added in the morning rush, and peak-direction headways stay pretty intact as a result. Not so for the evening rush, where service will be every 25 minutes instead of every 20. There are some weekend running time changes to accommodate for the detour, too. Annoyingly, the paper schedule for the 96 doesn’t reference the detour at all, which should really be rectified to avoid confusion!

99: A few running time changes and an extra outbound trip in the afternoon. I can never complain about extra trips, even if it is just one!

101: There are a few small trip time changes on weekdays, but nothing crazy. Probably to help reliability (which is abysmal on this route), weekend service will no longer loop through Malden Square, but it should be noted that the running times stay almost exactly the same. Anything to get the route’s on-time rate above 65%, eh?

108: Two early afternoon Sunday outbound trips are moving up by five minutes.

109:Weekday inbound trip eliminated at 2:30 PM.” Yeah, but…that’s a school trip. Of course it’s being eliminated – it’s summer. Unless…is it being eliminated forever? I doubt it, because it’s a busy trip during the school year. I dunno, this one is just confusing.

110: The first inbound trip at 5 AM will now leave at 4:55.

116/117: The 116/117 currently have an odd weekday schedule where midmorning service is every 15 minutes, while early afternoon service is every 10 minutes. This update will make the route every 12 minutes throughout the midday, which I think is an improvement.

134: I was excited here, because I thought the 134’s butchering from last rating would be fixed. Nope – just a few running time changes. At least the 6:10 AM outbound trip will now go all the way to North Woburn

225: The Saturday inbound trip at 7:45 AM will now depart at 7:40.

238: A new inbound trip at 9:02 PM is being added – it’s probably coming from a 240. Meanwhile, weekend service gets more inconsistent, although the headways themselves are fairly similar to what they are now most of the time.

240: On weekdays, the 5:41 AM outbound trip will travel to Holbrook/Randolph instead of Avon. Also, the 9:02 PM inbound trip will no longer run – I guess I was right, it’s now a 238! For Saturdays…oh boy, what was once a clean half-hourly schedule will now be every 25-40 minutes. Yeah, it’s as crazy as it sounds. Finally, Sunday has departure time shifts throughout the day, which the T forgot to mention on its list…

326: Haha, remember last rating when the T got rid of a bunch of morning peak 326 trips and I said it would be a disaster? Well, I guess it was, because the T is restoring most of those morning rush trips!

426: As far as clean clockface headways go, another one bites the dust: weekday trips will be much more inconsistent, despite no actual loss of service.

428: Running times will be longer on all trips.

429: A route with hourly service, huh? Nah, I like 64-76 minute service instead. Totally better! Really! Yes, I know the 429 is ridiculously unreliable, but this is just awful, and it’s frustrating how many routes are getting this treatment! Sigh…also, inbound Sunday trips will be three minutes shorter, but that wasn’t on the T’s list either. And Sunday service is just as unreliable as weekday service, so unless all 42% of those “not on time” buses were early, I really don’t see why we’re doing this.

436: The three trips between 6 and 7:30 AM get shifted by 3-10 minutes.

442: This is such a minutely positive change, but I’ll take what I can get at this point: the 7:40 PM inbound trip will now go to Wonderland instead of West Lynn Garage.

450: A few time shifts between the evening rush and about midnight; some are bigger than others, so check the schedule if you travel during these times, particularly at night.

455: Like the 450, we have time shifts between the evening rush and nighttime. These ones are generally less severe than the 450’s.

459: The 459 gets one last hurrah, I guess: despite the fact that it’s being eliminated in the fall, the route ends up with better service this rating! Headways are still inconsistent, but they average at about 60-70 minutes, unlike the current service that’s about every two hours! Hey, it’s nice to end on a positive note.

There was some really good stuff at the beginning of this. The frequency improvements on the 21 were a big highlight, as was the 15 getting at least a little bit more rational on Saturdays. But from there, it just came back to the same thing we see every rating: getting rid of clockface headways. I know reliability is important, and MBTA buses are late all the time, but these schedules are just insane. We need more vehicles or better transit infrastructure or something, because it is so frustrating watching perfectly good schedules degenerate into crazy ones every single time they change. Anyway…come fall, we get Phase 1 of Better Bus, so hopefully I’ll be more positive then!

Guide to SEPTA’s Summer 2019 Transit Service Changes

Boy oh boy oh boy, did SEPTA botch this one up. They waited until two days before these changes are scheduled to occur to put the update on the website, and there are a ton of missing links and false information and typos and oh geez, we have a lot to get through. These come into effect today, June 9th and tomorrow, June 10th, so yes, I am a bit late, but they were the ones that posted these two days before! Then again, I just got home from Scotland, so I couldn’t even start working on this until yesterday.

First of all, here’s the list of the updated schedules, which only links from the website’s banner, which doesn’t appear for people who have adblockers enabled, for some reason. I don’t know why this wouldn’t go into the “News and Events” tab, especially since that’s what they do for every other schedule change, but sure. So, let’s get into it. SEPTA said almost nothing about what’s changing, so I’m just cycling back and forth between the old and new schedules to see what’s different. Also, as a bonus round, I’ll add in whenever I find errors in the schedules, because there are more than there should be. The routes with actual changes will be bolded, while anything that’s just an error won’t be. Also, I won’t mention any instances where variants specifically meant to service schools are dropped, because that’s obvious. Alright, let’s get into this. This was your job, SEPTA!

2: Midday service will go from every 18 minutes to every 20 minutes, which is honestly fine with me – it’s easier to remember. However, given previous years, I believe most of the frequency reductions are only temporary for the summer since ridership is lower. We’ll see…this is one I actually like.

3: Some departure times at rush hour are shifting. Also, our first error: the 3 is supposed to be a 15-15-5 route, but its schedule card didn’t get the fancy cover that the other ones did.

6: Yes, this is super pedantic, but the times on the headway matrix are written like “7AM” with no 0s instead of “7:00AM” like all the other ones. This also isn’t the last time this will happen.

8: This route loses a ton of service because it tends to get swamped with kids going to school. No school, less service: it’ll be every half hour for most of the day, with 20-minute service at rush hour.

11: Rush hour service drops from every 6-7 minutes to every 8.

13: Service in the morning rush will be every 5 minutes, down from every 4. Also, why doesn’t the route map distinguish the fact that the section to Darby runs far less frequently than the rest of the line?

14: Lots of departure time shifts throughout the schedule on all seven days, but nothing groundbreaking. The route is still as complicated as ever, of course.

17: Right, first of all, the route apparently runs every 8 minutes or less between 7:00 AM and…”3:000 AM.” It’s funny enough that they wrote “AM” accidentally, but the extra 0 is like a cherry on top of the cake. The schedule also weirdly says that “Route 17 service between 20th-Johnson and Penn’s Landing operates every 20 minutes or less,” but it’s really every 10 minutes or less.

18: Running time changes and some reductions in frequency during school peak times, because, you know, no school.

20: Er…the morning rush loses service, but the evening rush gains service. Doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense, but I’ve never ridden the route, so maybe it was a good change.

21: Trip time changes throughout the day, but the frequencies are the same. Also, I’m aware that they accidentally published a version of the timetable with the destinations of the 20 on the cover. They’ve since removed it, but I’m sure as heck going to mention it, because it’s hilarious.

23: I was freaking out because I thought Saturday service was dropping to every 20 minutes, but no…they just put the Sunday timetable before the Saturday one in the schedule PDF. Good job.

25: Just a few departure time changes throughout the week.

26: Less service at rush hour and school peak times.

28: Less service during the school peaks.

29: Service reductions across the board, most notably midday service dropping to every 20 minutes from every 16-17. Don’t worry, though, it becomes every 12 minutes at 1 PM, down from every 10, but still…why doesn’t it stay every 20 then? It’s not like there’s school to require extra service.

30: Did they make the 30 less awful? Oh no, they just changed some departure times. Darn.

32: Less service at rush hour and school peak times.

34: Less service at rush hour.

36: There look to be some trip time adjustments during rush hour, but frequency remains about the same. Also, a rogue bracket apparently got into the “Shuttle Bus will serve Woodland Ave approximately every 20 minutes during peak] travel periods.” And we’ve still yet to get a schedule for that service…

42: Lots of trip time changes on the weekdays, but no decreases in frequency. Weekends fare worse: it goes from every 10 to every 12 minutes on Saturdays, and from every 14 to every 16 on Sundays. Not only is the service worse, but it also kills the coordination with the 21 along Walnut and Chestnut. Sure, it more often than not bunches anyway, but it was still fantastic in concept. Also, there are so many weird typos and capitalization errors in the text about “riding around” in Society Hill that listing them here would take forever. Take my word for it. Finally, this route totally qualifies as a 15-15-5 route, but SEPTA just doesn’t want to accept it.

43: Oof, rush hour loses some service, but midday really takes the hit: every half hour instead of every 20 minutes. Is summer ridership really so low that this important crosstown needs to be that infrequent?

45: This one should be a 15-15-5 route, but nope, guess SEPTA doesn’t think so. Ugh.

46: Ah, we’re doing the “7AM” thing again.

47: And again! Rush hour loses some service, too, but nothing too substantial.

52: Rush hour service decreases from every 4 minutes to every 5. They also did an interesting thing where they separated the limited, much longer Gladwyne trips from the main schedule and gave them their own timetable. I was skeptical, but it actually works pretty well. I just wish the Gladwyne routing hadn’t been taken off the map above.

54: Less service during school peak periods.

56: Rush hour service is every 10 minutes, down from every 8, and there are trip time changes throughout the day.

57: The morning rush is mostly the same, but the evening rush is slightly less frequent.

58: There are some service reductions during the rushes. Also, the route to the Neshaminy Mall is shown as being half-hourly, but it’s almost never that frequent!

59: Service throughout the weekday is less frequent, including middays: every 16 minutes instead of 15 (blech).

60: Midday service will be every 15 minutes instead of every 12, while evening rush service will run every 11 minutes rather than every 10.

64: Very slightly less frequent service at rush hour.

66: Less service at rush hour, but also midday, alas, when service will be every 10 minutes instead of every 8.

67: The classic story: rush hour loses service, and there are trip time changes throughout the day.

68: Some trip time changes, but also, the hourly service from midnight to 2 AM to UPS appears to have been eliminated! I don’t know if those trips got people or not, but this seems like something more permanent (not summer-specific).

70: Less rush hour and school peak service. Also, this should be a 15-15-5 route, but it doesn’t get that branding.

77: Trip time changes throughout the week.

79: The schedule looks like it’s mostly the same, but service from 5 AM to 6 AM is much less frequent than it used to be.

80: Some trip time changes.

88: Yes, believe it or not, it’s less rush hour and school peak service! And trip time changes!

89: Trip time changes.

G: Yet another obvious 15-15-5 route that doesn’t get that billing. Also…less service throughout the day (every 15 instead of every 12 middays).

