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

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

Heyyyyy, we’re at Fern Rock!

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

Definitely a bleak morning.

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

Guess it’s woods time??

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

The weather makes this hospital look very gloomy.

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

Okay, perhaps not the nicest place to wait.

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

Ooh, cool to see that rare destination sign!

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

A few shuttered businesses on Front Street.

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

Huh, this photo came out kinda neat!

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

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

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

Rainy day bus window photos are the best…

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

A bleak scene on Lehigh Ave.

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

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

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

An alley off of Girard Ave.

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

A blurry slice of the neighborhood.

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

Market Street!

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

The park from south of Market Street.

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

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

Rowhouses off of Moyamensing.

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

Snyder Ave.

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

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

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

Alongside one of the ports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

GATRA: 6 (Whittenton)

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

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

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

A narrow cemetery between two streets.

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

Ooh, solar!

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

Whoaaaa, lake time!

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

The back of some of the apartments.

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

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

GATRA Route: 6 (Whittenton)

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

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

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

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

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

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

43 (Richmond-Cumberland to 50th-Parkside)

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

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

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

And now for the feature presentation.

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

Yeah, this is pretty desolate.

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

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

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

Lots of traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway.

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

Ah, I love this view!

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

Aww…RIP 23.

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

Hard to believe this is technically Center City!

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

A nice park by the river.

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


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

Rowhouses on a side street.

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

Nice view from here!

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

Returning west in Spring Garden’s rush hour traffic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guide to the MBTA’s Summer 2020 Service Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCRTA: Boston Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

Well, don’t you look out of place?

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

Crossing Stuart Street.

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

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

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

The State House!

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

Making our second stop.

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

Government Center.

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

This looks familiar…

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

Ooh…who will get to the Cape first??

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

Obligatory shot with that gas tank in it.

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

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

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

Yeah, like this.

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

Ooh…but I do see a shed over there!

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

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

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

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

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

Crossing the bridge!

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

Woods…but it’s the Cape!

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

Pulling into the park and ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Boston to…Dunks, I guess.

CCRTA Route: Boston Hospital

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

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

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

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

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

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Goodbye, Lechmere

Over seven years ago, I opened up my Lechmere review by saying that it was a station on its last legs. Seven years later, those legs have finally crumbled: yesterday was the 98-year-old terminal’s last hurrah, with the station now in the process of getting demolished and relocated across the street for the Green Line extension. Despite the ongoing pandemic, a good number of people (adorned with masks, of course) still came out to ride the last train, and I was one of them! Let’s take a look back at this former piece of history.

The crumbing busway with a special guest!

Okay, first of all: I gave the original Lechmere a 6? A 6??? In my head I thought it was a 4, which even then is too much, but apparently nope, 13-year old me thought it deserved a 6 because it was an outdoor Green Line station with faregates. “At Lechmere, though, there are fare gates, making much less waiting time.” Great sentence construction. “The Lechmere busway, on the other hand, has no qualities.” No qualities? None at all? So it’s just…a void lacking any characteristics? And ultimately it got a 6 because “with the MBTA’s budget problems and the West Medford extension just around the corner, a big renovation isn’t necessary.” That’s like saying my waste is eventually gonna get flushed down the toilet anyway, so maybe it’s not so bad – really, though, it’s still a piece of poop that deserves less than a 6/10! Gosh, these old posts…they sure are fun to look back on, huh?

Anyone gonna miss these stark orange lights?

A bunch of people were converged in the busway talking and taking photos, including some fans of the blog (great to meet you, if you’re reading!). The MBTA’s remaining RTS bus, 0309, was there to celebrate the occasion, too. Nathan and I did a walkthrough of the busway, talking about how awful it was: it was always such a pain to run to the buses that boarded in the outside area, while the inside was just so decrepit and unpleasant!

Waiting area, or place where you get your mugshot taken?

One of the big praises of Lechmere is with its design, and I certainly agree that the Boston Elevated Railway was great at designing transfer stations. Unfortunately, the MBTA has had a habit of unraveling those transfers, and this one was no exception: it was supposed to be set up with two busways, such that buses could pick up where trains drop off, and drop off where trains pick up; instead, everything was changed to board and alight at the busway on the outbound platform. I thought that transferring here was always a hassle.

You’ve gotta try real hard to not walk on the yellow line here.

After all, who could forget that classic Lechmere experience of being on a train screeching down the viaduct, watching your bus pulling away and knowing you’ll have to wait another 20 minutes (or longer!) for the next one? And the companion experience of coming in on a bus, seeing that there’s a train waiting on the other side, and joining the crowd in running through the dingy underpass only to hear the wheels screeching and knowing it was too late? There were no countdown clocks here, either, so you just had to stand there hoping the next train was soon.

The other busway, already with signs of construction.

Speaking of that dingy underpass, that’s where the group headed next as the departure of the last train got closer. The busway on the other side isn’t used as much of anything any more – it’s just a road running alongside the station with a few parking spaces. There is that mysterious “Trolley Snacks & More” convenience store, though, which I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen open! Also, if the new sign is to be believed, this is where the shuttle bus to North Station will be boarding (I guess it’s started today, so maybe someone can confirm if they’ve seen it?).

The faregates that middle school Miles had a crush on.

Okay, I guess having faregates at an outdoor Green Line station is kinda unique, and it’s certainly great to have them there. As far as ease of access, you’re right in front of the train once you pay! The whole station is on such a narrow strip of land that there’s no room for excess space – those gates lead right onto the platform.

Again: very hard to not be on the yellow line here!

While the inbound platform is slightly wider than the outbound, this is also the place where people actually, you know, wait. The E is so unreliable that you would constantly get a crowd here, and it could be harrowing standing there on this tiny strip of space with nowhere to go. As the train came in, I would always suck in my stomach…just in case.

Two trains sitting in the yard.

Also, it took me until the last day to realize this, but Lechmere is like the Ruggles busway of trains. You know that manic energy in the Ruggles busway? How buses will come out of nowhere honking their horns and blasting open the doors in random places? While you can’t totally replicate that with trains, it’s such a classic Lechmere moment for a train on the second track over to suddenly pull up with the doors open ringing its bell! There was always this feeling of not knowing exactly what was going on, and whenever a train boarded from that second track, the crowd would swarm on it. As much as I rag on this station, you can’t deny that it was a unique one!

Oof…six feet is clearly not a consideration here…

The crowd of transit enthusiasts and MBTA employees (plus one regular rider who was probably bemused by all the commotion!) were all ready to get onto the very last inbound train, which departed at 12:30 AM. Screeching up the twisty line to the viaduct for the last time, most of us rode all the way to Heath Street. As things progressed, the train got more rambunctious and, for some people, more drunk.

I look like a doctor from the Black Plague.

At Heath Street, the train went out of service, but we were all allowed to stay on for the non-revenue trip back to Lechmere! Expressing through every station on the line was bizarre – I mean, how many riders can say they’ve gone through Copley or North Station without stopping? Returning over the viaduct, this would be the last ever outbound train to traverse the stretch of track that descends to Lechmere.

My best attempt at a shot of the station coming down the viaduct. You can see the new elevated line on the right too!