H/XH: Less service at rush hour and school peak times.

K: Trip time changes and less rush hour service.

L: We’re doing the “7AM” thing once again. Just be consistent!

R: Less service at rush hour and school peak times. Also, yes, it’s the “7AM” thing again.

91: The Saturday-only prison route’s outbound trips will all depart five minutes earlier from Norristown.

93: Trip time changes.

94: Trip time changes.

96: Some really minor time changes on a few trips.

97: One trip, the 6:10 PM out of Norristown, will now leave at 6:15.

98: Lots of trip time changes. Also, the first three trips to Norristown will now begin at Plymouth Meeting Mall rather than Blue Bell.

99: The 6:10 PM out of Norristown will now leave at 6:15.

101/102: The suburban trolleys will run every half hour instead of every 20 minutes on weekdays and lose a bit of rush hour service, both temporary changes for the summer.

104/112: Some trip time changes, some lost rush hour express trips. Also, in perhaps the biggest change on this whole stinking list (which has been so boring to compile), the 112 loses Sunday service, replaced by extra trips on the 104. The two routes are almost identical up until the 112’s terminus, so it’s not a huge deal, it’s just…a thing that happened. I guess.

106: The first westbound trip of the day will be a minute faster.

113: Some trip time changes.

115: Some trip time changes.

119: Some trip time changes.

120: The 120 loses a ton of service because its primary purpose is serving Cheyney University. It’ll only run eight times a day throughout the summer.

123: A dropped trip weekday mornings, but an extra trip Saturday evenings.

124: Some trip time changes on weekends.

125: Some service is lost in the morning rush, as well as on weekends. There are trip time changes, too.

126: Some trip time changes.

127: Trip time changes, and a dropped eastbound trip on weekdays.

And now it’s Sunday and the schedules have come into effect. With no way to compare the old and new schedules anymore, I’m forced to use the Wayback Machine to see the old timetables. This is what happens when you announce the service change two days before it comes into effect and don’t tell your riders any of the changes that are actually occurring! Anyway…let’s soldier on.

128: The 8:05 trip from Neshaminy Mall will now be an 8:00.

131: A few trip time changes and a new 6:11 PM trip from Audubon to Norristown.

132: Uh-oh…the 5:33 AM trip from Montgomery Mall will now leave at 5:34!!!!!

150: The 1:45 PM trip from Parx Casino will now be a 2:00.

201: The most recent Wayback Machine PDF for this route is from August 2018, but the only difference between those two schedules is that the 6:40 AM trip from Fort Washington is now leaving at 6:35.

MFL: Er…the new schedule for the MFL doesn’t seem to be up anywhere. Which is a little strange, since they are making a major change to it: all-stop service will begin at 5 PM instead of 5:30 PM, continuing the slow whittling away of rush hour skip-stop service (good). I’m also aware that the schedule card for this thing has a ton of errors on it, but they haven’t put it online, so I guess I can’t point them out here.

And that’s the long, comprehensive list of changes. Man, this was a pain to put together, especially since the vast majority of these are temporary changes for the summer or just plain insignificant. I just didn’t have a lot to say for most of these, which is why it ended up being a bit of a boring list. Still…hopefully someone out there finds it useful so the four hours it took to put this together wasn’t in vain!

79 (Columbus Commons to 29th-Snyder)

The 79 is a pretty good route to begin with: it’s a short, generally frequent, well-used crosstown straight across South Philadelphia on Snyder Ave. Sure, it used trackless trolleys until 2003, and it’s a real bummer that it doesn’t use them anymore, but 16 years later, SEPTA decided to give the route an almost-equivalent replacement:

Awwwww yeah!

Yes, SEPTA recently put electric battery Proterra buses on the 29 and 79, both South Philly crosstowns that used to use trackless trolleys! Granted, this happened about two years later than it was supposed to, but better late than never, I suppose. The insides of the buses are beautiful and near-spotless, although I can’t say I agree with SEPTA’s decision to put ads over the rear window. I would rather it be on the rear than on the side (since you have to make an effort to look out the rear window, while on the side, your eyes are drawn by default), but it ruins that cool backside view!

The inside.

The 79’s layover point on Columbus Boulevard is hard to find if you don’t know where you’re going. It’s the only route at that stop, and also the only one that doesn’t deviate into any of the surrounding plazas. From that obscure stop, we turned immediately onto Snyder Ave, running by some lesser suburban shopping plazas. Right after we went under I-95, though, we entered a real neighborhood with dense rowhouses and plenty of retail.

I tried to get some rearview shots. It didn’t work very well.

There wasn’t a ton of diversity in the scenery, so we just headed down Snyder Ave in our cool electric bus, generally picking someone up every block. Because the route stops so frequently, you unfortunately never get to hear the electric engine roar, but it still sounds good for what it is. Nearly everyone got off at the huge retail hub of Broad and Snyder, many probably heading for the Broad Street Line. A new smattering of people got on here, too, heading west on the route.

Broad Street, complete with median parking, because South Philly.

We weaved through the intersection with the diagonal Passyunk Ave (it’s a bit weird) and continued past more apartments and businesses. 24th Street had some greenery and a path in its median, while 25th Street had the falling-apart freight rail viaduct leaving it in shadow. There was some industry past there, as well as an apartment development and some more rowhouses (that now had front lawns). We turned onto 29th Street and the driver kicked me off at Vare Ave, after which the bus would loop back around onto Snyder to return to the malls.

The bus rounding the curve onto Vare Ave.

Route: 79 (Columbus Commons to 29th-Snyder)

Ridership: It only gets an average of 5,367 people per weekday, but this route is short at just 3 miles. Because of that, it ends up with the seventh-best farebox recovery ratio on SEPTA: 45%. Every 79 trip I’ve done has gotten a healthy amount of people with not too many at one time. Every trip, that is, except at rush hour, when this route genuinely gets crowded – it’s one of the few SEPTA routes that’s more productive at rush hour than it is middays.

Pros: First and foremost, its length. The route never takes longer than 25 minutes to go from end to end, and it’s often closer to 20. This translates to being able to provide better service with fewer buses, as well as better on-time performance, which was apparently just 82% in 2018, but it was 90% in 2017. Most of the time, the 79 is really frequent, running every 8-10 minutes at rush hour, every 12 minutes during the day, and every 15 minutes on Saturdays. It also has hourly owl service throughout the night, which makes for a good lifeline service for workers with odd hours in South Philly. Oh, and Proterras! It uses Proterras! I love that!

Cons: Oh come on, every half hour on Sundays? That’s terrible! Also, SEPTA considers this a “15-15-5” route on its maps, but it’s not! It becomes every half hour at around 7:20 on weekdays, way before 9 PM! Granted, that’s only one of many, many errors on SEPTA’s stupid frequency map, but that’s something for another day. (EDIT: Gary in the comments pointed out that I was looking at Saturdays and not weekdays. The frequency map still has a ton of errors, though.) Honestly, the frequency issue is the only problem I can really think of here, and it’s a big one. I mean, how can you go from 15-minute service on Saturdays to half-hourly service on Sundays? That’s a huge drop.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Snyder Ave is a huge retail corridor with lots of different restaurants and bars along its length. You’ve also got the South Philly malls, if you’re into Walmart and IKEA and whatever…

Final Verdict: 7/10
It would be a 6 if it wasn’t for the Proterras bumping it up a point. Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t be so vehicle-biased, but they really are great little buses to ride. I genuinely do like the 79, too – I just wish its evening and Sunday service wasn’t so awful. If you added one bus, you could make it every 20 minutes, which would be a lot better!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Little Roady (Providence’s Autonomous Vehicle Pilot)

Er…did anyone else hear about this? Self-driving cars running along a fixed-route in Providence? One of the first times in the country that something like this has happened? Started last Wednesday? The future is now, apparently!

My first sighting of the Little Roady.

Alright, we’re gonna need some backstory on this. Little Roady is a pilot from May Mobility, a startup from Michigan focused on deploying autonomous cars around the country. Providence is their fourth conquest; the first three were Detroit, Columbus, and Grand Rapids (maybe – it was supposed to have started there, but I can’t find anything saying it officially has). The one in Detroit is a private shuttle for a single company, while the deployments and Columbus and Grand Rapids are downtown circulators.

The Providence route tries something new: actually being a useful transit service. The team creating the route were looking for the shortest corridor that wouldn’t duplicate a RIPTA bus, and what they came up with runs from Providence Station to Olneyville Square via Eagle Square. I think this is a great route – I deride RIPTA for providing basically no circumferential service within Providence (everything goes to Kennedy Plaza), and while this isn’t what I had in mind, it’s a good start. It provides a one-seat ride between many places without one, and it also uniquely serves some developing areas along the way. Plus, the route serves neighborhoods of all different incomes and walks of life, so people of many different demographics will have the opportunity to use it. The service is frequent at every 10-15 minutes, plus it’s free for the duration of the year-long pilot.

As can be seen in the first photo, though, these things aren’t buses. They have a capacity of just five people plus a “fleet attendant” (driver, basically). In a way, though, that makes Providence a pretty good place to pilot this technology: it’s a small city, so most of the time, the buses won’t be overrun with people. That being said, a driver told me that at one point, fifteen students wanted to board at the train station. They had to dispatch multiple vehicles there to accommodate them all. There have apparently been other situations where one person waiting would flat-out get left behind because of capacity issues. The solution according to the FAQs? “Wait time [for the next vehicle] is approximately 10-15 minutes.” Yeesh.

The inside of “Malachi.”

At the termini, the car just sits there, and it always feels awkward to just open the doors in the back. “Is it alright if I come in?” I asked the driver through the open window. “Yes, yes, of course!” he replied, and I opened the back door. The driver told me his name, as well as the name of the car (each car has a different name that begins with M), and he laid out the safety rules: put on your seatbelt and only leave the car curbside. Sounds good to me.

The Rhode Island state house. Beautiful building!

The website warns users that it might not drive in autonomous mode all the time, but I wasn’t prepared for just how often it’s driven in manual. For the entirety of the loop around the state house, we were in manual mode. The vehicle was quiet (it’s electric (boogie woogie woogie)) and also rather slow – it tops out at 25 MPH in manual mode, and just 22 MPH in automatic mode. We turned onto Hayes Street, then Park Street, running underneath a parking garage for the Providence Place Mall.

A factory converted to apartments.

Once we turned onto Promenade Street along the Woonasquatucket River, the driver switched the car into automatic mode. The road was pretty quiet, but it was still so cool to know that the car was driving itself. But also…it was kinda janky. I mean, the thing tried to stop when a vehicle 400 feet ahead of us switched into our lane. And it confuses the car when someone crosses over the yellow line when making a turn. Also, if someone drives too close behind, the vehicle stops, which seems counterintuitive and a bit dangerous. That’s why the fleet attendant is there – they have to be ready to switch into manual at the drop of a hat, because the cars can do some really wonky stuff sometimes.