While expressing through all those stations was fun, I could have never anticipated that we’d get to go around the Lechmere loop! I mean, this is non-revenue trackage, how awesome is that?? And as we screeched around it, annoying the residents of the apartments nearby for the last time, I realized that as much as I can’t stand this station, I’m also gonna miss it a teeny tiny bit. It’s not often you see a streetcar yard shoved up in the middle of an urban neighborhood, after all!

The dark Lechmere yard, as seen from the loop.

Now it was time to take the remaining trains out of the yard. Everyone snapped pictures as each of the vehicles pulled out from their spots and headed onto the viaduct for the last time. And with the final train, 3802, trundling out of the station, Lechmere Yard was, for the first time in probably quite a while, completely empty. Yeah, I definitely gave this station a lot of flak, and to be honest, it deserved it…but there’s also no denying that it was a special place. I’m happy it got a good sendoff. Until we meet again in a different form, Lechmere…it’s been nice knowing you.

A Black Plague doctor selfie in front of the last train.
I’m clearly not the only one photobombing this thing!
Taking a pause so the switch ahead can be flipped.
Just a memory now…
Last view of the yard. It’s been real, Lechmere. It’s been real.

64 (50th-Parkside to Pier 70)

Some routes make a ton of sense as crosstowns. Take the 15: it runs straight across Girard and operates frequently all day every day to really maximize its usefulness. SEPTA has lots of routes like that. But then…there’s the odd, odd case of the 64. Ostensibly it’s trying to be both an east-west crosstown in South Philly and a north-south crosstown in West Philly, but it kinda fails at both? Bizarre deviations and an infrequent schedule are on the menu tonight. Let’s take a look.

What’s that piece of paper on the ground?

You know what they say: all South Philly crosstown routes lead to the malls area (they = me, just now). The 64 is no exception, starting at Pier 70 at the northern end of the complex. As we left the Walmart that’s right there, we turned onto Tasker Street alongside a grassy wasteland, then used Columbus Boulevard to get to Reed Street. We took this a block before heading onto Front Street, a road with dense rowhouses on one side and the uber-depressing I-95 viaduct on the other side.

“Meet me at the bench beneath the eight-lane highway.”

Most of the land underneath the highway was used for parking, but just before we turned onto Washington Ave, there was…A SKATING RINK! UNDER THE HIGHWAY! Bring a date to this incredibly romantic location! And speaking of romantic locations, Washington Ave, the main east-west road for the 64, is way too wide and has some ugly housing along it that definitely wasn’t built at the same time as most of the area’s rowhouses. At least a few parks appeared on its south side.

Yeah, see, that church is lovely, but that housing is pretty charmless.

While normal rowhouses did eventually show up on the north side of the street, the south side remained a bit of a toss-up, featuring anything from a daycare housed in a brand-new building to a shopping plaza with way too much parking for such an urban area (although it was dominated by various Asian restaurants, which was neat). At 9th Street we saw the awnings of the Italian Market, but even there, the road still has this industrial vibe that it can never really shake. There were attempts to change that as we continued: new apartment buildings contrasted sharply with garages and warehouses.

A huge abandoned lot right next to Broad Street? Sure, why not?

That clash continued as we crossed Broad Street, where sadly, the Broad Street Line does not stop. I’m pretty sure (but correct me if I’m wrong) that the 64 used to deviate to Ellsworth-Federal Station a block south – honestly, it’s close enough that a deviation isn’t really necessary in my eyes, especially given the crazy routings we’ll see later. Washington Ave remained industrial west of Broad, but there were traditional rowhouses on the side streets and some businesses between the industry and parking lots. Another park made for a nice break, too.

More abandoned land…

Any efforts to make the street look okay were ceased as we got further west. The road went underneath the CSX rail viaduct and then ended, so we took a left turn onto Grays Ferry Ave. This street was mostly industrial as well, but there was a shopping plaza right where we…turned onto 29th Street? Yeah, so here’s where the 64 does an out-of-nowhere deviation into Grays Ferry, and I really have no idea why it exists.

Tight turn here…

So to save people a 4-minute walk, we get to do this ridiculous jog involving tiny, residential streets. Sure, it’s a dense rowhouse neighborhood, but this important crosstown route should not be deviating to save people two blocks of walking (one block in the other direction!). I mean, first we got stuck when we tried to make the sharp turn onto 33rd Street, involving some maneuvering to make it around. Then when making the left turn back onto Grays Ferry Ave, there was so much traffic that we spent a period of time just sitting sideways across the road waiting for an opening, blocking traffic going the other way! See why I don’t like this thing??

Some rowhouses in Kingsessing.

Once on Grays Ferry Ave, we sped past the little Forgotten Bottom neighborhood before crossing the Schuylkill into West Philadelphia. We turned onto Paschall Ave, a leafy road with run-down rowhouses and some abandoned land, for a few blocks and took a right onto 49th Street, a street adorned with trolley tracks that took us past SEPTA’s Woodland facility. A few rowhouses later, we crossed the Media/Elwyn Line and its station named after our street.

Great timing to capture some trolley derrière!

There was a stark change in the neighborhood when we crossed the tracks: there were tons more trees now, and the houses (which were mostly duplexes rather than rows) were in much better shape. Once we hit the hipster haven of Baltimore Ave, though, we had to make an annoying maneuver where we took that for one block just to pop over to 48th Street instead of 49th. I guess that’s the only reasonable way to get over to what becomes the much more major street north of Baltimore, though.

Swinging off of Baltimore Ave.

The leafy, charming duplex houses were still around on 48th Street up until we crossed Pine – now there were apartment buildings, plus some businesses at the intersection with Spruce. We soon reached Chestnut Street, and here we annoyingly had to take a right. ALSO: this intersection is home to the CENTRAL CITY TOYOTA, which is the WORST name for a car dealership! FIRST of all, it’s CENTER CITY. *CENTER* CITY. Get it right! PLUS, we’re not even IN Center City – it’s about 20 blocks east! SUCH a bad name, people!

The Central – er, Center – City skyline in view on Chestnut Street.

We were only on Chestnut Street for a little bit – once we turned onto the rowhouse-lined Farragut Street, the purpose of the deviation became clear: we were serving 46th Street Station. But…wait, why does this station get special treatment and not Ellsworth-Federal? I mean, this distance is slightly farther, but not by much! But okay, I can handle a deviation to a train station…but then we have to deviate back to 48th a few blocks later?? Make up your mind!

Whoa, they just turned this road into a dead-end!

A lot of the housing around here was built later than some of the more traditional rowhouses that came up too. There were also some abandoned tracts of land, a high school, and a random auto shop that gave me Washington Ave flashbacks and probably had no place being here in this residential neighborhood. And then because this route makes no sense, we suddenly turned onto Westminster Ave to head back to 46th Street – or, excuse me, 45th Street! SURE!

About to head onto Belmont Ave.

Westminster Ave was a real hodgepodge of housing stock. After crossing the 10 trolley at Lancaster Ave, we took a left onto 45th Street, which by this point had become Belmont Ave. This street was all rowhouses, but while their architecture was consistent, the placement was not: there were weird gaps between them, sometimes the width of a house (so likely one was torn down) and other times not, with just these little alleys running between them!

I dunno if it’s the weather or what, but this street is drab!

We crossed over the Paoli/Thorndale Line at an intersection with Girard Ave above the tracks (RIP 15 trolley), and there was a bit of an industrial vibe past there, including a U-Haul storage space and a few auto shops (although there were houses and several schools too). Once we turned onto Parkside Ave, we were in the home stretch: we just had to do a strange routing via 49th, Jefferson, and 50th Streets through a bizarre abandoned wasteland to get to the 50th-Parkside Loop (it used to be a rail yard apparently – this website is your new best friend if you’ve never heard of it!). Why we didn’t just turn straight onto 50th from Parkside is beyond me.

Laying over in the loop.

Route: 64 (50th-Parkside to Pier 70)

Ridership: I’m not particularly impressed with the ridership on this one. I mean, for a route that’s so urban, 5,036 riders a day isn’t great, especially when spread out over the 64’s 126 daily trips – that’s about 40 riders per trip, each of which takes a little under an hour to complete. Perhaps some evidence could be found in the route’s load profile: check out the loads! They’re genuinely pretty high throughout the course of the route! What’s more, take a look at the chart at the bottom of this PDF – while the route does have slightly lower productivity at peak than midday (alas), its productivity is comparable to much more frequent routes like the 17, 21, and 23! Hmm…

Pros: Okay, this thing definitely serves a ton, I’ll give it that. With some streamlining, it could be a really effective crosstown route. The rush hour frequencies are good: every 8-10 minutes, mostly geared toward school times.

Cons: Every 20 minutes on weekdays? Every 30 on weekends? Every 45 minutes at night, running a truncated route from Pier 70 to Kingsessing, that ends service as early as 11 PM??? This is an urban route – these headways are awful! And hey, speaking of the route, what the heck is the route this thing takes? First there’s that Greys Ferry deviation, which almost certainly inconveniences more passengers than it benefits – some of the turns are so tight, and getting back onto Greys Ferry Ave can be a pain! And then the route in West Philly? Oh gosh, don’t get me started. It makes sense in theory: first you gotta deviate to serve 46th Street Station, then you gotta come back to 48th to directly serve the middle school over there. But this is a distance of two blocks we’re talking about, and this is what should be a high capacity urban route. For maximum straightness, staying on 48th Street would be great, but I get that serving the El station is important. But then the route should really just stay on 46th until it has to swing over to Belmont Ave – that middle school abuts 47th ANYWAY, so students would only be walking a block to get to the bus! All this twisty business just seems like it’s discouraging ridership; riding it through that section just felt so inefficient.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I know they tend to be embroiled in controversy (and honestly for good reason), but it doesn’t curb my curiosity about the Mummers Museum, which this route passes straight by. But of course, countless other restaurants of so many different cultures are served by the 64 as it tears its way through South Philly!

Final Verdict: 4/10
I mean…if the schedule’s bad and the route’s bad, then what is there to salvage it? Certainly the 64 serves a lot and it seems to get good ridership throughout its journey. I think the low overall daily ridership is more representative of the fact that it doesn’t run very frequently – I would love to see this thing get a frequency increase to every 15 minutes! Also the Greys Ferry deviation could definitely stand to be straightened out; the situation in West Philly is a little more complicated, but I think there should be efforts there too, whether the route travels mainly on 48th or on 46th.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

GATRA: Bellingham South Shuttle

Well, we’ve covered the North Shuttle, now it’s time to head south!

The Dial-A-Ride vehicle returns.

While the North Shuttle acts as a park-and-ride route for northern Bellingham, the South Shuttle has ulterior motives: it runs from Forge Park to almost the Rhode Island border, and across that border is the sixth largest city in the state, Woonsocket. I wonder what this could possibly be trying to serve! When the driver asked where I, the sole passenger on the bus, was going, I said Hilltop Farms, the last stop on the route mere steps away from Rhode Island. “Okay,” he said, “We’ah gonna take a shoahtcut.”

Why is this recycling bin strapped into one of the seats? Because GATRA, that’s why.

That “shoahtcut” involved going the complete wrong way: instead of taking a right onto Central Street, we took a left instead, running over to Grove Street to head south on that. Well, given that it was dark and Grove Street was pretty much all forest, my pictures came out terribly! Aside from a few housing developments and industrial buildings, it was super barren.

Thank goodness I had one intersection to get a photo of!

There was a bit of civilization in the form of a residential neighborhood at the intersection with Washington Street, onto which we turned. It’s a shame it was so dark, though – amongst the houses along here were some patches of farmland! But while there was a consistent stream of houses now, they were often covered by trees, so especially in the dark, it still felt equally woodsy!


We had actually been in Franklin this whole time, finally entering Bellingham along this stretch. There were a number of lumber stores and auto shops around the intersection with Lake Street, and soon houses along the road got denser. By the time we finally merged back with the normal route (“shoahtcut” complete, I guess), there were actually a ton of businesses (with parking lots) and even some apartments along the street. The driver accidentally drove past Hilltop Farms, and with an apology dropped me off at a pool place a few businesses down. I didn’t mind – quicker walk to Woonsocket!

Ooh, I am loving that neon!

GATRA Route: Bellingham South Shuttle

Ridership: Well, if we remember from last time, the two Bellingham shuttles get a combined 19 riders per day, equalling around two people per trip. That means this one theoretically averages four commuters per day, although given that I rode soon before Christmas, there was no one else on my trip. Also, yeah…four commuters a day. Not great.

Pros: Well…its two trips in each direction per day time with trains, and it almost makes it to Woonsocket…

Cons: I’ll be honest, in its current state, this thing makes so much less sense than the North Shuttle. First of all, there’s only one park-and-ride location on the route, and it’s at Bellingham Marketplace – not even the closest stop to Woonsocket. And while northern Bellingham has a lot more going on in terms of residential density, especially in the neighboring town of Milford, southern Bellingham is sparse: I can’t imagine many people going out of their way to park at Bellingham Marketplace for this thing, even factoring in the cheaper cost. Indeed, thanks to the data from Jules’s guest post on this route, we can confirm that even on a normal day, no one’s using this to park – they’re all taking it to the end or close to it (also, his trip took a different “shoahtcut” from mine – this thing just doesn’t like to follow its prescribed routing!).

Nearby and Noteworthy: Um, neon pool shop, hello?? But also, despite the longish walk to downtown Woonsocket, this is the quickest way to get there by transit if you happen to be travelling at rush hour. Jules also mentions the Beef Barn in his guest post, and…yeah, that place looks awesome.

Final Verdict: 2/10
I’ll give it to GATRA that the southern terminus of the shuttle is in a pretty dense residential and commercial area. But you know what’s a really dense residential and commercial area? Woonsocket. It would really do GATRA good to figure out the bureaucratic logistics of getting this thing across state lines to at least the RIPTA stop on John Cummings Way. It’s just a four minute drive beyond the current terminus, but it could potentially help or add to the 328 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Boston…or indeed, the combined 1,745 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Bellingham or Franklin (source: this really cool document)! At the moment, the Bellingham South Shuttle just feels unfinished.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

22 (Warminster and Willow Grove to Olney Transportation Center)

It’s a testament to the size of SEPTA’s suburban network that so many Regional Rail termini have bus connections. While the 22 to Warminster is nowhere near the odyssey of the 55 to Doylestown, it’s still impressive that an entire Regional Rail line can have a local bus pretty much paralleling it the whole way! Would there be much less need for a bus if Regional Rail had more frequent service and cheaper fares? I mean…yeah…

Shh…don’t scare it!