An industrial lot.

The driver also tended to switch into manual whenever we reached a stop. It tries to pull over in automatic mode, but it has to slow down to do that, and if it slows down, the person behind gets too close, and then it tries to stop. It’s programmed to pull over at every stop even if no one is waiting, which makes sense (how could it know if someone’s waiting or not?), but it ends up making the ride a heck of a lot slower. Because you have to wait for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes at each stop, it turns what could be a 12- to 13-minute ride in good conditions into a 20-minute ride.

Inside the ALCO development.

The route ends up deviating into a mixed-use development called ALCO (don’t worry, it’s a good deviation that helps the shuttle progress along its route). We were in automatic mode as we crawled through at the low speed limit of the development, then we rounded the turn from “Iron Horse Way” onto a side road along a parking lot where the stop is. CLANG CLANG CLANG! The car jumped up onto the curb with some nasty shaking. “That’s not supposed to happen…” the driver said as he hurriedly shifted to manual to correct the error. He radioed into central control to report the incident.

A hilly side street.

We turned onto Valley Street, which felt industrial, but there were a lot of burgeoning residential developments that have sprung up recently in old factories. The next stop serves US Rubber, one of those apartment buildings, and Eagle Square, which most notably has a Price Rite supermarket. It was pretty industrial south of there, but again, there were a few houses and factory-turned-apartments. We also passed the home base for the Little Roady operation, an inconspicuous warehouse.

Some employees attending to one of the vehicles.

The intersection of Valley Road and Delaine Street is a four-way stop, and the driver told me that the vehicle is totally capable of handling it in automatic mode, which is really cool. It wasn’t too busy at this point, but he said that it’s “awesome” watching the car navigate it when there’s a lot of traffic. Soon after that, we arrived at Olneyville Square, turning onto Westminster Street. “I gotta put it in manual here,” the driver said. “There are always parked cars and that confuses it.” Add it to the list, I guess…

The vehicle in Olneyville.

“Can I sit shotgun on the way back?” I asked the driver. “Sure, absolutely!” he responded. Now in the front, I got a better view of the futuristic controls of the car. A giant computer screen shows the car’s speed, whether it’s in automatic or manual, a 3D model of the vehicle itself, and a live map of where all the shuttles are along the route. It also displays some really cool extra information about what the car is “thinking,” such as what the next traffic light is showing and if the vehicle spots an obstruction ahead. The driver doesn’t actually use a steering wheel, it’s more of a handlebar with a ton of buttons on it.

Some shots of the front.

Later in the day, I took the Little Roady again. I was in “Magic” this time, and a RIPTA employee was riding shotgun (according to the website, RIPTA employees are riding to “learn more about autonomous and electric technologies, micro-transit, and first-last mile solutions”). There was an incident where someone was standing a little too close to the curb for the car’s comfort (it stopped and the driver had to get it out of there manually), and we also encountered Little Roady’s biggest fear: rain. Yes, if it rains even a little bit, the sensors can’t see clearly and the cars have to be driven entirely in manual mode. What a letdown for my final trip!

A car going the other way.

Route: Little Roady

Ridership: I did a total of five one-way trips on Little Roady throughout the day. During that time, three riders boarded my vehicle: there was one person who was doing it for fun, one person who was going from Price Rite to the train station, and (most excitingly) one person who actually uses it regularly to commute between RIDOT and the Eagle Square area. The fact that two thirds of the riders were actually using it to get somewhere and not just for spectacle was awesome, and it was a sign that they picked a good route for the pilot. Most other vehicles I saw were either empty or had just one person inside, but I’ve heard the service does get busy periods, and riders have been left behind on the curb. Overall, given the frequency, it probably does add up to a decent daily ridership that should only go up as the word spreads.

Pros: Uhh…as a service or as an experience? ‘Cause on the basis that it’s a freaking self-driving car, this thing gets a 10/10 instantly on the latter front. The inside is very comfortable (basically like being in a regular car, although tough luck if you have to use one of the two backwards-facing seats), and both drivers I had were super nice and very willing to talk about the technology. As for the service itself, there are good things to say, too. I think this is a really good route to pilot the service with, and situations like the lady who actually commutes with it show that it is filling a gap, however small it is. It helps that it’s more frequent than most RIPTA routes, too! Also, it’s free. Like…free self-driving cars. There’s no reason why you (yes, you) shouldn’t go down to Providence to try this out.

Cons: On the service front, I can think of…well, lots of cons. Firstly, the span of service (6:30 AM to 6:30 PM) isn’t great in that the shuttle stops running far too early, but it’s a pilot program, so I’ll give it slack (plus the frequency is still so good). Secondly, it would be fantastic if the shuttle had a GTFS feed for Google Maps. Showing the stops and having it appear in transit directions would increase awareness of the shuttle and get more riders who use it to actually get somewhere. The advertising in general for this thing isn’t great (there’s nothing on RIPTA’s website, for example, although they probably don’t want this to succeed), so having GTFS data would help it out a lot.

Thirdly, stopping at every stop is a pain that slows the thing down quite a lot. Both of my drivers said that if a rider is in a rush, they can ask to skip stops, but that’s just a far better system anyway. I know it is the way it is because automatic mode has no way of knowing if people want to get on or off at each stop, but there’s no denying that it hampers Little Roady’s utility as a true transit service. Fourthly, the route can get heavily trafficked at rush hour, and bunching is common. Fifthly, the vehicles aren’t wheelchair accessible (big no-no), although May Mobility is apparently working on launching an accessible vehicle by the summer. And finally, there’s the capacity issue. There have already been instances of people getting left behind, and it’ll only happen more often as the service gets more popular. I do think that as a small city, Providence is a good place to pilot a service like this with these small vehicles, but even Providence fills up its buses during the busiest times. Yes, they can always dispatch more vehicles to accommodate people, but if this was a traditional bus or even a traditional minibus, capacity wouldn’t be a problem to begin with.

Andddddd what about the autonomous aspect? Yeah, obviously we’re not ready to fill the roads up with these things. I don’t want to be too critical here because this is such new technology, and I sure as heck don’t know how it works, but I’m also not gonna deny that it has a lot of problems. The best way of describing it is that the vehicles have a very perfect world in mind, and when anything out of the ordinary happens, they react to it. A car crosses the yellow line a bit? Someone drives too close behind? A person stands too close to the curb? It rains? Yeah, that’s all too much for the poor Little Roady. This stuff won’t factor into the score because I’m really here to review it as a transit service, but it’s still worth noting.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There are a lot of diverse restaurants in the Eagle Square and Olneyville sections of the route. New York System is famous within Rhode Island; La Lupita is another big one. They’re both right in Olneyville Square. I wouldn’t know how good they are, though, because I went to Burger King. Because my mom got me a gift card there last Easter. Yes, I am a pleb.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I really couldn’t decide. On the basis of the service alone, it has so many problems, from capacity to speed to span to not even being wheelchair accessible at the moment. But…then again, it’s every fifteen minutes, it’s a great corridor, and it’s completely free. Look, it has great things and it has terrible things – I say let’s just meet in the middle with a 5. I’m ultimately happy that this shuttle exists, and it should help to turn a sterile industrial corridor into something vibrant. I would slot it one step above the average “downtown streetcar” as far as being a useful transit service, which is better than nothing – it does link many different neighborhoods together, after all.

Also, once again: free self-driving cars. Go ride it and take their survey afterwards. This is the future, people, and it’s a sight to behold. Well, so long as it doesn’t rain, anyway…

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

25 (Columbus Commons to Frankford Transportation Center)

It’s the age-old question that’s been asked for centuries: what’s the best way of getting to the South Philadelphia malls? Scientists generally agree that it’s most efficient to hop on a southbound Broad Street Line train armed with an app to figure out when the first crosstown bus is coming. Indeed, all but one of the buses that serve the malls are crosstown. All…but the 25.

The bus weaving its way toward the berth at Frankford.

It’ll be a while before we get to South Philly, though. The route begins up at Frankford and heads straight down Bridge Street, going by a variety of rowhouses and a few businesses. We passed Mount Sinai Cemetery, then after more apartments, we turned onto Torresdale Ave. This had some retail along it before it passed through a small park with a school in it. A ton of businesses surrounded the intersection with Orthodox Street, onto which we turned, passing under the Northeast Corridor.

Turning off of Bridge Street.

We went under the imposing I-95 bridge, entering the Bridesburg neighborhood. It was industrial around the highway, but once we left its shadow, the street was back to houses and a few businesses. That continued when we turned onto Richmond Street, joining the 73. It very quickly stopped being a “real” neighborhood, though, as we soon went under the Betsy Ross Bridge, crossed Frankford Creek, and entered what I call the “South Florida” part of Philadelphia.

It’s only on one side of the street, but it’s a totally accurate name, come on.

Luckily, South Florida ends pretty quickly and we’re back in Philly once we cross I-95 again. Unfortunately, we turned onto Castor Ave, taking us up to an area with a bunch of suburban businesses with parking lots. We took a left onto Aramingo Ave after that, which only continued the hellscape. It wasn’t until we crossed Westmoreland Street that we entered a real neighborhood again, where rowhouses lined the road.

A practically post-apocalyptic view down Aramingo Ave.

We eventually went under some railroad tracks, and on the other side, we used Lehigh Ave to get onto Memphis Street. Compared to the wide Aramingo, Memphis Street was a typical tiny, one-way street with one travel lane and parking on both sides. It was practically all residential, with only the occasional business. The street came up alongside a cemetery, and we made a super-sharp turn onto Palmer Street, then another turn onto the thankfully normal-sized Frankford Ave.

Hipsterlandddddddd…

We had been in Fishtown for a little while, but its hipsteryness didn’t shine through until Frankford Ave. Here, there was a ton of construction of new apartments with varying levels of character and lots of hipstery coffee shops and bike shops and what have you. We crossed Girard Ave and the 15 trolley, and on the other side of I-95, there were several nightclubs around the 15’s Frankford-Delaware Loop.

The currently-unused trolley tracks eastbound down Girard Ave.

We turned onto the (really) wide Delaware Ave, passing all of its related paraphernalia: the Sugarhouse Casino, some random parking lots, the Greyhound yard, and a few huge apartment buildings. However, we did have to briefly make a deviation via Fairmount Ave, 2nd Street, and Spring Garden Street in order to serve the Spring Garden El station. The bit on 2nd Street was a fantastic stretch of “real, interesting neighborhood,” but it was dashed once we reached Spring Garden and its station entrance underneath the highway.

Oh, this is nice, let’s stay here!

We came back out onto Delaware Ave, except it was now called Christopher Columbus Boulevard. There were only 9 people on the bus at this point, but it’s my favorite part of the route, because you’re basically just speeding down this giant road making no stops. I-95 acts as a barrier between the boulevard and the rest of the city, so there’s practically nothing along it. Sure, you’ve got a few attempts to make the area lively, like a Dave & Buster’s, some pierside restaurants, and (most importantly) Penn’s Landing, but really, there’s not a ton of places for bus passengers to go.

There are also lots of buildings where they didn’t even try. Incidentally, looks like those Philly biker gangs are out today…

So we continued blasting down this wide road, occasionally passing something resembling a place where someone would want to go, until we reached the vast expanse of the South Philadelphia malls. Each bus down here does something slightly different, but the 25 serves everything, so we first deviated into Pier 70 with its Walmart. From there, we headed up onto Tasker Street, making a left turn in a giant field of industrial nothingness.

Even in her decaying state, the SS United States is still beautiful and imposing.

We returned to Columbus Boulevard, travelling further south. The SS United States was docked right next to the road so we got a great view of that, while on the other side was Columbus Commons with its IKEA and…whatever else is there, because come on, IKEA is the main attraction. Deep in an industrial wasteland, we turned onto Oregon Ave and then Weccacoe Ave, bringing us back up to Columbus Commons and our final stop behind the IKEA.

It’s such a strange place to get dropped off!

Route: 25 (Columbus Commons to Frankford Transportation Center)

Ridership: It’s middling, but not bad: 4,280 people per day. My trip got 57 people in total, although the route averages about 40. The most interesting aspect of the 25 is where that ridership is, though: the vast majority of those 57 riders were on the northern part of the route. Like I said, just 9 people went beyond Spring Garden Station! The atmosphere on the bus was jovial, with a lot of families taking their Saturdays to do some shopping, mostly at the plazas along Aramingo Ave.

Pros: I’m hesitant to say I like the routing (we’ll get to that), but the idea of the routing is good. The 25 carves out a decent and useful chunk of the city for itself. Also, the section south of Spring Garden on Columbus Boulevard is really fast and a ton of fun.

Cons: Schedule first: it’s every half hour most of the time, except at rush hour when it runs every 12-15 minutes. That’s not great, and while the route doesn’t have great ridership, it serves enough key shopping destinations that I could see more people using it if it was more frequent. That being said, most of the people are riding up north, and there’s a reason for that: Columbus Boulevard is basically a dead zone. I-95 blocks it from the rest of the city, making this essentially a Spring Garden Station to South Philadelphia express. While that’s not a bad thing, it seems like that connection isn’t super useful to a ton of people given the ridership, and the multitude of more reliable transit options to the South Philly malls only further hurts the 25. While there is certainly merit to running buses along that corridor, every half hour actually does seem about right for it – if the 25 got a frequency upgrade, it would probably only be needed north of Spring Garden.

Finally, I know Jarrett Walker already brought this up, but it’s worth repeating: the 25’s deviation to Richmond Street in Port Richmond makes no sense. It was originally because of freight traffic on Aramingo Ave, but that’s not the case anymore. Not only is the route duplicating the 73 with its jog, but it also misses out on some major shopping centers on Aramingo, including a Walmart! Then there’d really be no reason for people to stay on to South Philly…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Most of the route is pretty suburban. You’ve got your neat little cafes and shops in Fishtown, and that’s probably the most interesting section when it comes to places to visit, but besides that, most of the retail the 25 serves is abutted by huge parking lots.

Final Verdict: 4/10
I think the two-paragraph “Cons” section explains my grievances with the 25 pretty well. The route has value, but it has far too many things dragging it down and preventing it from being that useful. It kinda feels like two routes: the northern section that gets a decent amount of people, and the southern section that just speeds along with barely anyone on the bus (I’ve used the latter a decent amount of times and never seen more than a half-seated load). Maybe the best thing to do would be to increase frequency on the northern half, but only run every other bus on the southern portion? They already do that in the evening rush, so there is precedent for it.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Okay, time for an explanation! We’re in summer (finally), so hopefully no more hiatuses…except I’m going to Scotland on Monday, and I’ll be there until June 8th. Maybe I’ll be able to write some stuff to publish while I’m there, but there won’t be truly regular posts until I get back. Also, for the record, stay tuned for tomorrow: it’s a post about a truly unique, futuristic transit mode that you won’t want to miss.

Riding the Entire Burlington B Line in an Afternoon

It’s a little-known fact that Burlington has its own, non-MBTA public transit system. The Burlington B Line (a name that seems to be rarely used, but it’s out there) is partially funded by the MBTA and operated by everyone’s favorite transit company, Joseph’s. You always know you’re in for a treat when they’re involved. So for the low, low fare of $3 a ride, let’s see what this strange system has to offer!

Our stallion for the next few hours.

The way this system is laid out could not be any more confusing. It consists of five “routes,” but they’re all basically variations of each other, with very few independent sections. Also, many of them have their own variations that we’ll get to, adding to a total of 12 different schedules on the timetable! They’re numbered 10 through 14, but they also have colors for some reason. Also, the system only has one bus. Yes, five routes, one bus. That means that most of the routes only run a few times a day, including one, the 11, that has just one trip (the B Line is weekdays only). I rode all of them in an afternoon, and despite the fact that on top of the $3 fare, it costs $0.50 to “transfer” (even though it’s always the same bus, good lord, this is so stupid), the driver let me stay on and ride everything for the base fare. Thanks!

Considering that this was a year ago, this construction is probably done by now.

We begin at the B Line’s hub, the Center School. But it’s not actually a school anymore, it’s the Burlington Recreation Department (which I’m sure is a huge destination worthy of being a transit hub). And if you look up “Center School” on Google Maps, it doesn’t come up. And Burlington B Line has no GTFS data on Maps, so you can’t find any of its stops. Clearly, we’re off to a good start. The building does have a little B Line shelter outside, but it’s dingy and there’s nowhere to sit inside it. At least it has a wastebasket that needed emptying when I was here! Incidentally, B Line also doesn’t produce a map of its routes, but the MBTA does, so that could be helpful when reading this review.

Starting with the 13.

The 13 is one of the twice-a-day routes, with trips at 11 AM and 2:30 PM from Center School, running a clockwise loop in the morning and counter-clockwise in the afternoon. Its purpose seems to be connecting residential neighborhoods to Shaw’s, including houses along Francis Wyman Drive, which no other route serves. This was the afternoon “reverse” trip (the 13R in the schedule), so we were going to Shaw’s first. We left Center School and ran up Center Street along the east side of the Burlington Town Common, passing municipal buildings before making our way onto Cambridge Street.

Burlington Town Common (and some other building in the window reflection).

Alright, I’ll give this to B Line: its Shaw’s deviation isn’t bad. It uses a road that runs next to the store rather than goes into the parking lot, and there’s actually a B Line sign and bench! The vast majority of the system is flag-down, so a bit of actual infrastructure was nice to see. Unfortunately, our next deviation via Moran Ave and Grant Ave to serve some tiny, insignificant shopping plaza was less welcome. Coming off of this jog, we turned onto Skilton Lane, a street lined with suburban houses.

The front of the little shopping plaza. The back of it was industrial.

We turned onto Fox Hill Road, continuing the saga of suburbia. A clover-shaped elementary school was on the corner of Fox Hill and Westwood, where we took a left, running down Westwood until Wilmington Road, onto which we turned. Aside from a small shopping plaza, this was all houses. Wilmington Road runs to Chestnut and Cambridge, the end of both the 350 and the LRTA 13 and thus a major transfer point, but the B Line decided it would be better to jog onto tiny side roads: Allison Drive, Paula Street, and Leroy Drive. The 12, which shares this section, runs back to Chestnut once it gets onto Cambridge, but the 13 (er…B Line, not LRTA – that’s confusing) takes a right instead before going onto Francis Wyman Road, its independent section. We took this as far as Bedford Street, then used that to get back to Center School, running by houses practically right up until we returned to the common.

We saw lots of…this.

One down, four to go. The next route was the 14, another twice-a-day run with trips at 9 AM and 3:30 PM. Too much time for a shopping trip, but not quite enough time to go to school – I’m not sure what the point of this one is. Regardless, we pulled out of Center School and ran south down Center Street before turning onto Birchcrest Street. This was for a deviation to the Tower Hill Apartments, and once we had served that, it was back onto Center Street.

Huge thanks to the driver for letting me get out and take pictures every time the route changed!

There were a few schools where Center Street merged into Winn Street, but we weren’t on that for long before turning onto Peach Orchard Road. This was a narrow and suburban road, but between the standalone houses were a couple of housing developments hidden behind long driveways. We actually did pick up a passenger along here, but this bit is shared with the 10, so she would have a way of getting back despite this being the “last” 14 trip of the day.

A handsome house along Peach Orchard Road.

We turned onto Pearl Street, which actually entered Winchester. Despite some businesses a few blocks away on the 134‘s Main Street corridor, though, we stayed safely within Pearl Street’s realm of suburban houses. We came really close to the Trade Center 128 office/business complex, but it was behind a fence, and B Line again chose to stick to Pearl Street. At least it had some apartments along it at this point, with a few more as we turned onto Beacon Street, paralleling I-95.

Re-entering Burlington!

Beacon Street returned to Winn Street, where the 14 gets a brief independent deviation. Rather than heading back up towards Center School, we took a left onto Winn, going under I-95 and doing a little loop via Wyman Street and Mountain Road to turn around. There were a few businesses down here, but how can anyone visit them when the bus only runs twice a day? Rejoining the 10 after the deviation, we went up the residential Winn Street up until Shaw’s, which we served again. From there, it was a straight shot back down to the Center School.

Onto this elusive beast.

And now, the once-a-day 11! The route begins on Bedford Street, which is shared by four out of the five B Line routes. We turned onto Terrace Hall Ave, leaving the 13 on Bedford Street but continuing to run along the route of the 10 and 12. This was all houses for a while until we hit an elementary school, and soon after that was a bunch of industrial buildings. We deviated into the complex via A Street (something not shown on the map), then we made our way onto the wide Middlesex Turnpike, which was all offices.

It was at this point that I discovered that the rear window is a thing.

We turned onto Meadow Road, another thing not on the map, and used this small industrial street to snake down to the Burlington Mall. We then deviated into the mall itself, another thing that, yes, does not appear on the map, but at least this one has a scheduled timepoint so we know it was supposed to happen. This stop got a passenger, but our next (again, unmapped) deviation, this one into Lahey Clinic, wasn’t so well-used. After Lahey, we came back down Burlington Mall Road and turned onto Lexington Street. It was all suburban houses, and it led us practically straight back to the Center School.

Hmm…bucolic.

Okay, those were the B Line’s three short routes. The 10 and the 12 are both longer, so much so that they serve the Center School twice and get “A” variants for the segment after the second time serving the school. In other words, they’re figure-8s. We begin with the 10 (er, excuse me, the “10A Reversed”), which is the only route on the system that runs more than twice a day. That’s right, the 10 runs all day, with frequent headways ranging from…every 90 to 150 minutes. Huh.