The 22 doesn’t actually begin at Warminster Station – to get to the real terminus (because we don’t play around here at Miles in Transit), you have to walk about ten minutes down the road to its odd little terminal stop: no sidewalk, an apartment building on one side, and a fenced-off industrial one on the other. Unexpectedly, three people were already on the bus at this first stop, but that’s still no excuse to leave two minutes early the way we did! We crawled through a housing development, eventually popping back out onto Jacksonville Road.

Some of the houses in the neighborhood.

Jacksonville Road was a mix of transit-oriented apartment complexes and likely-unintentionally-transit-oriented industrial buildings. We performed a deviation into Walmart, because…I dunno, why not?…before coming out onto Street Road, a wide avenue with suburban houses and businesses. We took this up to York Road, where we hung a left to start heading towards Philly, passing more businesses.

Well, I appreciate the effort to put a mini-park here…

The sprawl was consistent, leading us all the way down to the intersection of County Line Road, which acts as the dividing line between Bucks County to the north and Montgomery County to the south. While the road remained mostly commercial, the businesses were now mostly in houses, consisting of home medical offices and funeral parlors and stuff like that. Soon we entered downtown Hatboro and York Road became its pedestrian-friendly main street a block away from its train station.

I think I picked the two most boring businesses in Hatboro to take a picture of…

We crossed over Pennypack Creek south of downtown Hatboro, passing through a residential neighborhood before going under I-276 into an industrial area. The entrance to the Upper Moreland High School appeared around here before a brief residential section, but that devolved into the giant suburban businesses of Willow Grove. We performed the route’s deviation to the Willow Grove Park Mall, a hub for other suburban SEPTA routes as well as the terminating point for most 22s coming from Olney.

Coming out of the mall.

York Road, the street we were on before, headed in another direction, so we were now on a different main drag: Easton Road. There were lots of auto dealerships along here (all named after and presumably owned by someone named Marty Sussman), but also lots of other car-related businesses like tire shops and used car dealerships! It did change to more traditional retail eventually, and with relatively tasteful parking lots for such a car-oriented area.

Houses on a side street.

We passed Rosslyn Station as the Warminster Line awkwardly had a level crossing across a four-way intersection. After that it was a real mix of stuff, from houses to a huge variety of businesses, including a mini-golf course!!! We also got some fabulous Tudor style buildings at the immensely charming Keswick Village, whose main street branches off from Easton Road.

Not a good photo, but look how cute it is!

A buffer of houses separated Keswick Village and Glenside, another nice downtown with a bunch of businesses. This one has a Regional Rail station, too. Easton Road served as Glenside’s main street, but the businesses along it got more suburban the further away we got, and a brief, almost rural section took us through the campus of Arcadia University. We travelled through a highway interchange with Route 309, then a huge cemetery lined the road as we came alongside Cedarbrook Plaza right on the Philly border.

The plaza.

Indeed, we turned onto Cheltenham Ave outside of the plaza, which literally forms the border between Montgomery County and Philly. Along here, we passed a giant church along with several smaller churches, as well as rowhouses on the Philly side of the road. Lots of businesses surrounded the intersection with Ogontz Ave, including what is known on the 22’s schedule as the “Cheltenham Square Mall”, but what in real life appears to be called “Greenleaf at Cheltenham”.

SEPTA’s Cheltenham-Ogontz loop outside of Greenleaf.

The Philly side of the road was pretty consistently rowhouses, but on the other side was this absolutely massive planned housing development. Retail showed up too, more often than not accompanied by parking. Soon after we passed a cemetery, we turned onto Broad Street at its very end – it sure is weird travelling down Broad Street up this far, when it’s just a leafy road lined mostly with rowhouses.

Some residences.

Because SEPTA likes being confusing, the 22 only stays on Broad Street in the northbound direction. Southbound people? Nah, you’re going on Old York Road. It basically just curves a tiny bit away (no more than a block) from Broad Street for a bit before curving back. It was home to a few apartment buildings, some churches, and a ton of rowhouses. Just before the road merged back into Broad Street, we took a left onto Nedro Ave before swinging a right onto the residential Park Ave, a half-block away from Broad. This was just so we could loop into the Olney Transportation Center, which was, coincidentally, very close by!

…or we can stop just outside the terminal. That works too.

Route: 22 (Warminster and Willow Grove to Olney Transportation Center)

Ridership: The route gets an average of 4,640 riders per weekday, and most of those are concentrated in the portion south of Willow Grove Park Mall. For example, my ride got a total of 44 people, but just 15 came from north of Willow Grove – plus, the route is significantly more frequent on its inner section. It’s also worth noting that while there’s definitely a contingency of people who commute into the city using the 22, it also has a significant amount of reverse commute ridership, both to Willow Grove and to Warminster.

Pros: Willow Grove is a huge destination, exemplified by the fact that SEPTA can have two rather popular routes that travel there from Olney, the other being the 55. Both of these routes also travel to faraway places, with the 22’s Warminster section seeming to nab pretty good ridership, especially in the reverse-peak direction. It helps that the schedule is so well-optimized: weekday midday service is every 20 minutes as far as Willow Grove, and every third bus continues to Warminster, creating hourly service. Of course, the route is more frequent to both at rush hour, while the Saturday schedule operates every 30 minutes to Willow Grove and hourly beyond – reasonable for a suburban environment.

Cons: Night service is about hourly, despite the fact that some night trips appear to get busier than peak ones. The Sunday schedule is rough, too: it’s about every 40 minutes to Willow Grove and every 80 minutes to Warminster, but not only that, the departure times are really inconsistent to boot (2:50, 3:29, 4:08, 4:50, etc.). I’m also not a fan of the “Old York Road southbound, Broad Street northbound” routing that happens north of Olney – just pick one, they’re both bidirectional streets! The route is long, so on-time performance lags behind at 76%. Also, while variants are kept to a minimum, the nine trips that take an “express routing” and save at most three minutes…come on, let’s keep things simple. And finally, while this is sort of a nitpick, there’s no effort at coordinating the 22 and the 55 to Willow Grove or the 22 and the 16 to Cheltenham-Ogontz (and the latter is along the same roads!), despite the fact that all three run at the same frequency. I know it would be really hard to do so I’m not weighing this too much into the score, but it would be nice.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Definitely there are a few notable places along the route, but Keswick Village really seemed awesome! I loved the architecture there, and it seems like a great place to walk around, get a bite to eat, and see a concert at the local theater (er…once concerts become a thing again).

Final Verdict: 7/10
I’m honestly impressed with this one! The schedule is really solid, keeping things generally simple (besides those few “express” trips) and balancing frequencies well. Nights and Sundays could definitely be better, but it is a suburban route, so I cut it a little bit of slack. While I would say that the inner part of the 55 is better than the inner part of the 22, the strength of the 22’s outer section (including running hourly six days a week and having just one variant past Willow Grove) makes it my preferred route between the two.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

GATRA: Bellingham North Shuttle

Oh YES! THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF GATRA!!!!! And this is a side of our favorite RTA not seen quite as often on here: commuter routes with HORRIBLE ridership! Welcome to the Bellingham North Shuttle!