Getting sick of this view yet?

We ran along the north side of the Burlington Town Common and turned south onto Cambridge Street. Running alongside the MBTA 350, this was a horrendous mixture of suburban businesses, suburban offices, and suburban houses. The road went under I-95, then we performed a deviation to Burlington Plaza. We travelled up Wayside Road from there, but rather than go toward the Burlington Mall like the 350, we made our way onto Blanchard Road, which was just a bunch of woods with the occasional office park shoehorned in.

Look at this, it’s the middle of nowhere!

We turned onto Muller Road, which snaked its way past some houses (better than woods!) before we took a side road to get into Middlesex Commons, and of course this doesn’t appear on the map because why would that make sense? Travelling on the windy Old Concord Road from there, we eventually ended up back on Middlesex Turnpike, racing north to finally deviate into the Burlington Mall. Now, the regular 10A does an additional deviation to the Lahey Clinic, but the 10A Reversed doesn’t. Sure.

The outskirts of the mall.

We instead took Burlington Mall Road to 2nd Ave, running through the Northwest Office Park in an unmapped deviation. After passing the up-and-coming 3rd Ave development, the bus passed some more offices before returning to Middlesex Turnpike. We did that unmapped industrial park deviation that the 11 did, then we returned to Center School along the route of the 11 (but weirdly, the timepoint calls it “Center Street,” which makes absolutely no sense – the bus still deviated into the school).

That industrial park deviation.

Now it was time for the 10 Reversed, otherwise known as “the rest of the route.” There’s actually not a lot to say here, since it’s the exact same thing as the 14, minus the 14’s little Winn Street deviation. I could rant here about this awful route numbering scheme and how it’s so unnecessarily complicated, but we’ll just save it for the “Cons” section later. Also, the regular 10 doesn’t deviate to Shaw’s, but the 10 Reversed does. Again: sure.

Some lovely Burlington attractions on the side of the bus: a vaguely historical house, several office buildings, and a sign with “Burlington” written on it. If this isn’t a world-class city, I don’t know what is.

Alright, time for our last route, the 12! …12A. …12A Reversed. Whatever. It begins on Bedford Street like most of the other routes, but it does have an extra qualifier: the 12 can deviate to McGinnis Drive on request. Hear that, B Line riders? If you want to go directly to the Mount Hope Christian Center at the convenient times of 8:52 or 5:02, the 12 has you covered. Other than that potential deviation (which we didn’t do, alas), the 12 is the same thing as the 10, although we did serve Lahey Clinic after the Burlington Mall this time.

We’ll be covering that bus over there soon enough…

We returned to Center School from Lahey Clinic like an 11, running along Lexington Street (but of course, the map shows the 12 as returning like a 10). Upon our arrival back there, it was time for the 12 Reversed, which started out with the good ol’ Shaw’s deviation (even though it doesn’t appear as a timepoint for the route). There was one more independent section from Shaw’s, but it was just running up Cambridge Street (excuse me, “Cambride Street” according to the schedule) past some houses and suburban businesses. Once we got to Leroy Drive, we returned to Center School via the suburban roads that the 13 took. And thus, our B Line saga is concluded. I hope to never have to ride this thing again.

Goodbye forever.

B Line Routes: 10 (Blue Line), 10A (Blue Line), 10 Reversed (Blue Line), 10A Reversed (Blue Line), 11 (Orange Line), 11 Reversed (Orange Line) [doesn’t exist but the schedule claims it does], 12 (Yellow Line), 12A (Yellow Line), 12 Reversed (Yellow Line), 12A Reversed (Yellow Line), 13 (Pink Line) [there should also be a 13 Reversed but the schedule doesn’t list it], and 14 (Brown Line). Phew.

Ridership: The whole system gets an average of…55 riders per weekday. That’s an average productivity of 4.5 riders per hour. Yeesh. This PowerPoint has a detailed graph showing how ridership stacks up throughout the day – it looks like the system is peaky, so people are taking it to get to work and school more so than to shop. I also got a photo of the driver’s ridership recording for the day, showing lower numbers than usual:

Pros: Not all of Burlington is covered by MBTA buses. I like the idea of a local bus system here. I really do.

Cons: But the implementation? Oh my gosh, where do I even begin? I think a good way of gauging the B-Line’s quality is by looking at this schedule from 2009. At this point in time, the system used two buses instead of one, and just look at how much more useful it is! Also, in 2009, the adult fare was $1.50, equivalent to what the T was charging at the time. While the senior/disabled/student fare has remained at $1 from then to now, the adult fare has jumped to $3.00! At least passes are a decent deal, but they still jumped up 150% since 2009, which is crazy. Why does it cost 50% more to ride this horrible bus service across town than it does to hop the 350 all the way down to Alewife? Also, free transfers to and from the MBTA would be a huge boost for ridership, allowing people in more suburban areas to access the 350.

And oh yeah, the service. Look, obviously it’s horrible, with most of the routes only running twice (or even once) a day. But even besides that, it only uses one bus. Why should a one-bus service be so complicated? A good example is the 10 and 14 – they do the exact same thing, but the 14 has one extra little deviation. That really needs to be a separate “route,” huh? And how about the “A” variations of the 10 and 12 that are just continuations of the same thing? This service does not need twelve different schedules to have to explain itself! It just makes it much harder to use for new riders! Plus, B Line produces no official map for itself. The only thing we have is the MBTA PDF online, which you have to find yourself since B Line doesn’t link it, and even then, that map has a ton of mistakes, as we saw!

Nearby and Noteworthy: In terms of stuff exclusively served by the B Line, I’d say not much. The biggest thing it serves that the MBTA doesn’t is 3rd Ave, but that’ll be rectified soon when the T extends the 350 there.

Final Verdict: 1/10
I’m sorry, but despite its 55 whole riders per day, this service is near-useless. Considering that it’s existed since 1988, you would think it would have more of a presence in the town, but service has declined so much since then (check out the Lexpress-style system in 2003 on page 53 of this PDF to really get an idea of how far it’s fallen). Even if someone did want to start riding B Line, I can’t imagine them not being turned off by the ridiculously high one-trip fares or the insane route structure. This thing badly needs a redesign – I know there’s only so much you can do with one bus, but honestly, even an unwieldy, giant, infrequent loop would be better than what they have now. Get your act together, B Line. It’s the only way you’ll increase ridership, lest the service shuts down completely.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Elwyn

Media seems like such a natural place to end a Regional Rail line. It’s a sizeable, dense town, after all – the county seat of Delco! And yet…the line goes one stop further to a little station in the middle of nowhere called Elwyn. Elwyn is a weird station.

Looking down the platform.

Now, to my understanding, Elwyn does have specific “inbound” and “outbound” platforms. Trains drop off on the platform to the north, then they travel past the station to lay over and change ends before returning on the platform to the south. Given this information, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me that the inbound side only has a shelter (technically two, but the other one is just to pay for your parking) and a bench. That’s it! And it wouldn’t be so annoying if it wasn’t for the outbound side…

The bizarre outbound shelter.

First off, it’s clear that far more of the outbound platform is covered. Underneath the long awning, the station has a number of newspaper boxes, Key machines, and wastebaskets, but no benches. No, the seating is reserved for one of the strangest waiting areas I’ve ever seen. You have to open a door to get in…and it’s covered on three sides…but the front is exposed to the elements. I have no idea how this design didn’t end up going straight back to the drawing board. There are also heat lamps in here, but they weren’t working when I was here (and they actually would’ve been useful!). But the point is, why is the outbound platform so well-endowed compared to the side where people actually board trains?

Some of the parking lot amenities.

Considering Elwyn’s middle-of-nowhere-ness, the amount of parking makes sense: 348 spaces in total, split between two lots (one on Elwyn Road and one on Elwyn Ave, because that’s not confusing at all). It’s just a dollar a day to leave your car here, and it’s free on weekends. I don’t usually trust SEPTA’s claims to not have bike racks at their stations, but in this case, I didn’t see any, so it seems they’re right for once! Also, Elwyn inexplicably has a bus connection: the 117 actually deviates into the station’s drop-off area. On weekdays, buses running north to Granite Run and Penn State actually time relatively well with trains, though not so much on weekends. I wonder how many people actually use that transfer…

Just another shot of the platform, but look, there’s a train in the background!

Station: Elwyn

Ridership: With 422 boardings per weekday (and, strangely, 481 alightings), Elwyn is the fifth-busiest station on its line. I guess the Media/Elwyn Line does have a lot of tiny stations that are really close together, so I can see how Elwyn would stick out more than those. Also, 422 boardings when the station has 348 parking spaces – it’s pretty clear how most people are getting here!

Pros: I said at the beginning that the station feels like a tacked-on extension from Media, and I still feel that way, but Elwyn does hold its own. There are some sizeable towns beyond Elwyn, so it works well as a park-and-ride for people out there. The station is accessible, with mini-high platforms on both the inbound and outbound sides. It’s nice that on weekdays, the 117 times well enough that it can act as a last-mile shuttle to Penn State, but there’s no information about this on the train schedule.

Cons: Well…more or less everything about the station itself. The outbound side gets far better infrastructure, which doesn’t make any sense (yes, you can wait there and cross over when the train comes, but it still means more time exposed to the elements), and even then, it has that ridiculous shelter with the broken heat lamps. The fact that Elwyn has no bike racks is a huge detriment to commuters (there are some apartment developments down the road in Glen Riddle, for example), especially since that parking lot most certainly fills up fast. Hopefully the extension to Wawa (with its giant parking garage) can get more people to use transit, as well as take pressure off of Elwyn.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Almost nothing. Even if you did want to get to the few suburban businesses on Middletown Road (and honestly, there’s no reason to), the roads around here are treacherous for walking. I actually walked from here to Media at night, which was quite possibly the scariest walk I’ve ever done (and I’ve done a lot of scary walks).

Final Verdict: 5/10
Yeah, man, I’m glad it exists, but it’s not particularly good. Need I remind you that the outbound shelter is just the strangest thing? Also, it’s on the outbound side! Argh! The lot is too small, the lack of bike spaces only burdens the lot further, and there’s a surprisingly good bus connection here that SEPTA doesn’t want to advertise because (I’m sure this is their reasoning) “Regional Rail people don’t take the bus.” So, in short…there’s a lot that can be improved here.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

LRTA: 5 (Westford Street/Drum Hill)

Argh, I completely screwed up my LRTA scheduling and ended up not being able to finish the system! I made it onto the 5, but alas, that left me with not enough time to do a run on the 4. This was all almost a year ago (daily reminder that I am very behind schedule), and I still have yet to return to Lowell to tackle the 4. Guess this’ll be my last LRTA post for a while…

Oof. Not my best work.