Oh, of course it uses Dial-A-Ride vehicles.

I suppose it’s not a surprise, per se, that this thing uses unsigned Dial-A-Ride vehicles. I mean, it’s a GATRA commuter route, they couldn’t give a hoot about these. But the, er, unsignedness of the bus gets a little harder to swallow when you realize that there are two Bellingham routes. So in order to find the bus you want at Forge Park (or excuse me, “Forge Park MBTA”), you literally just have to go up to the door and ask if it’s the right one. Boy, have I missed you, GATRA.

It’s what appears to be an office building? It’s a bit dark…

Since it was a few days before Christmas, traffic on both the street and the bus was low (I was the only one on). We headed down Central Street, which was wide and industrial, aside from a few restaurants at the intersection with Maple Street. Also at that intersection was an apartment complex, which really would’ve been better sited, like, a mile down the road outside of Forge Park station…

It’s supposed to be “transit-oriented development”, not “kinda-close-to-transit-such-that-maybe-you-could-drive-to-it-if-you-really-wanted-to development”!

We were in Bellingham now, and development along what was now called Mechanic Street was…weird. Like, businesses here, a cemetery there, whoop, here’s a residential cul-de-sac, hey, who threw a long, narrow cemetery in here? Bellingham Center had a nice town common, but other than that, it had…a shopping plaza? Some other car-oriented businesses? A church? Definitely not one of Massachusetts’s better downtowns…

World-class photography by Miles Taylor.

We crossed a train track and the Charles River before entering a proper residential neighborhood. Among the single-family houses, there was also an apartment complex and a campground of all things (it didn’t exactly seem like this scenic place to pitch a tent and relax under the stars). A brief section of woods led us to Home Depot Plaza, the end of this one-way trip. Yes…now it was time to walk back to Forge Park in the dark. Good times.

If you want to make a transit-oriented lawnmower purchase, this is the route for you.

GATRA Route: Bellingham North Shuttle

Ridership: Oho, double trouble from GATRA’s ridership data: they count both Bellingham routes as one thing! Okay, so we have to remember that this number is gonna be inflated, so it might be higher than you expect. Andddddddddd…19 riders per day. Oh dear. Split between the ten combined daily trips of the Bellingham shuttles, that gives us an average of slightly less than…2 riders per trip. So the Bellingham North Shuttle attracts about 6 commuters per day. What a time to be alive.

Pros: I give this thing credit that its $40 monthly pass combined with free commuter parking at the locations it serves beats spending $105 a month to park directly at the station. The three rush hour trips in each direction per day all connect to Commuter Rail trains, and that’s nice. Although…I see nothing on the GATRA website about them suspending service on these routes due to the pandemic. Are they just connecting to nothing right now? ‘Cause, like, the Franklin Line definitely isn’t on its regular schedule…

Cons: Okay, 6 commuters a day. What is this thing doing wrong? Well, I think one issue is the bizarre loopy nature of the shuttle: the bus only takes the route I described in the evening rush, while in the morning rush, it starts in Bellingham Center, runs up and deviates into Home Depot, and then hops on I-495 to get to the station. Why? Don’t even bother with that morning rush routing, the evening one makes far more sense – sure, Home Depot people get a slightly longer ride in the morning, but the service will be so much simpler because of it, plus overall trip times would be quicker! But still, that shouldn’t be enough to single handedly drag down ridership this much. Honestly, like so many of these commuter shuttles, it might come down to lack of advertising. It would be fantastic if the MBTA was able to partner with these RTAs to get those schedules printed on their timetables so more people know about them…but of course, then they might lose parking revenue. Sigh…

Nearby and Noteworthy: I wasn’t impressed with Bellingham. But I can confirm from experience that the town common is quite nice.

Final Verdict: 3/10
Alright, GATRA, there’s potential here. Honestly, the service offered is a pretty good deal for commuters, even if it does limit you to three trains per day. The most important thing is to get the word out there so more people know about it! Also, an interesting quirk from the agency’s Regional Transit Plan: they were considering adding midday service to this thing! While it’s a nice idea and it does serve a number of shopping plazas, I don’t think the population is there to support ridership on such a small loop. Interesting thought, though – at the very least, it might attract more than 6 people a day.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates


Sure, I could’ve easily done the hour-long walk from Southampton to Warminster after riding the 24. But…I’ve reviewed Warminster already. So of course I would opt for the 90-minute walk to the next station over, Hatboro! Wouldn’t you???

The station seen from Byberry Road.

Getting to the station is as simple as just stepping onto it from the road. In fact, you have two roads to choose from: Byberry Road to the south and Moreland Ave to the north. The excitement! If you’re coming by car, there’s a 100-space lot right next to the station, a 75-space lot across from Byberry Road next to a big warehouse, and a 93-space municipal lot across from Moreland Ave. All cost a dollar a day. A whole two bike racks is provided by SEPTA, but there are an additional three in the municipal lot. The stop is also served by the 22 bus, although contrary to what the incredibly outdated bus stop signs on the road right next to the station proclaim, the route actually travels a block away.

Peeking inside the station building.

The platform is super basic: it contains a couple of benches (both metal, one green, one silver), a wastebasket, and three Key Card validators. At least the building, which is only open during the morning rush, has more promise, offering charming wooden benches, a bathroom, a water fountain, and a ticket office. Also, quite bizarrely, a Boston Calling poster was pasted to the side of the building when I was here. Is it…that big of an event? Huh!

My three-car train coming in to take me to Philly.

Station: Hatboro

Ridership: After neighboring Warminster, this is the second-busiest station on the line (with the next stop south, Willow Grove, being the third-busiest!), getting 500 boardings and 530 alightings per weekday. The parking lots don’t seem to fill up too much on a daily basis, and since the station is located right in downtown Hatboro, I would imagine a lot of people walk here!

Pros: It’s always great when a station is located in a downtown but also has parking. The lots aren’t intrusive, too: the one closest to the station and the municipal one are both pushed up against the tracks, while that second SEPTA lot takes advantage of existing space outside of a warehouse. The station platform is basic but it works, with sheltered benches and a pretty nice morning rush building.

Cons: Lack of wheelchair accessibility is the big one – this is a low-level platform. The fact that it’s single track and there are level crossings on either side is rough, too, but accessibility is the main thing!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I only had time to take a quick stroll down the main drag of Hatboro before grabbing my train, but man, I want to come back here! Among other things, the businesses include a music store, a specialty popcorn place, and a retro toy/record store!

Final Verdict: 6/10
With accessibility, I’d give it an 8. But accessibility is important, so Hatboro, I’m sorry, but it’s a 6 for you. Seriously, besides that, the station is pretty darn good, though!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

WRTA: 8 (Park Avenue Connector)

The WRTA loves to take one bus and use it to single-handedly run some sort of “bonus route” on the system. For a while this took the form of a downtown shuttle, whether it was the small free loop of the 80 or the larger un-free loop of the 40. Eventually realizing that Worcester just does not have a strong enough downtown to justify dedicating a bus to serving it, the WRTA took a complete 180 and created a route that helps people avoid downtown: the 8 is the only route on the system that doesn’t serve Union Station, instead acting as a crosstown connector along Park Ave in western Worcester. If they were gonna make a crosstown route, the direct, dense corridor of Park Ave was a good place to go.