At least for this one, I don’t have to talk about going up Thorndike Street, because the 5 has a pretty strange start to its route. We left the Kennedy Center and looped our way around onto Hale Street, which went over the Commuter Rail tracks. Next, we used Cambridge Street to get onto Chelmsford Street, which had pretty industrial scenery on one side but narrow side streets with houses and apartments on the other. We actually looped to an entrance to the Kennedy Center’s (er…”Gallagher Terminal’s”) parking lot, and here, we turned onto Westford Street.

We’ve come full circle. Also, the parking lot is named after someone, too? This station sure loves naming everything after everyone!

Westford Street was a hodgepodge of dense houses and apartments, many with different architectural styles. There was some retail around the intersection with Pine Street, and from then on out, the houses were punctuated by businesses every now and again. Soon after a park, we reached a bit where, bizarrely, the outbound route (and only the outbound route) turns onto Pine Street, then Princeton Boulevard. This was just a suburban neighborhood, but we did go by a few apartments and a Market Basket when we turned onto Wood Street. If only this intersection wasn’t a four-minute walk from the inbound 5, as well as already directly served by the 17

The super dated shopping plaza with the Market Basket.

So we used Wood Street to rejoin the inbound route back on Westford Street, but wait, it was time for another outbound-only deviation! We took Carl Street to get to Technology Drive, which, as the name suggests, led us through an office park. The bus turned onto Research Place, taking us past an apartment complex and some niche medical buildings, then we hit a cul-de-sac and looped back around to return to Westford Street. It was just one final stretch of suburban businesses galore before we pulled into Drum Hill Plaza, the end of the route.

Some horrible office building.

LRTA Route: 5 (Westford Street/Drum Hill)

Ridership: The route gets 573 riders per weekday and 166 per Saturday, which seems fine, until you remember that this route is really short. Yeah, this thing is super productive for an RTA, with an impressively low $2.19 per passenger subsidy (the LRTA average is $5.54). That makes it the best performing route on the system!

Pros: At 12-16 minutes in length, this thing is tiny, and that works in its favor. It provides a mostly direct service down an important street and serves a place where people want to go (Drum Hill Plaza). They run this thing frequently on weekdays, too, with service every half hour from 6 AM until almost 9 PM. Saturday service is okay for what it is, too – it’s every hour from 8 AM to 6 PM. Plus, come summer, the 5 (along with many other LRTA routes) will get Sunday service, which will run every hour from 10 to 5.

Cons: The outbound-only deviations are annoying. I don’t hate the industrial park one, since it does serve places that are kinda far from the main road, but I could do without the Princeton Boulevard one – all it really does is make the route more complicated.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Eh…Walmart? Hannaford? Not much.

Final Verdict: 7/10
I feel I’ve inflated my LRTA scores by giving too many routes 8s. This one is generally quite good, but I really don’t like Princeton Boulevard, and I’m not gonna give it the same score as the superior 7. Still, I like the 5 overall, and I think without the Princeton Boulevard deviation, it would easily get an 8. What a shame; what a shame; what a shame.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Every Stop on the 101/102 Trunk

Long story short: I happen to have reviewed all of the 101/102 stations from Fairfield Ave to Drexel Hill Junction. Might as well marathon them!

Fairfield Ave is stupidly close to 69th Street. It is a 0.2 mile, 5-minute walk from Fairfield Ave to 69th Street, which is stupidly close. Given the fact that Fairfield Ave is so stupidly close to 69th Street, it only gets a shelter on the outbound side. Smart!

An outbound 102 coming in.

Station: Fairfield Ave
Ridership: 108 boardings per day, although an interestingly much higher 169 leavings per day. That adds up to a paltry 277 riders per day.
Pros: The stone shelter going outbound is really nice. Inbound only gets a bench and a wastebasket, but that’s all you need.
Cons: It’s just not very useful, since it’s so close to 69th. Because SEPTA charges for transfers, you’re basically only going to use this stop if you’re heading outbound or if you have a pass and don’t want to walk.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I guess it is closer to some 69th Street development than 69th Street is. I’ve heard good things about Five Points Coffee and a visit to H Mart is always a unique one.
Final Verdict: 5/10
Five Word Summary: Decent station for lazy people.

The platforms of Walnut Street are staggered, both on the far side of the intersection. They’re also exactly the same, both with lame bus shelters, a few benches, and a bit of SEPTA information. Getting to this one is a pain, since you have to use the crosswalks at the intersection and only at the intersection, although it seems many people have subverted that requirement…

Trespassing!!

Station: Walnut Street
Ridership: A total of 354 people per day, between ons and offs.
Pros: Shelter on both sides is nice. Unlike Fairfield Ave, there is at least some reason to go inbound from here (although again, probably only if you have a pass).
Cons: The shelters have no character, and the way the crosswalks work, it’s really hard to get to the station. This leads to dangerous ways of getting out, as seen above.
Nearby and Noteworthy: A library, a dollar store, and a rental car place. I’ll be cultured and pick the library.
Final Verdict: 4/10
Five Word Summary: “Tracks=trains, not playing games.”

This one’s almost the same thing as Walnut Street, except it’s slightly worse in two ways. First of all, it has this nice old station building that’s just not used, which is a darn shame. Secondly, there are again only crosswalks at the intersection, but this time they just show up on one side. Come on! At least the outbound platform has a little path to Bywood Ave, creating a second exit.

Oh look, I can see the next station. Man, these trolleys stop a lot.

Station: Avon Road
Ridership: A not-too-shabby 538 riders per day between boardings and alightings!
Pros: I guess the same as Walnut Street – it’s nice to have shelters on both sides. And this one is even further from 69th, making it that much more useful.
Cons: The building is a shame, but the crosswalks are really annoying. Sure, you can jaywalk (and of course, many people do), but I don’t see why there can’t be more pedestrian provisions for a good, frequent transit line like this.
Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s a block of businesses near here. It’s mostly grocery stores and low-key restaurants.
Final Verdict: 4/10
Five Word Summary: Look both ways before jaywalking.

Hilltop Road, with Beverly Boulevard in the background.

For much of the 101/102 trunk, it feels like you could take out half the stops and it wouldn’t have a huge impact on riders. On the other hand, they would probably kick up a stink about losing their local stop. But these two? These two are just ridiculous! When I got off at Hilltop Road, I legitimately thought that Beverly Boulevard was just Hilltop’s inbound platform. Who could blame me? They’re less than 200 feet apart!!!!

I do love this small bridge next to the road.

Stations: Hilltop Road and Beverly Boulevard
Ridership: Hilltop Road gets 391 people per day between its boardings and leavings, while Beverly Boulevard gets…673??? Wow, that’s the second-highest on the trunk besides Landsdowne Ave!
Pros: These stations are both the same design as Walnut. They’re fine.
Cons: The crosswalk issues come back, but the main problem is that these stations are just so close together. It’s ridiculous! Sure, Hilltop Road directly serves a middle school and Beverly Boulevard directly serves a shopping center (hence the high ridership there), but I see very little reason to keep them both open. Close Hilltop Road and make the passengers walk one (one!) extra minute to Beverly Boulevard, I say.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Hilltop Road has a few small offices next to it, but Beverly Boulevard has a big honking suburban shopping center right across the street. It’s just a shame there’s only a crosswalk on one side, inconveniencing outbound riders and making them cross twice.
Final Verdict: 3/10
Five Word Summary for Hilltop Road: Far too close to Beverly.
Five Word Summary for Beverly Boulevard: Far too close to Hilltop.

“Aww, this one is cute!” I exclaimed when I got off here. It reminds me a bit of Brandon Hall back in Boston, since that also has streetcar tracks on the side of a road with a bunch of trees, although Congress Ave isn’t nearly as gorgeous as that stop. On the other hand, Congress Ave’s platform is in far better condition, and it has a fantastic little brick shelter for inbound passengers. The crossing across the tracks could be in better shape, though…

Watch what? Watch WHAT???

Station: Congress Ave
Ridership: Just 197 riders per day, but we are in a residential neighborhood.
Pros: It’s just adorable! This one has so much character.
Cons: The track crossing is in horrible shape, and it’s also annoying that you have to walk to the end of the station to use it, then walk back a bit to get to the crosswalk. Again, it’s only on one side of the intersection, and it really should be on the side where the the track crossing is.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Houses as far as the eye can see.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Five Word Summary: Who’s a cute station? You!

Okay…this one is simply baffling to me. I’ll explain in a bit. First, as you can see in the photo above, we have a pretty nice station layout here. The outbound side has a little shelter, while the inbound has a pretty nice-looking building. There are a few bike racks and a small drop-off area that appears to double as unofficial parking – at least, people are using it for that purpose on Google Street View.

Looking across to the building.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the building is beautiful on the outside, its inside is a different story: there’s absolutely nothing in there. Sure, it has plenty of strange liquid whose contents should be examined under a microscope to see what kinds of strange organisms have developed, but that’s not something I want to see at a transit station! Still, the building is perfectly nice to admire on the outside. There’s even a weekday-only bus connection to the 115, plus an even more infrequent connection to the 107’s twice-a-day, inbound-only express trips. Everything just has a sign, but I don’t think you need more than that (although the 115 seems to generally pick at least a few people up here on each trip). All in all, Landsdowne Ave rounds out to be a pretty nice station!

Wait…also Landsdowne Ave?

Okay, I seriously thought that the two mostly bare platforms across the street from the real station were just unused. Maybe they were temporary infill stations while SEPTA did work on the regular station. I don’t know, anything would make more sense than what happens here! Basically, passengers can wait at either station, and trolleys can and will stop at both. Yes, that’s right: rather than walk ten feet to a crosswalk, people can slow down trolleys by making them stop at the same station twice. I’m…I’m lost for words. This is the most baffling station design I’ve ever seen. Oh boy, the score for this place just went way down…

Two trolleys meeting at Landsdowne Ave’s “drunk uncle” platforms.

Station: Landsdowne Ave
Ridership: This is actually the busiest unique stop on the trunk, with an impressive 1,275 daily riders. It seems weird that it gets that many given how close the stops on this line are, but Landsdowne Ave is the closest stop to two schools and a hospital, which definitely helps.
Pros: The platform to the west of Landsdowne is great. It has a charming (at least on the outside) building, plenty of amenities, and shelter for passengers travelling in both directions.
Cons: The layout. The layout all the way. Who the heck thought that this was a good idea? Why has this arrangement persisted to this current day? Has no one looked at how ridiculous it is for trolleys to stop twice and thought “Hmm, maybe we should change that”? Absurd. Absolutely absurd.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Not a ton, actually. There’s a YMCA and a local bar nearby, but none of the other businesses are interesting.
Final Verdict: 3/10
Five-Word Summary: Whoever designed this is squirrely.

Alright, this one blows Congress Ave out of the water. There’s something very endearing about having a trolley line in the middle of a pleasant residential neighborhood, and it’s made even better when the stations are as beautiful as this one. The outbound side is just a bench and a wastebasket (which is really all you need), but the inbound side gets a beautiful building. Not only that, but there’s another bench inside, plus a lovely painting at the entrance! It’s actually a pleasant place to be, unlike at Landsdowne!

Oh, that’s fantastic.

Station: Drexel Park
Ridership: Given the residential nature of the neighborhood, just 117 daily riders.
Pros: Oh, it’s all adorable! I absolutely love the building, not only for its looks but also for its functionality. Each platform even has a single bike rack in the middle, which is a nice touch.
Cons: I don’t like how the outbound platform is on a curb. The inbound gets a ramp, but for some reason they didn’t do the same on the other side. I know trolley wheelchair accessibility is a long way off, but still, someone could trip over that.
Nearby and Noteworthy: All houses.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Five-Word Summary: Yes, Trolleys In My BackYard! [#YTIMBY]

Irvington Road is the exact same thing as Drexel Park, but without the building. At least neither of the platforms are on curbs this time.

A trolley leaving the station.

Station: Irvington Road
Ridership: Still in residential land, so still low: 104 riders per day, the lowest on the trunk.
Pros: At least we still have benches and the bike racks on each platform. And like I said, at least the platforms aren’t on curbs.
Cons: Seriously, no shelter? None? Not even a lame bus shelter? C’mon, that’s no good!
Nearby and Noteworthy: H-O-U-S-E-S.
Final Verdict: 3/10
Five-Word Summary: Better hope it doesn’t rain.

Well, looks like we’re ending off on a fancy one! Check that out on the inbound platform – an actual, bonafide fare machine. And it was working! The inbound side also has a charming building, at least on the outside, but the inside had a funny smell when I was here. There are both indoor and outdoor benches, so you can choose whichever one you dare to use.

Okay, weird.

Since a good number of people travel outbound from here, it makes sense to put a shelter on that side, too. But what we get is…strange. The singular bench in this green shelter is up on a curb, not at all protected from the elements in the back, but there’s a weird wall blocking entry from the front. I guess some shelter is better than none, but this structure sure is weird.

A 101 navigating the junction onto its independent section.

Station: Drexel Hill Junction
Ridership: The third-highest on the trunk, with 652 daily weekday riders.
Pros: I love how this station gets a ticket machine, but the ungated Subway-Surface underground stations don’t. Oh well, it’s a nice thing to have regardless, and the building on the inbound side adds a bunch of character to the station.
Cons: Mainly the weird outbound shelter. I mean, seriously…what is that thing?
Nearby and Noteworthy: A bowling alley in a stone house? Sign me up!
Final Verdict: 7/10
Five-Word Summary: Fare machines should be commonplace!

LRTA: 8 (Centralville)

Yeah, just gonna say it right off the bat: this one is similar to the 1. Heck, the two routes even combine on Saturdays. Yes, the 8 serves similar neighborhoods, runs in a similar loopy shape, and even shares a large portion of its route with the 1. The main difference between them is that the 8 has more service at rush hour. Exciting stuff.

The bus coming into the Kennedy Center.

Alright, let’s get this redundant first bit out of the way quickly: up Thorndike Street, which becomes Dutton Street, through downtown Lowell onto Father Morissette Boulevard past the Lowell High School, and left onto Bridge Street over the Merrimack River. Shared portion with the 1 complete. We went up the main thoroughfare of Bridge Street for a little more before turning onto 6th Street, which quickly became dense houses.

Pretty cool intersection!

We got to a “downtown” area, which was a mess of five-way intersections and plenty of businesses. This is where the route’s loop section starts. We ran up Lakeview Ave, which quickly became residential, although one of the nearby houses was apparently Jack Kerouac’s birthplace. Entering Dracut, we merged onto the narrow Sladen Street, missing out on a major intersection with suburban businesses by a block.

The outskirts of the business intersection.

We turned onto Pleasant Street and then Hildreth Street, passing a Hannaford supermarket. There were some apartment developments after that, but once we got to a cemetery, it turned to normal houses again. Taking a right onto the narrow Ludlam Street, we made our way back to 6th Street, ending the loop.

A close side street.

LRTA Route: 8 (Centralville)

Ridership: The 8 has no slot in the LRTA’s Regional Transit Plan, so I have no concrete ridership info. I do have information on its combined Saturday service with the 1, which gets 119 people throughout the day on average. I also know from a driver that this route can get pretty busy at rush hour, so I would imagine its weekday ridership is higher. Then again, my weekday loop got 7 people. Slow period, maybe?

Pros: This one is a lot more logical than the 1, with a direct route and a sensible loop at the end. The schedule is also better, with hourly service throughout the day, but 30-40 minute headways at rush hour. Apparently it needs that, too!

Cons: I will say that like the 1, the 8 doesn’t have that much to call its own. That being said, I think the 8 is more unique than the 1 is, and it seems to get the ridership to back it up.

Nearby and Noteworthy: It’s not like Mr. Kerouac’s house has been turned into a museum or anything, but if you love his books, you can take the 8 to his house and awkwardly stare at it from outside. If that’s not your style, Vic’s looks like a cool local establishment to grab a bite.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Slightly better than the 1, I would say. It’s definitely a low 7, but this route seems to do pretty well for what it is. It’s simple, it has a fine schedule, and it seems to get good ridership.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

63rd Street (MFL)

I refuse to review the 15 trolley until (if?) the full line gets restored out to Richmond-Westmoreland. However, I still wanted to ride the whole thing as it currently operates just to say I’ve done it, and from the western end of the line, there’s really nowhere to go except a few blocks south to Market Street. Time to check out the station I used upon my arrival, 63rd Street!

Oh man, that design is so cool!

I love the way that all the West Philly El stations show the station’s name on either side of the tracks. It looks fantastic, and it’s a simple way of pointing out “Hey, there’s a SEPTA station here.” Well…aside from the fact that…I mean, it’s an elevated station, so…okay, it’s really obvious there’s a SEPTA station there. But that number on the side still looks great!

One of the exit-only staircases.

Three out of the four staircases here are exit-only. Sure, it’s a little annoying, but we are near the end of the line so it’s not something I can be too upset about. Plus, the artwork on the two western exits looks fantastic. There are two bus connections here, the 21 and the 31. Since the 21 originates at 69th Street (a much bigger hub), it doesn’t get a ton of ridership from here, but the westbound 31 towards 76th-City does pick up a decent number of passengers at 63rd, since this is its last connection to the El. We’ve got nothing more than signs for the bus stops, but I get the feeling shelters aren’t super needed here – maybe one for the westbound 31.

There’s even a tiny piece of art way over on the left!

Thus, we reach the fourth entrance, which is actually an entrance. It gets a sheltered portion at street level, while some artwork-laden stairs make their way up to the station’s mezzanine. Sadly, while an upward escalator shows up for the second flight, there’s nothing on the first. This station is accessible, though, with a single elevator that takes passengers up to the unpaid mezzanine, as well as from the paid platform to the footbridge. Talk about efficiency!

It’s not actually this dark, I’m just not very good at the whole “photography” thing.

I often harp on SEPTA mezzanines for being too low-capacity, and this one definitely is – it has only two fare machines and four fare gates. But I’m going to give 63rd Street a pass, since it doesn’t get a ton of ridership, and there doesn’t seem to be space for more gates. Sure, you could take out an emergency exit and fit in two or three more, but…the emergency exit is probably there for a reason. Just a hunch.

The platform.

So…if there’s only one entrance, how are you supposed to get to the other platform? Well, it’s actually a design that makes a lot of sense. The fare gates take passengers to the inbound side, since that’s the dominant direction at any outlying station. But since we’re so close to the end of the line, very few people are going outbound. Why spend the money to build two mezzanines and pay two cashiers when you can just have people cross a footbridge to go outbound? Yes, it’s inconveniencing a few riders (in this case, me included), but from an efficiency standpoint, I see nothing wrong with it.

A piece of the inbound platform.

Despite the huge disparity in ridership between platforms, they both get similarly good treatments. The entirety of the station is sheltered, and both sides get this little nook set back from the platform where most of the seating space is. Still, the station has plenty of benches and wastebaskets scattered along the rest of the platforms, so you needn’t fear having to sit inside the nook if you don’t want to. I don’t know why you wouldn’t, though – the view down the street from in there is fantastic!

A train snaking towards Millbourne.
Such a cool view in the eastbound direction from the footbridge! Too bad the city was foggy on this day…or maybe that improves the aesthetic?

Station: 63rd Street (MFL)

Ridership: Like I mentioned, this station doesn’t get a ton of people: just 2,236 riders per day. This makes it the least-used station in West Philly, and its ridership is less than half of that of the second least-used station (although Millbourne gets less than 25% of this station’s ridership, but that’s Millbourne). Why do so few people use 63rd Street? Check back with me in the cons.

Pros: The West Philadelphia El renovations put a lot of care into the stations, and the good design really shines here. It’s a bizarre but pleasant surprise seeing so much artwork at a SEPTA stop (such stations are out there, but it’s rare), plus the station is simple and super easy to navigate. It seems like going outbound via the footbridge would be confusing, but the signage is clear and helpful.

Cons: Having to cross over to the outbound side is a little annoying (but not for most passengers), and I’ve experienced a stinky elevator and some peeling paint here before. Really, though, this station just isn’t especially useful. Half of its coverage is occupied by Cobbs Creek, and it’s only three blocks (a seven-minute walk!) away from its neighbor, 60th Street. Sure, it’s not as bad as Millbourne, which is in an even more terrible location, but…again, that’s Millbourne. I understand the need for a station here (63rd is an important street), but the location doesn’t equate to high ridership. Incidentally, because of that, only “A” trains stop here at rush hour. This is under “Cons” because the skip-stop system is stupid and I want it to go away.

Nearby and Noteworthy: 63rd Street is mostly residential, and the majority of businesses that are around here cater to that (i.e. convenience stores, pharmacies, etc.). There is a nice unpaved trail along Cobbs Creek, though, making for a nice escape from the city.

Final Verdict: 7/10
So I looked back at my Millbourne review to see what I scored that stop, and I had given it a 6. In terms of station quality, I would put 63rd and Millbourne on a similar pedestal, although I might as well reiterate that Millbourne Station is super weird and awesome and you should totally visit it. 63rd Street is a good station in a more traditional way, with good design and plenty of artwork to spruce the place up. And honestly, despite Millbourne’s charm, this station is just better. Plus, its ridership is less stupidly low (but still really low, not gonna deny it). That’s worth an extra point.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
I think our hacking saga should be over. For those who don’t know, the blog was attacked over the past few days, redirecting users to sketchy websites. The problem was a plugin that I’ve now removed; it does mean you won’t be able to see related posts at the bottom of the page anymore, but I think we can all agree that’s a fine tradeoff for having a functional website that’s not trying to scam people.