It’s finally here!

The boarding process for this one was a little harried. For one thing, Nathan and I were getting conflicting information about where the thing actually picks up at Webster Square Plaza: the bus stop signs were useless, and the Transit app was saying the route started in a different place than what the schedule said. It didn’t really matter, though, because the thing ended up arriving 20 minutes late. Okay, no way were we getting to the Greendale Mall on time…right?

That’s a lot of sidewalk parking right there!

We travelled down Main Street along the length of Webster Square Plaza and a little beyond that before merging left onto Park Ave. This road definitely felt industrial, but there were regular businesses along it too, with dense residential neighborhoods off of it. The 8 spends a lot of time interacting with other routes, the 7 being one of them: it travels on Park Ave for a decent amount of time, although it does a jog into a neighborhood that the 8 doesn’t.

Houses seen through a parking lot.

The industrial-feeling commercial development continued after the 7 left us at May Street and as we crossed the 6 and the 2 on Chandler and Pleasant Streets, respectively (gosh, this post sure is a good excuse to give my old WRTA reviews some more clicks!). But it’s at Elm Street a few blocks later that the 8’s usefulness becomes a bit more cloudy: the 31 joins up with the route from there all the way to the Greendale Mall, making the entire second half of the 8 shared with a more frequent service. At least we passed through a lovely park when the 31 joined.

Elm Park’s blurry pond.

A few suburban businesses popped up again as we crossed the 3 at Highland Ave, but the athletic portions of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute occupied one side of the road for a while after that. We also passed the headquarters of the American Antiquarian Society – who knew the oldest nationally-focused historical society in the country was based in Worcester?? The road was residential for just a bit after that before it returned to classic suburban retail. As Park Ave split into two one-way roads, the parking lots got bigger and the scenery felt more industrial, and once we crossed I-190, it was time to pull into the awkwardly-located Greendale Mall, surrounded by highways and a railroad track. So…we had left 20 minutes late, and we had arrived…3 minutes late. Okay, put a pin in that.

The sun sets over the Greendale Mall parking lot.

WRTA Route: 8 (Park Avenue Connector)

Ridership: This route is too new to have any public ridership data from the WRTA, so we’ll have to use the “data” I collected on my one ride, the 7 PM journey from Webster Square to Greendale Mall. So, let’s see here…one rider. Okay, not the best, obviously, but it was an evening trip…maybe it’s busier during the day?

Pros: Huge props to the WRTA for creating a crosstown route! The second biggest city in New England deserves a real bus service, and routes that don’t all feed into downtown is a good signifier of that.

Cons: Well, pretty much everything about the execution is awful. Firstly, this thing is hourly on weekdays only, so it can only be so useful. Plus, crosstown buses tend to work better if the system has good bones with its radial routes, and the WRTA really doesn’t have that, so the 8 is pretty much just a “if you gotta make your way up Park Ave, maybe use this” route rather than something you could transfer to from somewhere else. It doesn’t help that even though it is a clean circumferential corridor, the route’s northern anchor is hardly an anchor: as you’ll see in the “Nearby and Noteworthy” section, the Greendale Mall is noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. At least there are supermarkets and other attractions along here too.

The fact that half of the 8’s route is shared with the 31 is another pitfall. Not only does that route go much further than the 8 does and can be used as a Park Ave crosstown for the 8’s northern half, but it also runs every 40 minutes and has Saturday service. And let’s also talk about the 8’s reliability as a route: it has none. Our bus left 20 minutes late, which in itself is awful, but it might’ve just been a purposeful act on the driver’s part to make up for the excessively padded running times. While the scheduled running time of half an hour might hold some weight on midday trips, it certainly shouldn’t be scheduled to take that long for morning and night trips! Our run took just 13 minutes, which is why we ended up making up 17 minutes of lateness! Rather than forcing drivers to run insanely behind schedule, inconveniencing the few passengers this thing gets, would it not be better to just make the schedule realistic?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Let’s talk about the Greendale Mall: this thing is on its last legs. And because of that…I think it’s noteworthy! Dead malls are fascinating, and this one was almost completely devoid of people. A few shops remain, including a rinky-dink arcade that appeared to be unstaffed and a “Lensecrafters”, because apparently the people who made the mall’s online store directory really really really don’t care. The food court has a total of two eating establishments where Nathan and I got some excessively cheap Chinese food that didn’t make us sick. Win in my book!

Well, at least there’s a Best Buy (update: I have been told in the comments it’s since closed!). And re: that clock up there – at least a stopped clock is right twice a day.
“Children at play.”
The empty food court.

Final Verdict: 2/10
It’s a nice effort, but man, this just isn’t working. I’m not even sure if I would call this a “way to be there” route – I think there’s so much wrong with it that while its existence is certainly a plus, I would go so far as to congratulate it for anything. Of course, ridership could be higher than I’m giving it credit for, but given the schedule, the running times, and the duplication, I doubt it’s being used by too many people.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

24 (Southampton and Rockledge to Frankford Transportation Center)

One thing I’ll always give SEPTA praise for is the connectivity of its suburban network. It’s obviously not perfect, but there are very few routes that end in places where no direct connections can be made. Today, though, we’ll be checking out one of the exceptions: the 24 begins at the busy Frankford Transportation Center, but by the time it gets to its terminus in Southampton, that’s it – you’re the only bus around. It runs up that far pretty regularly on weekdays, but on Saturdays, it only goes up there three times a day (with no service that far on Sundays) – can you guess what day of the week I rode the 24?

Starting out in the city, though!

We started out on Pratt Street, which was mostly rowhouses and a few small businesses. Greenery became more common the further we got from Frankford, though, including a big field occupying one side of the road for a bit. We crossed Roosevelt Boulevard (making stops on both sides of the monstrosity, of course) and turned onto Summerdale Ave soon after. More rowhouses and businesses along here!

Some of the housing stock on a side street.

We hooked a left onto Oxford Ave eventually: because this road went diagonally through the grid, it had an awkward alignment where one side was a cemetery and the other side was vacant land between it and the housing project that adhered to the grid. A huge Naval center generated a lot of industry around it, but as we continued onto Martins Mill Row, it was back to leafy rowhouses.

Well, this is a heavy-duty intersection.

The narrow street went by a retirement home, and soon after that we made a right onto Rising Sun Ave. There was a ton along here: businesses, industry, and housing were all mixed in together. We were running with the 18 here, which continues along Rising Sun Ave to Fox Chase – the 24 goes to Fox Chase too, but it takes a left onto Cottman Ave and goes up a different way. This street passed Ryers Station before we turned onto Central Ave.

The commercial intersection between Rising Sun, Oxford, and Cottman Aves.

Central Ave was suburban, with Burholme Park occupying its entire western side, while the eastern side was home to a bunch of duplex houses all in a row. Also on that western side of the road was a massive Temple University Hospital complex, and the Ryerss Museum and Library, which always throws me off with its second “s” but is apparently amazing! Eventually we merged back into Oxford Ave, rejoining the 18 and running with it for its last stretch to the commercial intersection next to Fox Chase.