LRTA: 9 (Lowell Circulator)

This one’s not even hiding its circularity. It has “circulator” right in its name, for heaven’s sake, and it is in fact a giant, unwieldy, disgusting loop. It goes by the name of…the 9.

Oh, of course it’s a minibus.

We went up Thorndike Street for a bit, but we stopped short of downtown, turning onto Middlesex Street. I don’t know why this route runs east down Middlesex Street when every other LRTA route that runs this way goes east down Appleton and west down Middlesex. I don’t even know why they wanted the 9 to run two ways down Middlesex to begin with – we had to use Elliott Street to get onto Appleton anyway and serve the Salvation Army! Then…WHY NOT RUN TWO WAYS DOWN APPLETON????

A rearview shot of Elliott Street. What is this, a back alley?

Appleton became Church, marking the starting point of the loop, and after some suburban-feeling offices, we crossed the Concord River into a more “real” neighborhood. There were dense apartments with some businesses as we turned onto High Street, then East Merrimack Street. Strangely, we came really close to the Lowell General Hospital, but we didn’t actually deviate into it. Why would the “circulator” skip a deviation, while a route that actually goes somewhere (the 2) does deviate? Who knows?

Nice neighborhood!

We passed the Lowell Memorial Auditorium before crossing the Concord River again into downtown Lowell. Of course there were lots of businesses along Merrimack Street, but then we turned onto the narrow Kirk Street. It was a left onto Father Morissette Boulevard from there, and we passed Lowell High School, some offices, and an apartment development.

A canal.

Time to deviate to part of UMass Lowell that’s already served by their shuttle system: right onto Cabot, left onto Hall, right onto Aiken, left onto Perkins, and straight over to Pawtucket. We had to hang out at UMass’s Fox Hall for a few minutes because we were early – always a fun time. The tiny, one-way Pawtucket Street then crossed over a canal on a decrepit bridge that even the minibus felt too heavy for – even more of a fun time.

I’m holding my breath…

We turned onto Salem Street in order to serve the “University Crossing Transit Hub,” a stop that’s only really significant to the UMass shuttle system, and seems pretty darn unnecessary to serve on a city bus. At least we didn’t deviate into the bus loop. Instead, we turned onto Bowers Street, which was tiny and residential, then we turned onto Fletcher Street, which was wider…and residential.

Heading down Bowers Street. There are houses on the left and an apartment building on the right.

Oh, I see, this Fletcher Street section was all just a deviation to serve the Market Basket and the Lowell Senior Center! Cool. We passed both of those on Broadway Street, then it was a left onto Adams Street to go right back up to where we were before. Adams went through a big apartment development, and a few tight turns at its end led us onto Merrimack Street.

I have nothing interesting to say about this intersection.

We took Merrimack Street past some businesses to Lowell City Hall, then we used Dummer Street to get onto Market Street. But okay, we’re back downtown. Surely this is the home stretch? Let’s just take a right onto Dutton Street to return to the terminal. No? We have to continue down Market to serve the “Leo A. Roy Parking Garage”? Ugh…alright. Then it was a right onto Central Street, and once we turned onto Appleton Street, we could head back to the terminal. Well, after that unnecessary jog onto Middlesex Street first. Yup, this route just keeps on giving!

In downtown Lowell.

LRTA Route: 9 (Lowell Circulator)

Ridership: The LRTA’s haphazard Regional Transit Plan has no ridership information for the 9. The best I can give you is the 6’s Saturday ridership, which combines with the 9, and that route gets…78 people for the day. Alright, pretty low. Maybe weekdays are higher, though – how much ridership did my weekday trip get? One person other than me. ‘Kay.

Pros: The route’s title isn’t lying – this thing does indeed circulate. So props to the 9 for being honest about itself.

Cons: This bonkers, 40-minute loop just makes very little sense. It feels like it skips places it should be serving and serves places that it shouldn’t have to. For example, using the 9 to serve Lowell General Hospital would save time for through-riders on the 2, while I doubt the jog to the University Crossing Transit Hub generates enough ridership to bother doing it. And you’ve (hopefully) read the review – those are just a few examples! By the way, the weekday schedule is generally every 40 minutes, but in the morning and evening it has strange inconsistencies in the headway. At least Saturday service runs at a consistent every hour, but the combined route with the 6 is so egregiously twisty that its schedule page should have an “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” addendum. And somehow it’s scheduled to only take one minute longer than the midday schedule! Something definitely doesn’t add up there…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Like…yeah, you can use this to get to vibrant downtown Lowell. But if you’d rather not circumnavigate the earth on the way, I would recommend using the 18 instead.

Final Verdict: 2/10
I mean, at least the 6 kinda goes somewhere. Trying to get from point A to point B on the 9 is just an exercise in futility. For most destinations, there’s either a faster route, or walking takes about the same amount of time as the 9 (not to mention you can leave whenever you want when you walk instead of being chained to a 40-minute headway). Yes, this route absolutely serves its purposes (for example, certain cross-Lowell trips), but it is such a mess that I can’t bring myself to give it a higher score.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Somerton

SEPTA’s pass system has some pretty bizarre rules. One of the strangest is with Zone 1 Trailpasses, which you would expect to only be valid within…you know, Zone 1. Not so – on weekdays outside of rush hour, they’re valid for travel to any station within the geographical boundaries of Philadelphia. Oh, wait, there’s a catch here: “except Forest Hills and Somerton Stations”. Alright, sorry, Zone 1 passholders, but you’re out of luck for this one!

The entrance to the parking lot.

The reason Forest Hills and Somerton, both on the West Trenton Line, are exempt from the pass’s coverage is because the line actually leaves Philadelphia on its way into the city. Located on a sliver of the Far Northeast, these stations are more or less in the middle of nowhere. Somerton is surrounded by suburban sprawl, so it makes sense that it has a parking lot, although at just 201 spaces, it tends to fill up pretty quickly. Only a dollar a day to park, though! The station’s non-car entrances include direct access from Station Road to the south, and a pedestrian walkway that goes further west on Philmont Ave, taking you that much closer to the very nearby Forest Hills.

Looking down the platform.

Somerton’s platform is basic but super functional. It’s slightly raised so there’s no need for those silly step-stools that SEPTA uses elsewhere, and there are consistent benches and wastebaskets on both sides. The outbound platform doesn’t get shelter, but that’s not a huge deal; the inbound side, meanwhile, has the awning of the station building to protect it from the elements. The station is wheelchair accessible, with mini-high platforms on both sides.

Peeking inside the building.

To get between platforms, you have to use a level crossing in the middle of the station. Luckily, safety precautions have been taken: there are both visual and audio cues that let passengers know when a train is coming. Somerton’s building is only open on weekdays from 5:15 to 11:30 AM, but it looks like a nice place to wait during the morning rush. From what I could see, the inside has benches, a ticket office, and a small library.

A train blazing in.

Station: Somerton

Ridership: Wow, here I was thinking this stop wasn’t super well-used, but it’s actually the busiest unique station on the whole West Trenton Line! On the average weekday, it gets 718 boardings, meaning that the majority of riders get here in some way other than driving and parking.

Pros: The layout is simple, but it gets the job done. It’s a far better low-level platform than a big chunk of other SEPTA stations, and while mini-highs aren’t optimal, it sure beats inaccessibility. The building seems like a great place to wait, but even when it’s closed, the station still offers plenty of sheltered seating. Also, this may not be a concern for most Regional Rail riders, but for a suburban station, the bus connections here are robust: the 58 serves points northeast and southwest, while the 84 takes a southeasterly course. No shelters for the stops, unfortunately, but I doubt transfer traffic is huge.

Cons: It’s a shame that the parking lot is so small that it gets full on a daily basis, but there isn’t much room to expand it. I only lament the parking lot size because this station isn’t in a pedestrian-friendly area, so for many people, driving or getting dropped off are the only options. There are only two bike racks here, though, so perhaps more of those would help generate new riders and free up space in the lot.

Nearby and Noteworthy: A few sprawly restaurants are nearby, but nothing seems particularly noteworthy. I like how many apartment developments there are around the station, though!

Final Verdict: 8/10
Who knew this little suburban station would be so busy? And yes, I know it’s in “the city”, but let’s be real, this is the suburbs through and through. It is great to see that there are a lot of apartments around the station, although given some of their sidewalk situations and the amount of parking they offer, it might be more transit-adjacent development than transit-oriented. Still, the station is an attractive place to commute from, with a great building for the morning rush and wheelchair accessibility. Just don’t try driving here!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Introducing TransportationCamp Greater Attleboro-Taunton!

I was at TransportationCamp Philly last week, and it was a blast. If you haven’t been to one of these “unconferences” before, I strongly recommend it – it’s a great way to meet other people interested in transportation and talk about some fascinating things. Here’s their website if you’re interested. In particular, TransportationCamp New England will be on April 27th at MIT.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it. Why, you ask? Well, it’s a matter of inclusion – I was talking to some people who were upset by the fact that New England gets lumped into only one TranspoCamp. Thus, after some back and forth with various parties and sponsors, I am pleased to announce TransportationCamp Greater Attleboro-Taunton!

This event will take place on April 27th, the same day as TCNE. We have some amazing sponsors, including:

  • Downtown Attleboro Division:
    • The Attleboro DMV
    • GATRA (of course)
    • Norton Senior Center
  • Emerald Square Mall Division:
    • Seekonk Stop & Shop
    • That bowling alley that just opened up where all the kids are going
    • Plainville Council on Aging
  • North Attleboro Industrial Park Division:
    • The Cumberland Farms in Mansfield
    • Linda Reeves, resident of Norton
    • Taunton Nursing Home

TCGAT will take place at the Middleborough Council on Aging, which is easily accessible using GATRA’s Middleborough-Taunton Connection route. GATRA has agreed to run a special Saturday service on the normally three-days-a-week bus, but remember that you still must call at least 24 hours in advance in order to secure a ride! Buses will run at very high frequencies, with service at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM.

Now, the idea of TransportationCamp is that anyone can propose a session about anything related to the field of transportation. We have already gotten some very exciting ideas, including:

  • Capacity and Intimacy: Truck Minibuses, the Best of Both Worlds
  • Multimodal Connections to the Providence, er, Franklin Line in Norfolk
  • Redesigning GATRA’s Route Network: Why More Deviations are Needed
  • And many more!

The event will begin tardily sometime around 11:30. There will be one three-hour session, and the event will be over at 2:30. However, stick around afterward for the Early Bird Special at the Middleborough Dairy Queen, where the fun will continue over inexpensive food!

Tickets will cost $20 ($0.50 for seniors) and will be available for purchase by sending a letter to GATRA’s headquarters in Taunton with a self-addressed and stamped envelope, along with a check made out to “TCGAT”. They go on sale today, April 1st, which is definitely not a suspicious day for these tickets to go on sale. Hope to see you all there!

Poster designed by Alison Gromley, who says her Digital Drawing class at the Raynham Senior Center is going great!