The Regional Rail station is down thereeeeeee…

Fox Chase is situated right on the Philadelphia border, and it got more suburban once we crossed that line. Also, while we had gotten decent ridership further south, just three people remained on the bus now, and that was after someone who had literally told his friend over the phone that he was riding for fun with no purpose got off. The road we were on was called Huntingdon Pike, but it wasn’t quite wide or fast enough to be a “proper” “pike”. Little suburban businesses and shopping plazas lined the street.

There were lots of houses on the side streets.

The Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center was the most major shopping plaza we had come across, while there was kind of an odd residential neighborhood on the other side of the road where every street was named after a California locale: Los Angeles Ave, Berkeley Ave, Pasadena Ave, etc. The shopping center was also the last breath of civilization for a bit (it’s no wonder many trips end here) – the road got super leafy and fast-moving, and the houses that weren’t completely hidden away were now farther apart from their neighbors. Non-house attractions included an elementary school and several churches.

An adorable side road.

Given the fairly rural nature of this road, you can imagine how the giant Holy Redeemer Hospital came as a bit of a surprise. For whatever reason, the hospital attracted a ton of development, too: no fewer than three housing developments surrounded it. We went up onto a high bridge after that, crossing both Pennypack Creek and its parallel trail before returning to ground level to sail past Bethayres Station.

The creek is, like, down there somewhere…

A clump of suburban businesses occupied the intersection north of Bethayres. It was here that we took a left onto Welsh Road to perform the route’s double-deviation: one to Gloria Dei Manor and one to Gloria Dei Towers. The one to the Manor went well, and with a note of the “deer crossing” sign on the woodsy driveway, we looped around the retirement home. The one to the Towers, though…uhh, it just didn’t happen. We just headed back down Welsh Road to get back onto Huntingdon Pike. Oh well…

The road leading up to the Manor.

It is past here that the thrice-a-day Saturday service begins (with all other trips this far terminating at Gloria Dei Manor), and given that the bus was completely empty, that low frequency seemed to make sense. While semi-dense houses and businesses lined the road for a bit, they dropped away suddenly when we passed through the bucolic campus of Bryn Athyn College. There are actually some fields that come up next to the road, but you can’t see them super well behind the curtain of trees.

The entrance to Bryn Athyn College.

Suburbia did return once we left the reach of the college, but everything was hidden behind fences – Huntingdon Pike itself had pretty much nothing abutting it aside from a church, a gas station, and a nursing home at the intersection with Welsh Road. It was then pretty much nothing until a few businesses at County Line Road (spelled “Coutny Line Road” on SEPTA’s route map – multiple times), onto which we took a left. Conveniently forming the border between Montgomery County and Bucks County, we took this over I-276 into an industrial area before going further into Bucks by turning north onto James Way.

Okay, I have several architectural questions.

Offices and industries continued as we took a right onto Jaymor Road, but once we headed back onto Huntingdon Pike (now called 2nd Street Pike for some reason – not like there are any other numbered streets around here!), it was mostly suburban shopping plazas. We passed Southampton Station on the abandoned Newtown Line (aw…) before turning onto Street Road, which threw in some other buildings besides the suburban businesses: houses, a modern fire station, and a church, among others. Nailing a sharp right onto Knowles Ave, this industrial road led us back to the intersection with 2nd Street Pike, completing our terminating loop.

Sadly the driver turned the sign off upon arrival. But here we are!

Route: 24 (Southampton and Rockledge to Frankford Transportation Center)

Ridership: 2,716 riders per weekday, a number that’s pretty expectedly low. Also unsurprisingly, based on data from both my ride and the route’s load profile, the 24’s ridership is mostly concentrated on the inner section south of Fox Chase, where it actually kinda functions like a real bus route (my trip got around 30 riders during that roughly 25-minute first stretch). Especially beyond the second main terminus at Gloria Dei Manor, ridership gets much lower, with the busiest buses carrying reverse commuters to the industrial areas that way.

Pros: Like I said, the inner route especially is decent – it covers some relatively dense areas, and while a lot of it is duplicative, it acts as a “fill in the gaps” route to grab some of the underserved areas between the more frequent lines. Understandably, frequencies get lower the further out on the route you go, as it starts to act as more of a lifeline service for lower-density areas: the inner portion is half-hourly seven days a week (hourly at night), while Gloria Dei Manor gets hourly service that stops earlier in the evening (peak service on weekdays is also more frequent, with a particular focus on school travel). Given that the inner part of the 24 is really just trying to fill in gaps, I think these frequencies make sense, and I appreciate the consistency of running the same headways seven days a week.

Cons: So, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way the route is set up: it makes sense for something this far-flung to have a number of termini to balance frequency and ridership. The problem is that it’s darn confusing! This mostly happens on weekdays – while a twice-a-day variant to serve a school makes sense, the fact that full Southampton trips tend to operate at inconsistent times (usually every two hours, but with more frequent service during the peak and a larger gap in the afternoon), combined with the fact that some deviate to Gloria Dei Manor and others don’t leads to a frustrating schedule. It’s certainly not the worst SEPTA’s done, but it’s a problem regardless. I’m also iffy on the thrice-a-day Southampton service on Saturdays, especially given that my bus was empty up there, but the driver assured me that seniors and shoppers tend to reverse-commute up there and his inbound would get more people. If that’s the case, though, three times a day is super hard to rely on – it’s a barebones coverage service if I ever saw one!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Given that most of the route is residential or suburbia, there didn’t seem to be a ton to write home about beyond Fox Chase. That being said, I’m definitely gonna shout out the Ryerss Museum again – this is the closest route that serves it, and how can you beat a free art museum housed in an old mansion? Definitely seems like a good place to check out once we’re out of quarantine!

Final Verdict: 7/10
Oh wow, am I really about to stick up for the 24 of all things? Geez…I must be in a good mood or something. Here’s my reasoning: the 24 isn’t trying to be this super busy route or anything. It’s either duplicative of more frequent routes, or running to far-flung areas that don’t need a ton of service to begin with. And while the schedule definitely has annoying quirks, I feel like overall the frequencies match the ridership pretty well!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

WRTA: 25 (Union Station Hub – Webster Square Plaza via Canterbury Street)

The 25 has really shifted around throughout the past few years – as far as I can remember, it’s had three different termini since I started paying attention to the WRTA. The one commonality between the route’s various permutations is its 0.8 mile unique section on Canterbury Street, and the current route is no different. So, let’s do a ride on the 25: the route the WRTA has no idea what to do with.

Oh, did I mention it uses PROTERRAS?

To get onto the main road, the bus first has to loop around the rotary to the east of the train tracks heading north of Union Station. We made it onto McGrath Boulevard, except we were only on there briefly because the route decides to jog to Myrtle Street and Southbridge Street, despite the fact that other WRTA routes don’t do that – I guess the relative “localness” of the 25 is used to justify it? The deviation took us past some offices surrounded by parking lots, but once back on the main road, things got industrial.

Turning off of the main road.

In the midst of the wasteland, we made a right onto Hammond Street to get under some train tracks, beginning the main Canterbury Street unique section with a left turn. While the whole street still has an industrial vibe to it, it eventually became lined with dense houses, apartments, and a few businesses. At an elongated four-way intersection, we hooked a right onto Cambridge Street.

Gotta love these Proterra rear windows!

Cambridge Street had houses along it too, but there was also a Salvation Army building in an old factory, some industrial buildings, and a Price Chopper. That latter type of scenery continued as we turned onto Main Street and then merged left onto Stafford Street. One side of the road was occupied by a lake and its surrounding marshes, but there was eventually enough spare land to stick a row of houses along there. Once Webster Square Plaza came up on the other side, that was the end of the route!

Our neat electric bus sitting outside the plaza. We arrived very early.

WRTA Route: 25 (Union Station Hub – Webster Square Plaza via Canterbury Street)

Ridership: This is a tough one to gauge because no ridership data exists for the route’s current form. Back when it went to the Auburn Industrial Park, it received 217 riders per weekday and 138 per Saturday, well below the WRTA averages. Even factoring in how short of a route it is, its financials and productivity are below average too. My trip got just two riders, and both of them went to Webster Square Plaza – a location well-served by other, more frequent WRTA routes.

Pros: Having service on Canterbury Street is the kind of thing that politically feels like it needs to exist, even if ridership is relatively low. The route runs hourly on weekdays, which I guess is fitting of the ridership.

Cons: There are better ways to serve Canterbury Street, I think. What about routing the 33 this way, for example? If anything, the routing is slightly faster than going via Main Street like it does now, and that would give the WRTA a spare bus to use to boost frequency on other parts of the system.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Nothing much on the independent section – it’s mostly industrial and residential.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Eh. It does its job okay, but there are certainly much better ways to provide service to Canterbury Street. This weird, short, self-contained thing? That ain’t it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

J (Chelten-Wissahickon to Richmond-Orthodox)

I’m sure SEPTA had plenty of reason for each route they chose to operate their COVID-19 “lifeline service”, but I find it odd that the J, an infrequent crosstown route sandwiched between two more frequent ones, gets precedent over, say, the 54 (or, like, the 33 or 48? Hello? Why did we get rid of these, SEPTA?). Although then again…why is the J so infrequent? It would seem that not all North Philadelphia crosstown routes are created equal… (also no, I did not ride this during COVID times, don’t worry)

The bus laying over in a sea of apartment buildings.

But the J starts not in North Philadelphia, but in Germantown: the layover point at Chelten and Wissahickon Aves is home to a ton of big brick apartment buildings. Once the bus actually set off, though, it made its way onto School House Lane, which had a totally different setting of single-family and duplex houses. We crossed over the Chestnut Hill West Line and used Pulaski Ave to get back onto Chelten. This commercial road took us past rows of businesses up to Germantown Ave.

Busy Germantown Ave with its unused streetcar tracks.

North of Germantown Ave, there was more retail, along with Germantown Station. Just after crossing those Chestnut Hill East Line tracks, though, we turned off onto Baynton Street, a meandering road that curved its way down to the tracks. It felt like a forgotten road: the side the tracks were on was mostly trees, while a lot of the rowhouses on the other side were in pretty bad shape. They got into better condition once we curved back up again on Belfield Ave.

Okay, I’m totally here for this out-of-nowhere statue.

We passed Wister Station (again on the Chestnut Hill East Line) during a short industrial stretch, then Belfield Ave entered Wister Woods Park. It made a wide curve south and we sped our way through the forest around La Salle University, but right when we came to the edge of civilization, it was an instant left onto Lindley Ave. There were some rowhouses on the south side of this street, but the north side was still occupied by the park for a few blocks.

Definitely a weird picture, but…eh, I like it!

More rowhouses (now on both sides) led us to Broad Street, where Logan Station on the Broad Street Line is located directly underneath the SEPTA Main Line, which passes nonstop overhead. There were a few businesses here, but Logan has always struck me as being one of the less urban-feeling stations on the BSL. Continuing onward, Lindley Ave was full of trees, with some pretty charming rowhouse constructions.

Such as these!

The trees died off eventually, but aside from a school, a few industrial buildings, and a park (located above the road so it couldn’t be seen!), it was pretty much all residential, plus a few corner businesses. 5th Street was a huge retail corridor that we crossed, though. Because of some weird street layouts here, we had to turn north onto 2nd Street, a road with auto shops on one side and rowhouses on the other.

Making the left onto 2nd.

We headed onto Fisher Ave next, taking it to the retail-lined Rising Sun Ave. At that point, it turned into C Street and curved south, with one exceptionally tree-filled block lined with charming rowhouses and one block completely absent of trees and lined with much less charming rowhouses. Of course, any semblance of charm goes out the window when Roosevelt Boulevard is involved on your trip, and sure enough, we turned onto that twelve-lane behemoth once we intersected with it.


The Boulevard took us over Frankford Creek and the greenery surrounding it, then (surprisingly pretty) rowhouses morphed into suburban shopping plazas and Friends Hospital. Past the hospital was a cemetery, and at that point we merged onto Adams Ave, taking it down to Orthodox Street. Aside from some initial industry, this normal-sized street (thank goodness) took us through a duplex-heavy residential area.

Whoa, rainbow house!

We crossed beneath the El a block away from Arrott Transportation Center, but the J isn’t content with ending there: it has to continue down to Bridesburg! While Frankford Ave had lots of retail under the El, it was residential on the other side of it, with rowhouses and some vacant land. The intersection with Torresdale Ave had a few more businesses, and vacant land between houses was all but eradicated once we crossed the Northeast Corridor. Industry was clustered around I-95, which we went under, and it was just a few more residential blocks until the end of the line at Orthodox and Richmond.

Great transit access to “Kitchen World”!

Route: J (Chelten-Wissahickon to Richmond-Orthodox)

Ridership: Given how infrequent it is, the J’s ridership isn’t the worst thing ever? 2,811 riders per weekday seems okay…it’s 45 minutes from end to end, and it averages around 33 people per trip. Yeah, that’s not so bad! Also peak ridership has around the same productivity as off-peak ridership, so maybe the infrequent midday service is justified?

Pros: This is one of those cases where I feel like the only pro I can give is a participation trophy: it’s nice that the J operates where it does. I’m glad we have a route running along Lindley Ave.

Cons: So firstly, because the streets in this part of North Philadelphia are a bit crazy, the J can’t be a straight crosstown. It has to traverse the odd segment on Belfield Ave plus the required deviation to Fisher Ave to get anywhere. The Bridesburg section feels kinda redundant to the 25 from Frankford, too – I’m not as down on this, though, since there’s probably not enough space at Arrott to have another route lay over. Of course, we also have to tackle the frequency: while the (kinda) every 20 minutes at rush hour is decent and the (sorta) every 30 minutes midday seems to work okay, the hourly night and weekend schedule is atrocious!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Definitely Germantown, but also Wister Woods Park (the one Belfield Ave passes through) seems like a cool secluded place next to La Salle University.

Final Verdict: 4/10
You know, throughout my childhood I played soccer, a sport I had very little actual skill in. One time, someone kicked the ball toward our side of the field. I, a defender, likely not paying attention at the time, inadvertently knocked the ball back toward the other side because it happened to hit me in the stomach. “Way to be there, Miles!” the coach yelled from the sideline, which was probably the most accurate compliment that could’ve been given to the situation. So I feel the J deserves the same hapless praise: Way to be there, J!

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates