BRTA: 3 (Williamstown/North Adams)

Another North Adams-based shuttle, although this one is much straighter. Today we’re heading to the northwesternmost point of Massachusetts on the 3!

The minibus boarding at North Adams’s colored shelter.

From the Main Street bus stop in North Adams, we looped around the block to the Mohawk Trail, deviating into good ol’ Big Y after we rounded the turn. Once back on the Mohawk Trail, we crossed the Hoosic River, effectively leaving downtown North Adams. The houses along the road were pretty close together, but there was very little development anywhere else around us.

Hi, MASS MoCA.

Some industry appeared after we crossed the Hoosic River again, and after some houses (and a nice mountain view), we passed the Stop & Shop that can be deviated into by request (no requests today, luckily). More houses led us across the border to Williamstown, where some suburban retail greeted us. There were also a ton of hotels – this place has some tourist demand!

A drive-through bank…with a mountain in the background!

A crossing of the Green River took us onto Williamstown’s leafy main street lined with large houses set back from the road, but things were a little less ornate when we turned onto Cole Ave. We took a left onto Church Street, serving the Proprietors Fields apartment complex, then we used Southworth Street to get back to the main drag. It was now dominated by the various buildings of Williams College, and we took it as far as Field Park, just outside of the “Williams Inn” – the 3’s last stop.

Ooh, I love the log cabin in the background.

BRTA Route: 3 (Williamstown/North Adams)

Ridership: Okay, I’ve gotta take this ridership data with a grain of salt: it was taken in August 2017, meaning school wasn’t in session at Williams College, where I would imagine a good amount of route 3 ridership comes from. In that month, it got about 111 riders per weekday and 101 per Saturday, although my summer trip seemed to show higher numbers than that – it got 11 riders one way and 5 in the other direction. So I think any way you slice it, this route may get higher ridership than what the numbers suggest.

Pros: This seems like the most sensible way to connect Williamstown up with the rest of the system. A direct route from Pittsfield would just have too long of a middle-of-nowhere segment to make a lot of sense, and this North Adams shuttle solution probably covers most local needs, anyway. The route has a consistent hourly schedule on weekdays and Saturdays, plus there’s one weekday trip to Pittsfield for Williams College students. Also, in Williamstown, you can connect to not only Peter Pan, but also the Green Mountain Express, a $1 local bus to Bennington, VT!

Cons: The route have a weird eastbound-only deviation to an apartment complex that’s right next to the main road anyway, and it also has an excessive amount of request-only stops. Some are schools, which should really just be added to the schedule in the form of school trips if they actually generate ridership, and others are just weird, like to the Clark Art Institute or to a Goodwill store that would be covered if the 1 was extended to North Adams. It’s probably because of these various by-request deviations that the route’s schedule has to be tremendously padded: our driver would purposely leave late from each terminus (up to ten minutes!) so he wouldn’t have to wait at the stops along the way. Also, the route’s GTFS data (used by Google Maps and other transit apps) strangely shows it ending on the eastern end of the Williams College campus.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Williamstown is a real gem of a Berkshires town, with a nice store-lined main street and many cultural activities at Williams College.

Final Verdict: 5/10
Unlike the 34, which was a loopy shuttle that wasn’t trying to be anything else, the 3 tries to be useful but falls a bit flat. At its core, it offers a convenient shuttle between Williamstown and North Adams, but the ridiculous padding needed to accommodate request stops that are likely barely used is annoying. I’m sorry, but how can a route where it’s necessary to leave ten minutes late just to end up on time by the end of the trip get a better score than this? Plus, it makes it look like a really slow option for potential users – what would be a 12-minute trip by car looks like a 25-minute trip by bus, according to the schedule, when it really only takes about 15!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Stadium (NHSL)

For our first review on the wild and wacky Norristown High Speed Line (I’m shocked it’s taken this long to do one), let’s take a look at the newly-renovated Stadium Station! Opened on January 13th (four days ago), the station still has some construction going on, but it’s complete enough that I feel I can review it fairly. Let’s see if SEPTA did a good job with the renovation.

Looks like that’s a yes!

Yeah, this is one of the best stations on the NHSL now, especially when compared to the photos I’ve seen of the old stop. We now have beautiful new shelters, benches, wastebaskets, fences, and signage – the old stop seemed very, very barebones compared to this. The platform can handle two cars, which is something that I can’t believe isn’t always the case. And most importantly: it’s accessible! The NHSL only had four (four!) accessible stations out of its 22 in total, so raising that number to five is at least a step in the right direction.

The construction on the inbound side.

Parts of the station are still under construction, particularly the entrances. The area around the station has been made a lot friendlier to pedestrians since the station’s old incarnation, but they’re still working on paving over the gravel bits around the entrances. Also, the ramp on the inbound side is still under construction at time of writing, so I guess the station isn’t fully accessible yet. Still…not enough of an excuse for not marking Stadium as accessible on the platform map. OR having the southern terminus of the Broad Street Line be labelled as AT&T?!?? Come on, SEPTA, this is a brand new station!

The station’s map, for posterity.
A train heading for “69th Street Terminal”.

Station: Stadium (NHSL)

Ridership: Checking 2017 data (since the station was under construction from 2018 until now), this one is definitely in the lower echelon of NHSL stations. It got 209 total passengers per day, with 123 alightings and just 86 boardings (perhaps because at the time, Villanova Station was a more pleasant place to wait, even if one lived slightly closer to Stadium; when getting off the train, it didn’t matter, hence the higher number of alightings). Hopefully the renovations will increase ridership!

Pros: The station really is well-done. The shelters are substantial with plenty of seating, and the new platforms are much better than the ones from before. And it’s accessible now (at least once they finish construction)! The NHSL has such a low percentage of accessible stations that any new one feels like a HUGE deal.

Cons: It would be nice to see an LED screen showing scheduled departures like at Gulph Mills, especially when the NHSL is as infrequent as it is. The outdated map is annoying, of course. Stadium’s biggest flaw, though, is how darn close it is to the next stop, Villanova. They’re 0.3 miles apart. 0.3 miles?! That’s, like, bus stop length!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Some of the Villanova buildings that happen to be closer to Stadium than to Villanova are the theatre and, of course, the stadium.

Final Verdict: 7/10
I really do think that this is the one of the best stations on the Norristown High Speed Line. But why, oh why did this have to be the one that got renovated? If they had spruced up Villanova instead, then they could have potentially cut this station entirely! After all…0.3 miles is sooooooo close. But alas: Stadium is still a great station, it just feels like it doesn’t really need to exist.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
In unimportant news: I turned 20 today. Wowiewowowow! In important news: tomorrow is the blog’s seventh anniversary, and with it will come the longest bus ride in America video! It’s gonna be great (hopefully you agree)!

BRTA: 34 (North Adams Loop)

And here’s how you get from the North Adams Walmart end of the 1 to North Adams proper. Is the 34 a direct shuttle route that lessens the pain from having to transfer from the 1 just to get to downtown North Adams? Or is it an all-over-the-place mess? Uh-oh.

I’ll say that it is a quick transfer: that’s the 1 right behind!

We started by turning onto Route 8, the fast-moving road that goes straight into North Adams. Perfect. There wasn’t much along it besides woods and mountains, so we were able to speed straight up to…an Ocean State Job Lot deviation. But oh well, we were still well on our way to downtown…wait…why are we heading back the way we came? We’re driving all the way back to Walmart? WHAT???

The view along the way to Ocean State Job Lot.

Except we didn’t even deviate into Walmart again, we just turned onto Hodges Cross Road, which is right outside of it. This turned into Church Street as it curved its way north, starting take 2 of our trip toward downtown. The street scenery was diverse, including a high school, a cemetery, some houses, and some industrial buildings. We turned onto Ashland Street, which consisted of scattered industry until it went under some train tracks.

Buildings like this were common.

It was much more urban beyond the rail bridge, with dense houses as we came within proximity of (but didn’t deviate to) the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. A few apartment buildings appeared as we came closer to downtown, where we had to turn onto American Legion Drive to get around a depressing shopping center before turning onto Main Street. This road was clearly widened at some point, preserving the historical buildings on the north side while requiring horribly ugly buildings to be built on the other – not a good look. In general, North Adams has had the worst “urban renewal” I’ve ever seen for a small town.

MASS MoCA isn’t the only art museum in North Adams!

A small, rainbow bus shelter downtown was the main stop, but the 34 continues. After waiting for three minutes (we were early), we took a left onto Church Street and a right onto Mohawk Trail, passing old, sometimes repurposed factories. It became residential as we climbed a hill, and at the top, we did a loop through the neighborhood, going via the Mohawk Forest apartments.

Some of the apartments.

Once again we were early, so we had to wait here for a few minutes. The way back was the same until we came back downtown: here, we turned onto Canal Street, then Eagle Street, in order to do a deviation to the Berkshire Medical Center. Coming from there, we headed back to the downtown stop via River Street, Marshall Street, and Main Street, passing MASS MoCA and the horrible Mohawk Trail overpass along the way.

And this is where we finally got off – it takes the same route back to Walmart.

BRTA Route: 34 (North Adams Loop)

Ridership: Given that this is a little deviatory loop, it’s amazing to me that this is the third-busiest route on the BRTA, with 240 riders per weekday and 166 per Saturday. I don’t think it would be unwise to say that a not-insignificant portion of that number is coming from the 1.

Pros: Taken on its own, it’s a competent loop around North Adams. It’s definitely meant to take people to various places around town, even if it’s not necessarily direct. It runs hourly weekdays and Saturdays, plus there are two additional night trips on weekdays that serve as an extension of the 1’s evening trips to North Adams (and actually run direct).

Cons: But the problem is that the 34 is also meant to be the connector from the 1 to North Adams, and it’s horrible at that! Granted, it’s fairly straight between Walmart and downtown North Adams, aside from…the Ocean State Job Lot deviation. UGH. The route always does it on the northbound, while it’s “by request” on the southbound. That diversion adds five minutes or more to what would normally be a pretty quick trip.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from MASS MoCA and the smaller Berkshire Art Museum, North Adams seems pretty sparse. Businesses try to occupy the few remaining buildings with any kind of charm, but it’s tough when a town has been so thoroughly deprived of its former density and replaced with overpasses and parking lots. But hey, this route also goes by the west portal for the Hoosac Tunnel, so that’s pretty cool!

Final Verdict: 6/10
Why the high-ish score? Because taken on its own, the 34 accomplishes what it’s supposed to: it serves a bunch of stuff in North Adams. It’s where the necessity to take it if you’re coming from Pittsfield comes in that makes it so much worse. I think the onus of this is more on the 1, though: if you extend the 1 to North Adams via Route 8, you can not only bring a one-seat ride from Pittsfield to North Adams, but you can also eliminate the horrible Ocean State Job Lot deviation on this thing.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

73 (Richmond-Westmoreland to Frankford Transportation Center)

The rare short SEPTA route! With only a 23-minute running time, the 73 offers a quick connection between Frankford, the neighborhoods of Bridesburg and Port Richmond, and the 15 trolley…er, 15B bus. Hopefully we get trolley service to Port Richmond again…someday…

The bus boarding at Frankford.

We headed straight onto Bridge Street from Frankford Transportation Center, running through a local neighborhood full of rowhouses and little corner shops. Some other points of interest included a small elementary school and a cemetery. It was a nice straight local route…until soon after we crossed Torresdale Ave.

Some diverse housing stock close to Frankford.

The “Shoppes at Wissinoming” is a recently-built shopping plaza with a ShopRite supermarket in it. SEPTA thought it would be a good idea to have this nice, short, local route deviate in there. Nooooooo! This deviation saves people a five-minute walk…by adding three minutes to everyone else’s trip, because that’s how long the deviation takes! I’m sorry, I know the ShopRite is important, but this does not seem worth it to me.

Coming out of the Shoppes.

Continuing on the main route, we ran under the Northeast Corridor and Bridesburg Station, then we passed below I-95 two blocks later. It was industrial as we crossed a small creek and entered Bridesburg proper, where we turned onto the dense, residential Thompson Street. Businesses and churches showed up between the rowhouses.

A funny little five-way intersection.

We joined the 25 and J by taking a left onto Orthodox Street, then we turned onto Richmond Street along a cluster of businesses. This street ran past a cemetery, an elementary school, some industrial buildings, and a ton of rowhouses before crossing beneath the Betsy Ross Bridge. The brief “South Florida block” of Philly, with its single-story houses, came between Frankford Creek and I-95, before the 25 turned off onto Castor Ave and we had Richmond Street to ourselves.

A nice view of the Betsy Ross Bridge through a field.

Besides a few small blocks of rowhouses, this section of Richmond Street was pretty industrial. Wherever there weren’t factories, warehouses, or auto shops, though, houses were packed in. Once we hit Westmoreland Street and its currently gutted loop, we headed under I-95 to pull up to the temporary stop.

A 73 with a…*sniff*…15B in the background.
Also, here’s a bus at Bridesburg.

Route: 73 (Richmond-Westmoreland to Frankford Transportation Center)

Ridership: Keeping in mind that this route is short, its average weekday ridership of 2,422 people isn’t bad. It averages to a little under 20 riders per trip, which is great when the trip only takes about 20 minutes to begin with.

Pros: This is the kind of route you don’t often see on SEPTA: a short subway feeder that serves a few neighborhoods and that’s about it. It’s the kind of route that I really like, since you can run better service with fewer buses, and on-time performance is typically better. Indeed, the 73 has an 87% on-time rate – not bad for a mixed-traffic bus – and it operates at a respectable every 20 minutes on weekdays. At rush hour that increases to every 16-17 minutes, and the route even runs overnight, with hourly service seven days a week.

Cons: At every half hour, evening and weekend service could be improved. Maybe that could be done by taking off some service at rush hour: the 73 has one of the biggest productivity losses at rush hour, despite the scheduled trip time barely being longer than midday, so the culprit is likely less busy buses. The load profile seems to confirm this, showing that aside from the route’s school trips (which pack ’em in), buses very rarely get more than twenty riders at once – I would take a bus off from rush hours to keep the headway at every 20 minutes, then put it on Saturdays to increase those frequencies to every 20 as well.

There are a couple of other concerns as well. First of all, I don’t think the Shoppes at Wissinoming deviation is worth it, especially when the route is so short – should 15% of the running time really be dedicated to looping around a parking lot? Also, I don’t understand why it splits into two one-way segments in Bridesburg – the southbound runs on Thompson while the northbound runs on Richmond. Richmond is wide enough to handle buses travelling in both directions. Even though Thompson serves more, is it really worth it when the bus that runs down it only takes you in one direction? The two streets are a three minute walk apart, anyway.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Port Richmond and Bridesburg are both great neighborhoods to find a local corner restaurant or bar, often Polish or Irish.

Final Verdict: 5/10
Argh, I’m torn. The 73’s short length is really appealing, especially when it serves neighborhoods that are dense enough to generate pretty good ridership. The weekday schedule isn’t bad, too, and it’s fantastic that SEPTA gives this route owl service. But man, there’s a lot of stuff wrong with this thing! They’re easy to fix, though: make rush hour service every 20 minutes and use the resources to improve the Saturday schedule; eliminate the Wissinoming deviation; and run two-way service on Richmond Street. Bam, you’ve got a solid 7/10 or maybe even 8/10 route.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

BRTA: 1 (North Adams/Pittsfield)

Okay, that’s kind of a lie, though…the 1 goes as far as the Walmart in North Adams. It’s technically in North Adams, but it’s pretty darn far from anything else in the city. But this is the BRTA’s only link from the northern part of its system to Pittsfield, so we’re stuck on it.

Does the BRTA even have these buses anymore?

We headed out from the Intermodal Center on North Street, running through downtown Pittsfield before turning onto the lower-density Tyler Street. There were a lot of businesses along here, most with little parking lots; dense houses lined the side streets. We eventually merged onto Dalton Ave, which gained a median as it ran through a leafy residential area.

Some businesses on Tyler Street.

I’m not quite sure why, but we suddenly turned onto Plastics Ave, a street pretty much exclusively meant to serve some giant factories. Maybe it attracts industrial workers. We then took a left onto Merrill Road, which led us back up toward the street we had been on before; we ended up at a cluster of malls that a ton of BRTA routes serve, each with a different routing through the complex. The 1 is the only one that doesn’t deviate into any of the plazas, running straight through on Cheshire Road (albeit with street stops). We arrived here three minutes early, so we had to wait outside of Stop & Shop.

No bench provided, and a “Please do not sit or lean on fence” sign. Great bus stop design, 10/10!

It was residential as we left the mall complex on Cheshire Road, but a curtain of forest separated those neighborhoods from industrial facilities further up the road. As we entered Lanesborough, it was time to deviate into the Berkshire Mall, which is now entirely closed except for a Target and a Regal Cinemas. We were four minutes early, so we had to sit here and wait.

Dead malls are so cool!

We were pretty much in the woods north of the mall, with only the occasional auto-oriented business showing up. A few churches and houses marked the village of Berkshire, but we sped straight through, entering Cheshire and going by a farm market. The road ran alongside the Cheshire Reservoir before entering Cheshire Center, where we turned onto Church Street.

Some houses in Cheshire Center.

This downtown was pretty much all residential, plus a few churches, some municipal buildings, and a post office. We turned onto School Street, crossing the Appalachian Trail, then we used Richardson Street to get back onto State Road, the main road. Continuing north, there were sparse houses and lots and lots of woods.

The absence of rain on the window would make this photo a lot cooler!

Soon after we entered Adams, dense houses lined the road. We crossed the Hoosac River, which was running in a canal at this point, and pretty soon we were in Adams Center (a surprisingly big town center, considering that North Adams tends to get all the attention). The bus did a brief jog to serve more of the downtown, which didn’t have the beautiful architecture of a lot of charming Berkshire towns (with a few exceptions), but it was a nice collection of casual restaurants and a few shops.

Some buildings in Adams Center.

The built-up part of Adams continued for a while north, with lots of houses along the main drag, Columbia Road, and some businesses too. One interesting stretch of (likely factory-built) rowhouses lasted for a few blocks. The constant stream of houses and retail ended about half a mile down the road from the North Adams Walmart, the last stop on our trip.

No, it’s not cropped…this is just an awful photo.

BRTA Route: 1 (North Adams/Pittsfield)

Ridership: This is the BRTA’s busiest route by a long shot, getting about 426 average weekday riders and 332 average Saturday riders in August 2017. My trip only got 7 people, but it was probably an outlier.

Pros: This is the northern spine of the BRTA, and it performs that function pretty well. It offers hourly service on weekdays and Saturdays, plus some extra night trips on weekdays. While I wish the route went further into North Adams (see “Cons”), at least there’s a timed transfer to a shuttle route, the 34, at Walmart.

Cons: Cheshire Center is only served by every other bus during midday periods, which means it only gets service every two hours – why not just skip it entirely? There’s not much there, and it’s all within walking distance of the main road. The Adams Center jog has more along it, but skipping that would also save time while still leaving everything within an easy walk from the route. Also, if my trip was any indication, buses seem to run early on the 1 and be forced to wait. So what you do is take the running time saved from skipping the two town center jogs and removing some padding and extend the darn route to North Adams proper! Ending it at Walmart and making people transfer to a slow shuttle is ridiculous.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Of the town centers served directly by the 1, Adams is the better of the two, but it doesn’t seem to offer quite as much as other towns in the Berkshires, like the ones served by the 2 and 21. If you like dead malls, though, the Berkshire Mall might be worth a trip…although I’m not sure if you can actually see the parts of it beyond the Target and Regal Cinemas.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The 1 is a fine route with good bones, but it could stand to be streamlined and expanded. I think it could be accomplished cost-neutral by shaving off the town center deviations (heck, maybe even get rid of the Berkshire Mall one, since I doubt that’s attracting too much ridership anymore) and removing some padding. Some passengers would have to walk a few minutes to get to the bus, but everyone would still be served, and the 1 could add the dense downtown North Adams to its list of places it connects to Pittsfield.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Bridesburg

Yikes, SEPTA, I’m really sorry for covering some of your worst stations in such a short succession. And despite having just witnessed North Philadelphia‘s “apocalyptic decrepitude”, Bridesburg still managed to give me a shock when I stepped off an outbound train here. I mean…

COME ON, WHAT IS THIS???

What bothers me about Bridesburg isn’t the bombed-out shelter. It’s not the near-absence of a platform, or the fact that what is there is only long enough to handle one car of a train. No, it’s not any of those things: it’s that the track next to the outbound platform is not a SEPTA track. To board or disembark a train, YOU HAVE TO GET ON AT AT LEAST THE SECOND TRACK OVER. And I don’t know if the platform-side track is active (please enlighten me in the comments!), but wouldn’t it be funny if a SEPTA train tried to stop here but a freight train was in the way? I’m sure that doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t change the fact that you have to cross a track to board a train here!

The entrance to the outbound platform.

Stairs take you down to street level (this station isn’t accessible, obviously). Bridesburg has no parking, but bus connections are available to the 73 and 84, whose stops only have signs, as per usual. You have to go under the grungy Northeast Corridor tracks to cross to the other side and use the inbound stairs.

And the inbound platform.

Alright, credit where credit is due: Bridesburg’s inbound platform is better. It’s a real platform this time, with actual ADA strips and a wooden floor. Plus, you can board without having to cross a track, thank goodness. I don’t want to give it too much praise, though: the shelter is still a complete mess, and the platform is still tiny.

My outbound train heading for Trenton.

Station: Bridesburg

Ridership: Very low, at just 164 boardings and alightings per day. I suppose that’s at least representative of the awfulness of the station, but it’s also just a side effect of having a Regional Rail station in an urban neighborhood: Regional Rail isn’t “for” these neighborhoods, at least not with its current fare structure. It also doesn’t help that Frankford Transportation Center is only a mile away – that probably siphons away some of Bridesburg’s ridership.

Pros: Uhh…the inbound side has a real platform…that’s good…

Cons: It should be obvious that nearly everything about Bridesburg is terrible. The platforms are tiny, the pedestrian access to the station is weak (despite the stop not having parking), and the outbound platform is just an absolute mess. Why hasn’t it gotten a renovation like the inbound side? Is it something to do with that extra track you have to cross to board the train? Also, wouldn’t it be a good idea to put bike racks here? Most of the actual neighborhood of Bridesburg is pretty far from here, so a few places to put bikes could help attract new riders. Just a suggestion for once the outbound platform stops being a danger to humanity.

Nearby and Noteworthy: A dive bar called “Fibber McGee’s Pub” is right next to the station? Yup, we’re definitely in Bridesburg!

Final Verdict: 1/10
Some would argue that the inbound platform is passable enough that this station should get a 2. I would argue that the outbound platform is horrible enough that this station is lucky to scrape a 1.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

BRTA: 2 (Pittsfield/Lee)

Time to continue our trip into Pittsfield! There was a timed connection between the 21 and the truck minibus running on the 2, so we can begin this shindig right away…

Oof, not a great angle.

Coming down the hill from the Lee Premium Outlets, our surprisingly-not-the-worst-thing-ever truck minibus turned onto Housatonic Street and crossed I-90. There were some suburban businesses around the exit, but as we turned onto Main Street, we entered another lovely Berkshires downtown, Lee Center. But the experience was made much weirder when we, for some reason, deviated into a gas station next to the road! I get that that’s where Greyhound buses stop, but it’s literally right off the road, and Greyhounds only stop there once a day in each direction.

A church in Lee Center.

We turned onto Center Street after the gas station, which turned into Columbia Street as it snaked past some industrial buildings. It became Mill Street before we crossed the Housatonic River, entering Lenox and the residential village of Lenox Dale. We turned onto Crystal Street in the village, which ran along the river past more industrial buildings.

A railroad crossing.

We turned onto Housatonic Street, which ran through the woods before getting houses pretty consistently. This road led us to our second wonderful downtown, Lenox Center. We headed onto Main Street from here, heading past leafy houses and inns. Any kind of charm was lost when we merged onto the wide Route 20, though, which had little pockets of suburban development.

A small park in Lenox Center.

We deviated into a Price Chopper, returned to the main road, deviated to a Stop & Shop, and returned to the main road again. We were in Pittsfield now, but there was actually an extended forest section before we entered the city’s urban area. Denser houses lined the road, eventually leading us into downtown Pittsfield and to the BRTA terminal.

The bus in Pittsfield.

BRTA Route: 2 (Pittsfield/Lee)

Ridership: My ridership data is from summer 2017, when this was the second-busiest route on the BRTA: around 275 average weekday passengers and 175 average Saturday passengers. As a long route connecting up multiple towns, I can definitely see why this one performs so well relative to the rest of the system. It averages out to around 11 people per ride, which is…exactly what mine got!

Pros: Similar to the 21, the 2’s path is a bit windy, but it’s impossible to serve all of the major population centers without being twisty. The timed connections to the 21 at Lee Premium Outlets are great; it would be cool if there was just one route from Pittsfield to Great Barrington, but at least the transfer is easy. With hourly headways on weekdays and Saturdays, this route provides a pretty good baseline for a rural service.

Cons: There’s not a ton that’s inherently wrong with the 2. It would be nice to see ridership by stop on this thing, especially when it comes to the feasibility of straightening the route from Lenox Dale to Lenox, but the twists don’t add that much time to the service.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Again, too much! You’ve got the fantastic downtowns of Lee and Lenox, plus the route goes straight past the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum!

Final Verdict: 8/10
A really solid backbone to the BRTA system. It would be awesome to see this one combined with the 21 to create a north-south spine along the whole southwestern part of the state, along with route modifications to perhaps straighten the thing out. Still, at least there’s a timed transfer at Lee Premium Outlets, and taken on its own, the 2 does its job pretty darn well.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

The Longest Bus Ride in America

My friend Nathan and I have just completed (well, sorta – read more to find out) the longest bus ride in America: Greyhound Schedule 1675 from New York City to Los Angeles. We live-Tweeted the whole thing, and it is truly an experience. From the highest highs (the wonderful landscapes of Utah and Colorado) to the lowest lows (Greyhound stealing our luggage and blaming us for it), this is worth your time to read if you like crazy adventures. Check it out on Twitter or this cool website that condensed the mega-thread into something more readable.

The start of the trip in New York…
…and the end. You can see the trip did a number on us.

Service Change: Riding the Entire DC Metro in a Day

Alright, let’s start 2020 off with something fun. Back in mid-November, Amtrak had a 50% off deal, making it the perfect opportunity to accomplish two goals: finally complete the Northeast Corridor, and ride the entirety of WMATA Metrorail in a day. I started on Northeast Regional Train 151, which only runs on Mondays and Tuesdays for some reason, and took that down to New Carrollton, where our journey begins…

New Carrollton’s very basic Amtrak platform.
The airport-like waiting room for the Amtrak/MARC (Maryland’s commuter rail system) side of New Carrollton.

I had only been on the Metro once before, on a trip to DC as a kid that I don’t remember – thus, this was pretty much a fresh start. And my first interaction with this new system was with its imposing fare machines, which are the worst fare machines I’ve ever dealt with. Why are they so huge? Why are the screens so tiny? Why is the select payment type option hidden away on the screen where you select the ticket type? At least I was able to borrow a friend’s SmarTrip card, so I didn’t have to spend the $2 to get a new one. I bought a $13 unlimited day pass, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about Metrorail’s ridiculous fare system.

Again: WHY ARE THEY SO BIG?
The Metrorail platform – many many stations look like this.
“This is a 7000-series car.”

My first trip was on a 7000-series car, the newest kind that Metrorail operates (and which don’t actually announce what kind of car they are anymore). The inside was great, with lots of screens providing information about upcoming stops, including LCD ones showing more detailed information. The robotic announcements were weird, but these cars offered a nice ride overall.

Crossing the Anacostia River.

New Carrollton is the terminus of the Orange Line, and it runs above ground all the way until it merges with the Blue and Silver Lines. The first part of the trip is pretty boring, though – it just goes along the Northeast Corridor, and the first three stops are park-and-rides. Even when the Corridor turns away, you’re still running along freight tracks for a bit. There was a nice elevated section along Benning Road, over the Anacostia River, and through a stadium parking lot before heading underground, though.

Running through the stadium parking lot.
This is beautiful!

I got off the train at Stadium-Armory, the first underground stop and the first stop that connects with the Blue and Silver Lines – I would be taking that combo back out of the city. Before doing that, I just had to take some time to admire the station: the cavernous design is just fantastic. My Blue Line train was another 7000-series, and it was the first of many that day that I would have to myself.

An empty train photo for posterity.

The Blue-Silver combo goes underground through some suburban areas for a few stops. It was along this section that I realized two things: 1) It takes forever to stop at each station because of a required wait time that the operator must adhere to before opening the doors; and 2) Every underground Metrorail station looks exactly the same, so the wonder and majesty of Stadium-Armory wore off pretty quickly (it’s still a great design, though). Both of these aspects of the system would prove to get pretty grating as the day went on.

Crossing a residential road.

The final three stops on the line are above ground, but there’s a lot of ducking in and out of tunnels along the tracks between them. Largo Town Center was the last stop, referring to a nearby fake suburban downtown, but I didn’t get out to explore it: I stayed on the train to return to Addison Road-Seat Pleasant. Coming into Largo Town Center, I appreciated the automatic announcement saying that the platforms at the terminal were occupied and we would move as soon as they were cleared.

Addison Road’s platform.
The mezzanine at Addison Road. If you don’t have a pass, your fare is paid upon exit. Exit fare machines are provided in case you need to top up to leave the system, but they’re cash only.

Because it would be kinda boring to exclusively ride trains, I made sure I would get to do at least a few bus rides on my travels. At Addison Road, I could connect to the P12, which would take me down to Suitland Station on the Green Line. Don’t ask why there’s a P in there: Metrobus’s ridiculously confusing numbering system is explained here.

Many Metrorail stations have big bus terminals; Addison Road is no exception.
The P12. The orange light at the top of the bus moves back and forth.
And the inside – comfy seats!

The P12 was a really suburban run, serving a lot of isolated apartment developments and shopping plazas in the middle of what would have otherwise been woods. The bus got pretty busy over the course of my 20-minute ride, though (it’s actually a much longer route), and I was really impressed with the number of shelters, especially given the low density of the surroundings. A lot of them even had real-time information!

Some assorted shopping plazas.
The Suitland bus terminal.
And its mezzanine.
The platform…from above.

Suitland is the second-to-last stop on the Green Line, so I hopped on my next train, another empty 7000-series car, to make the one-stop trip to Branch Avenue. This was a giant park-and-ride with some transit-oriented development nearby. From here, I turned around to do a full trip on the Green Line. The whole above ground section was mostly forest, and all four outdoor stations were park-and-rides with not much else around.

Branch Ave’s platform.
Hey, I think I see a building with character down there!

As I mentioned before, though, every subway station in DC has the exact same design. The Green Line is fully underground for twelve stops – and stops are spaced pretty far apart on Metrorail. As you can imagine, this was miserably boring, although we at least got to pay a visit to the most ridiculous station name on the system: U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo.

This really could’ve been a photo of any station.

Fort Totten was the first above ground stop. We got some nice water views around Hyattsville Station, and eventually the line joined up with a MARC corridor (with a neat view of the College Park Aviation Museum). Greenbelt was the final stop, a park-and-ride with its own highway interchange.

Passing some pretty disgusting-looking water.
Part of the aviation museum’s collection!
Greenbelt’s platform. There’s a MARC station here, too.

I returned to Fort Totten on the same train to transfer to the Red Line. The Red Line is shaped like a giant U; Fort Totten is in the middle of its right leg. I headed north from here, and the line actually passed through some town centers for once, including the heavily built-up Silver Spring. It was underground past Silver Spring, alas, with the line running in tunnel all the way to the last stop, Glenmont.

Fort Totten’s escalators are colored based on which line they lead to!
My first older train – a 6000-series.
The inside – no automatic announcements aside from ones about the doors opening and closing (that do sound great).
These cars have a seat where you can look out the rear window, allowing for awesome views like this (at Silver Spring)…
…and this.
Glenmont’s platform.

I wasn’t interested in Glenmont, though – I was interested in the second-to-last stop, Wheaton. Wheaton is home to the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere, and they are long. It’s also one of two subway stations on the Metro (the other being the next stop, Forest Glen) to feature single-bore platforms instead of the giant vault design seen everywhere else, so even that was a welcome change.

It’s not much different, but I’ll take it!
These escalators were amazing.
Wheaton’s bland mezzanine.

The Red Line is a giant U, as I mentioned before, so there are plenty of bus routes that connect between the two legs. The one from Wheaton is the C4, which is yet another bus that runs through suburbia, this time on giant roads that go by hundreds of single-family homes. We left Wheaton five minutes early (oof!) to travel down some of these giant roads past single-family homes, although they turned to office parks right around Twinbrook Station, the last stop.

The bus coming into Wheaton.
And the inside.
What a lovely, charming road…
Twinbrook’s mezzanine. The platform was identical to New Carrollton’s.
I took a carpeted 2000-series train (the oldest type in revenue service) up to the last stop on this leg, Shady Grove.
Shady Grove’s platform, another identical one.

Shady Grove is a giant park-and-ride, and the line runs alongside MARC from there until Twinbrook. Rockville comes between the two, and that stop serves a dense downtown, plus it gets MARC service. South of Twinbrook, we headed away from the MARC tracks, going in and out of tunnels before running underground through the denser surroundings of DC.

A building in Rockville.

The line was fully underground until Union Station, shortly after which it rises up to run along the railroad tracks. This is the only part of Metrorail that goes outside through a properly dense part of the city, so there were some nice views of apartment buildings and new ones under construction. We soon ended up back at Fort Totten, where it was time to hop on the Yellow Line.

Lots of construction here!

The Yellow Line runs underground with the Green Line until L’Enfant Plaza, where it splits off to cross the Potomac. It does so on a bridge, offering the absolute best view on the system, including the skyline of Rosslyn and some major DC landmarks. Coming off the bridge, we went back underground to join the Blue Line, stopping a few times before rising up again at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial in view!
Rosslyn is that collection of buildings on the left.

The distance from the airport to the next stop, Braddock Road, was a full five minutes, among the longer distances between two stops on the system. The next four stops on the Yellow Line, though, are among the closest: it takes just 6 minutes to go between them all, from Braddock Road to the last stop, Huntington. The last two are independent to the Yellow Line, with the Blue Line having split off after King Street Station.

A fantastic view of Ronald Reagan Airport.
Leaving King Street; the station in view is Alexandria on VRE, Virginia’s commuter rail system.

Most stations on Metrorail are generic, but Huntington actually has something unique to offer. The station is built into a hill, so half of it is above ground level and half of it is below. Running along the escalator that goes up to ground level is the slow but very cool glass inclined elevator. Of course I had to take that for a ride!

The inclined elevator making its way down. Slowly.

I got another Yellow Line train back up to King Street to tackle the Blue Line’s branch, which is also two stops long. Those stops are much further apart, though: from King Street to the next stop, Van Dorn Street, you’re on the train for six minutes. Franconia-Springfield is another six minutes from there. It was above ground the whole time, but the views were just suburbia.

King Street’s recently renovated platform.
King Street’s mezzanine, which is just really depressing-looking.
“Self Storage Plus”.
Leafy!
An older train at Franconia-Springfield, which also has a VRE station.

Once again, I doubled back, but before finishing the rest of the Blue Line after its northern split from the Yellow, I had a little oddity to ride first: the Metroway. This is Metro’s, er, “BRT” line that seems to be more of a real estate booster than anything. The fact that it’s a measly every 20 minutes on weekends should be an indication of the ridership this thing gets, although it does manage every 8-12 on weekdays. However, it ends at 10 PM every day except Friday and Saturday, which is hilariously early.

I headed back up to Braddock Road to get the bus.

The route begins at Braddock Road Station and runs in mixed traffic for the first while. You pay on board, which would usually be a detriment to BRT service, but so few people use this thing that it probably doesn’t slow it down that much. My bus had a whole one person on it. After we crossed the Metro on a bridge, though, the road we were on got a center-running busway, complete with transit signals. That was pretty cool…until we just randomly turned off the road into mixed traffic again for the sole purpose of deviating to the back of a shopping mall. You know…BRT!

A stop in the center-running portion.

But then coming back from the deviation onto the main road, we actually got our own exclusive transitway! It even came with overbuilt stations similar to Box District – although I’ll bet even the SL3 gets more ridership than this, and certainly more on a stop-by-stop basis. The surroundings consisted almost entirely of new development.

That giant canopy in the distance is one of the stops.

And almost as quickly as it began, the transitway ended as we entered Crystal City. We looped around through the neighborhood in mixed traffic, which consisted of office towers with businesses on the ground floor, stopping at the Crystal City Metrorail station along the way. From there, it was a nonstop trip to the final stop on the line, the next Metrorail stop, Pentagon City. In total, we got 8 riders. Hopefully Amazon’s arrival in the area will help Metroway’s ridership – at the very least, they plan to add transit lanes and new stops between Crystal City and Pentagon City.

The bus, evidently stuck in traffic in Pentagon City.
Pentagon City had a modern entrance…
…but inside it was the standard design. Which is admittedly still gorgeous.

Conveniently, the Metroway begins and ends at Blue Line stations, so I just hopped back on the Blue Line from Pentagon City. We split off from the Yellow Line after the next stop, Pentagon, and briefly came above ground to serve the one independent station along this stretch, Arlington Cemetery. It was back under from there to join up with the Orange and Silver Lines at Rosslyn, where I got off to hop on the former.

Rosslyn had a really cool split-level thing going on.
Also a fantastic escalator setup!

This part of Arlington is really dense, so the line was underground for a few stops heading out from Rosslyn. We eventually surfaced in the median of a highway and stayed in it all the way to the last stop, Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. As you would expect for a highway median terminal station, it’s a huge park-and-ride and bus terminal.

An older train at Vienna.

I accidentally fell asleep on my ride back (highways are boring, and it was a long day!) and missed my stop, so I had to change to the Silver Line a few stations after it rejoins with the Orange. The Silver Line’s independent section has a lot of highway running too, but it’s got an extended (mostly elevated) “deviation” to better serve Tysons. This is a super dense suburban job center, so a lot of reverse commuters were waiting on the opposite platform to go back to DC, although many regular commuters got off along here too. The last stop, Reston, is really far out, but the line is actually planned to be extended further, to Dulles Airport and beyond.

Tyson!
The Silver Line is by far the newest, so the stations were fancy. This is Reston.

It was time to do the final part of the system! All I had to do was take the Silver Line back to Stadium-Armory, hitting up the underground stops east of Rosslyn that I hadn’t covered yet. And from Stadium-Armory…well, there was one more transit thing I had to do here…

It’s out of focus, but I kinda like it…

I had to ride the DC Streetcar! And conveniently, Stadium-Armory is the closest Metrorail station to the first stop on that! I could’ve walked there, but I figured I’d take a bus, since I hadn’t done any urban bus routes yet. The B2 was running every 20 minutes by this time of the evening, but that thing was busy as it made its way past tons of rowhouses. Far busier than Metroway, I’ll tell you that much…

Inside the bus.

It dropped me off at 15th and Benning Road; the streetcar runs on Benning, but it begins over at 26th. I could’ve taken the X2 if I had wanted to, which is pretty much the direct competitor to the streetcar (running further on both ends and just generally being faster and better). Nonetheless, I walked to the stop, just missing a streetcar and having to wait ten minutes for the next one.

The median stop at the end of the line.
These real-time departure screens had hilariously robotic announcements. The poster promises streetcar extensions that have yet to come to fruition.
Someone needs to get a photo of a streetcar with Metro trains crossing the bridge in the background at the same time! Someone probably has already…
And here we go.

Like most new streetcar constructions in the US, the DC Streetcar was terrible. As far as I can tell, people only use it because it’s free, with many riders going only a few blocks (not that it had many people to begin with). Ones going the other way were admittedly busy, but if the money spent on this mixed traffic streetcar had been used for bus lanes and increased frequencies on the X2, you’d be providing a much better service. Even as it stands, buses constantly pass streetcars.

Inside.

Once Benning Road turned into H Street, the scenery was your typical “this area is gentrifying so let’s put a streetcar in it!” kind of neighborhood. Still, it seemed like a nice area to walk around in. The streetcar was brutally slow (it’s scheduled to take 20 minutes while the bus is scheduled for 10), but we eventually reached its weird stub of a terminus outside of the Union Station bus terminal. If the proposed extension plans happen, the streetcar could be useful, but it would have to come with dedicated lanes and increased speeds – as it stands, I’ll bet its ridership would be very low if it wasn’t free. And it’s already pretty low.

Some storefronts along H Street.
Oh yeah, cool shot from right up front!
Okay, I guess I’m contractually obligated to cover the Greyhound station, huh? It was awful.
Points for this modern ticket room, though.
This waiting room looks nice, but why is it so tiny?
And on to Union Station, which was bustling even at night.
It was like a giant mall, which certainly helped draw people in.
The grand entrance hall.

I got dinner within Union Station and still had two hours until my train, so I grabbed the Metro and headed to the National Mall to become a tourist for a bit. The huge monuments were made even better by the fact that it was a rainy Monday night, so not many people were around. I got a bit of a scare on the way back, though: the Red Line was running at 15-minute headways. Had I missed the train that was coming in two minutes, I would’ve missed my Amtrak from Union Station, which was the last one of the night!

Alright, one tourist photo!
My last Metrorail train coming into Metro Center.

Metrorail’s infrastructure is really impressive: it’s a big system that covers downtown and the surrounding suburbs pretty darn well. The stations are samey, but their designs are mostly fantastic, particularly the underground ones. However, dwell times at each station are long because of the wait to open the doors, and it seemed like there were signal problems or “track conditions” occurring all day – luckily never where I was at any given time. The system seems peaky, too, with a lot of quiet or empty trains outside of rush hour, and pretty bad headways during those times to match. Luckily, the system has good bones, so all it could take is continued maintenance and some operational changes to turn it into a world-class subway for the US capital. And for a ton more insight on the system, check out Metro-Venture, a now-defunct inspiration-of-an-inspiration for this blog!

Oh come on, a low platform?? Also, it was pretty crazy to think that this train would arrive in Boston the next morning.

North Philadelphia and North Broad

Alright, this might just be the most bizarre station I’ve ever reviewed…and I have Hastings under my belt. It’s hard to effectively set up the apocalyptic decrepitude of the North Philadelphia complex without getting specific, so I’m just gonna go into this. Also, SEPTA considers this to be four stations (North Philadelphia (CHW), North Philadelphia (TRE), North Philadelphia (BSL), North Broad), so it’s a quadruple post! Wow!

Yeah, that one line of graffiti really stands out. As does the graffiti on the station signs that SEPTA put up. How about the ragtag chain link fence with the “DANGER KEEP OUT” signs that clearly aren’t stopping people from climbing into the abandoned industrial lot? The “TUNNEL CLOSED” board across what used to be an underpass to get between the platforms? This is just the Chestnut Hill West side. We’re just getting started.

I guess it doesn’t look quite as bad from this angle.

But even putting aside the obvious signs of neglect here, it’s also just not a very good station. There’s just one shelter on each side, and since both have had all their glass kicked out, they’re not particularly useful. Only the inbound side gets the step to help people get up to the train, so people who have trouble with large steps: you’re out of luck if you’re getting off or on an outbound train. Since the station’s underpass is out of commission, you have to use the level crossing at the far end of the platform (or just cross the tracks anywhere – not like anyone cares).

A Chestnut Hill West train joining onto the main line.

As I was taking pictures on the platform, an older white couple was walking around the station. “They don’t look like they belong here…” I thought. They came up to me as I made my way toward the Trenton Line part of the station. “We were trying to go to Paoli but we got on the wrong train,” they said. “Do you know when the next one back to 30th Street is?” Yup, that sounded about right.

Moving on to the rest of the station.

With the couple on their way to the right platform, I proceeded with my review. The outbound side of the Chestnut Hill West station has this giant open area with nothing on it, but it leads to stairs and a ramp that go down to the rest of the station (not that the ramp is particularly useful – the station isn’t accessible). Key readers are stationed at the entrance to the platform.

The ramp down to the huge area of…nothing.

I guess I can see how the Chestnut Hill West and Trenton stations are considered separate things – the platforms are a bit apart, connected by this bizarre entrance area. When you’re coming from the Chestnut Hill West side, you see a bus shelter (no glass remaining, of course) with nothing in it. Who knows what purpose it served.

The, er, parking lot?

Before we get to the elephant in the room that is the abandoned station building, we first must talk about the parking lot. Oh, wait, excuse me…the purposeless asphalt. Because this thing is empty, and I’m pretty sure you’re not actually allowed to park in there. Even if you are allowed, very few people do, making it a perfect place to do some donuts! Note the distant skidmarks above.

Some retro Amtrak action!

People do seem to park on the road that leads to the parking lot – perhaps that’s classified as streetside parking? Also, who knows if they’re getting trains or if they’re just residents who couldn’t find a place to park? The drop-off area is still intact, luckily, and it’s centered around this nice turnaround loop with an old Amtrak logo painted on it. Amtrak, for the record, considers the parking availability here to be “unknown”. SEPTA says there’s a “Non-SEPTA” lot with a hundred spaces, but the big empty lot definitely has more than that. So not even the trains that stop here know if you can park or not.

The station building, seen from the platform.

Okay, this building. As you can see, it looks like something straight out of communist Russia, and it’s definitely degraded a bit since it was originally built. It had a long heyday, though: Amtrak built this in 1991, and it efficiently served happy customers until…2001, when it was closed down and abandoned. Now it just stands there, adding to the station’s weird decrepit, er, “charm”.

The grand, or at least formerly grand, station entrance.

The reason the station has these ornate facades is that it used to get much more service. Trains have to reverse in and out of 30th Street when going from New York to points west of Philly; that meant that Pennsylvania Railroad service often used this station as its one Philadelphia stop, since it avoided that reverse move and this area was thriving pre-World War II. North Philadelphia hit a major decline after the war, though, and this station slowly lost importance and degraded to what it is today. On the Amtrak front, it only gets one northbound and three southbound trains per day, designed for commuters to New York. Most SEPTA Trenton Line trains stop here, though.

This is one heck of a hallway.

The hallway that takes you to the platforms and acts as an underpass beneath the station was my first time feeling genuinely unsettled here. It’s a dark, austere path with simple graffiti all over the walls, and it feels very sketchy to walk through. I do love the old signs, though – they direct you toward nonexistent trains to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. There’s pretty much no modern Regional Rail signage in here, though, so these outdated-by-a-long-shot signs are all you get. The remnants of old pay phones are still on the walls, while mysterious locked doors lead to possible storage locations.

Er…going up?

Stairs lead up to both of the station’s platforms (complete with the same aesthetic as the hallway), but there are also elevators. So…why is this station considered inaccessible, then? Ah, here we go from Wikipedia: “Vandalism also forced the closure of the elevators.” Waitwaitwait…so people were doing such horrible stuff in the elevators that SEPTA or Amtrak or whatever had to close them down, making the station inaccessible??? In all my years of station reviewing, I’ve never seen anything like this.

This is pretty much the only part of the platform that matters.

North Philadelphia’s platforms are longgggg. The only part of them with stuff, though, is the one bit of each where the stairs come up. The little shelters there have a few benches, some wastebaskets, and a few Key readers. No LED screens. No amenities at any other part of the platform. Just these two little benches and some wastebaskets. The rest of the wide open platforms are bare, making them great places (so I’ve seen, anyway) to ride bikes or just stand around with no intention of getting a train.

The old station building, now no longer a station building.

Continuing down the dark hallway, we pop up on the other side in a shopping center along Glenwood Ave and Broad Street. Here we can see the old station building, with its beautiful architecture, ornate details, and…loud music being blasted out from a radio. Yes, the building received a $7 million renovation in 1999 to be used as commercial space, and it’s now being occupied by “AZ Budget”, a store selling ridiculously cheap merchandise from clothing to furniture. Well, it sure as heck is a better use of the space than leaving it to be abandoned.

A sampling of the claustrophobic wonders of AZ Budget.
Also, just a reminder that this hallway is terrifying.

Before tackling the Broad Street Line station, an entrance to which is right outside AZ Budget, I want to hop from the Pennsylvania Railroad to the Reading Railroad to review its station, North Broad. Only a few blocks south from North Philadelphia Station, North Broad was built in 1928 to compete with it, featuring a magnificent building, an underground walkway to Broad Street, and island platforms serving all four tracks on the line. So…let’s see what it’s like today!

Oh…huh…

Okay, so North Broad isn’t quite the majesty it used to be. SEPTA “rebuilt” the station in 1992, demolishing the island platforms and replacing them with these tiny side platforms so express trains could speed through faster. And speed through they do: seven Regional Rail lines serve this section of track, but only the Norristown and Doylestown Lines actually stop here, providing service about every half hour despite the fact that trains pass through every few minutes. I at least understand the desire to speed express trains up, but why did they think it was a good idea to build the new platforms so tiny?? Being able to open just one or two cars of a six-car train here is just ridiculous!

The northbound platform.

There isn’t a ton to say about the northbound platform I got dropped off on: a few benches, a graffitied shelter, and a wastebasket are about all that’s on offer here. There is a mini-high platform, though, actually making this station accessible! My company here consisted of someone rummaging through the trash, and a student with bright clothes and a big backpack looking around and calling someone on her phone. Turned out she had gotten on the wrong train, just like the couple at North Philadelphia.

It’s…kind of ornate, I guess?

A ramp leads from the platform to the exit. It has high chain link fences on both sides, plus a bit of barbed wire here and there for good measure. The surroundings are very industrial as the rusting path curves its way up to Broad Street; you can look down and see a trash-filled pit, too. The entrance is actually decent, though, with fine signage and even a single bike rack…with a destroyed bike locked up to it. Guess no one will be parking there anytime soon.

You LIE!

I tried to get to the inbound platform from here, so I crossed the tracks along Broad Street. A nice mural with different patterns lines the wall along the bridge before a SEPTA station sign appears at an alley that leads down to the tracks. Perfect. But actually, no…a fence blocks the alley from the station. Don’t mislead me with your sign placement, SEPTA!

Believe it or not, this is the right way.

So instead, you have to walk past the station building (more on that later) and hope that you find the teeny-tiny train symbol attached to a wall that can only be seen if you’re walking southward. This points down the correct path, along an alley next to an abandoned factory with half its windows knocked out and a barbed wire fence that can’t contain the overgrowth coming out from the property. There are some random picnic tables in there, though – why not climb the fence and have a snack?

Finally made it to the entrance!

The alley opens up into a little parking lot, but it’s “by permit only” – presumably not for the station. Two brave people did lock their bikes up to the fence, though! Who needs proper locks when you have…fences? The entrance is much less ornate than on the outbound side (also, “Trains to Central Philadelphia”? Better than “Central City“, but still not good), but the platform is identical to the other side.

The building is so huge I can’t capture it in full, even from across the street!

Alright, the North Philadelphia building was nice, but North Broad’s really is glorious. The elaborate facade is ruined a bit by the fact that the clock doesn’t work (but hey, if you happened to be here at 4:30, you’d never know) and the fact that someone decided it would be a good idea to stick a big billboard on the top of it, but it still makes for a great addition to Broad Street. It’s now a homeless shelter, a good use for a neighborhood that has certainly seen better days.

One more look at the platforms.

And now we return a few blocks north to the day I was reviewing North Philadelphia (or pretend I did all three of these on the same day and just ignore the lighting changes and lack of snow on the ground). I came out of the AZ Budget entrance to review the Broad Street Line station, which bridges the gap between both of the Regional Rail stops. It was rebuilt as recently as 2010, so I’m expecting greatness!

Okay, this entrance is actually not bad.

We begin strong with some new entrances that were built in 2007 to allow for better connections to North Philadelphia Station. They’re your standard Broad Street Line affairs, but they look nice and are easy to spot. The bus stops here are standard, too, with your classic northern Broad Street Line routes: the 4, the 16, and the Broad Street Owl.

Okay, think positively: it’s nowhere near as bad as the hallway at the Amtrak station.

There’s a distance of about a thousand feet between these, the northernmost entrances, and the southernmost entrances down at Lehigh Ave, so coming from up here, there’s a long hallway to the mezzanine. It’s drab and austere, but it doesn’t feel too dangerous…at least, not until someone appeared around the corner as I approached the stairs leading into the fare payment area. “Hey, buddy, why you taking pictures?” he asked.

This was moments before the incident…

“It’s for a blog where I review SEPTA stations,” I said, thinking about how if he had a weapon, he could easily pull it out. “Oh okay,” he said in a threatening voice. “That’s fine, then.” Suddenly two women came running over and looked angrily at me. “What’s going on??” one of them yelled. “Nothing,” the guy said. He looked at me. “He’s just taking pictures for a blog or something.” The women glared. They all retreated to the corner where a group of people were just sitting. No idea what they were up to…

And the area past the faregates.

Admittedly, you can kinda do whatever you want here because this entrance has no cashier. To compensate, the fare turnstiles are floor-to-ceiling in an effort to prevent fare evasion. There is a fare machine here, though, contradicting the pre-Key signage at street level that says that the entrance is “for TransPasses and TrailPasses only”. Suddenly, one of the women in the corner got up and glared at me, still taking photos of the mezzanine (although nothing of their group). Time to go, I guess.

Er…that’s convenient.

Huh, you know those big floor-to-ceiling turnstiles meant to prevent fare evasion? Well, they were unlocked when I was here. “Just go on through,” a random person stepping out said to me. “Yeah, I guess!” I replied. I don’t know if this is still the case, but, uh…free Broad Street Line rides from North Philly if so! The area beyond the fare gates is big and open, with a wastebasket in the middle, a few signs, and a transit police headquarters.

Over on the Lehigh Avenue side.

Meanwhile, Lehigh Ave has four headhouses, all on the north side of the intersection. There’s just one on the west side of Broad Street, and it’s a standard staircase; another staircase is located on the east side of Broad Street. There’s also an elevator (the only one at this station), which was smelly and full of trash when I used it. Finally, an upward escalator gets its own exit. Also, while I understand having just signs for the 4 and 16, it’s annoying that there’s no bench or shelter for the 54, a major route at what is probably its busiest stop.

The main mezzanine.

The Lehigh Ave entrances feed into the station’s primary mezzanine. It’s a bit odd that none of them quite make it down to ground level, requiring some extra stairs and ramps, but it’s better than the “step down to go up” business down at Tasker-Morris. The mezzanine itself is as low-capacity as always, with five faregates but just two fare machines. See that wall of exit-only turnstiles to the right of the cashier? How about replacing it with faregates? See all that empty space in the mezzanine? How about replacing it with fare machines?

Oh, now this is a bit silly.

Alright, actually, it’s pretty odd that once past the faregates, you have to go up a ramp to get to the elevators. I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational engineering reason for it, but there’s also a big part of me that just wants to ignore whatever that reason might be and say “That’s stupid, you gotta go down to go up to go down!” But oh well. The elevators here were surprisingly decent, smell-wise, and if you want to take the stairs, you don’t need to use the ramps at all.

Where does it end?

The Broad Street Line platform is longgggg. Make sure you’re waiting close to the Lehigh Ave side of it, because the end of the train ends up being nowhere near the Glenwood side. Of course, it’s even worse when a two-car Broad-Ridge Spur train trundles in. But what about regular express trains? Well…although North Philadelphia was built as an express stop to capitalize on the then-importance of the neighboring railroad stations, it doesn’t get the ridership anymore to justify all express trains stopping here. So because the Broad Street Line’s service patterns weren’t already confusing enough, Broad-Ridge Spur expresses make the stop, but the Walnut-Locust ones just speed on through, blaring the horn and scaring everyone on the platform.

Hey, say what you want, but this bike is still intact, unlike the one outside of North Broad!

As for the amenities on the platform, they’re…fine. You know, you’ve got a few benches, a few wastebaskets, a few maps, a few LED signs – it’s really nothing to write home about. But certainly after the industrial dump of the Chestnut Hill West platform, the rotting hulk of a once-great Trenton Line/Amtrak platform, and the what-were-they-thinking tiny-platform rebuild of North Broad, this Broad Street Line platform is probably the best thing we’ve seen all day. Congrats, you cleared a very low bar.

Huh, this didn’t come out half bad!

Stations: North Philadelphia and North Broad

Ridership: The best performer here is the Broad Street Line station, which gets around 4,150 riders per weekday, more than many of its neighboring stops. The problem is that since it gets express service too, the ridership per train is actually much lower here than at most other Broad Street Line stations.

The Trenton Line station is pretty low for Regional Rail, with 195 boardings per weekday (259 alightings, though). Still, it’s better than the poor Chestnut Hill West platform, which gets an abysmal 45 boardings and 24 alightings per day – the fifth least-used station on the entire network. North Broad is in the bottom 25 as well: 142 boardings and 136 alightings per weekday.

But all of those horrible performances still beat the king of low ridership here: Amtrak. Despite having stops in towns as obscure as Connellsville and Tyrone, North Philadelphia is the railroad’s least-used station in Pennsylvania: 2,076 riders in 2018, or just about 8 people per service day. And 2018’s ridership was double that of 2017! Hey, at least it’s on the rise… (these numbers are lower than reality, though, thanks to quirks in monthly pass purchases: many commuters buy passes from 30th Street to New York instead of North Philly to New York, just to have the freedom to board from there if they miss a train – a lot of people are connecting from the Chestnut Hill West Line)

Pros: The Broad Street Line station has decent enough aesthetics and is pretty much your run-of-the-mill BSL stop. North Broad is accessible. And the North Philadelphia Regional Rail station…well, it’s definitely a cool place to get pictures. No, okay, an actual pro: the North Philadelphia Regional Rail station is in Zone 1, making it just $3.75 from there to Trenton (versus $9.25 from Center City). Even with the BSL fare from Center City, it’s still great for reasonably fast train travel to New York if you’re on a budget!

Cons: While the Broad Street Line station is run-of-the-mill, it still has your classic problems with SEPTA subway stations: not enough fare machines, a few architectural quirks (going down to go up to go down), and lots of trash on the tracks. This one also has the strange express situation – I think that in an ideal situation, either all or none of the express trains would stop here, since this half-and-half is confusing, but it’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I sometimes question if SEPTA really needs a cashier at every entrance, but the Glenwood Ave side of this station seems like an entrance that does need a cashier but doesn’t have one. What could those people possibly have been doing in the corner that would require someone to essentially keep guard and make sure no one could potentially document their activities?

Next we move on to North Broad, whose main issues stem from the fact that it’s a tiny stub of a station that gets hardly any service. Look, I get that its ridership is abysmally low and Regional Rail isn’t an affordable option for most people in the surrounding neighborhoods, but that doesn’t change the sadness of watching five trains go by for every one train that actually stops. Of course, signage for the station is terrible, the shelters and ramps are in horrible condition, and the platform can only handle a portion of the train.

But now we come to where this whole thing started: the North Philadelphia Regional Rail/Amtrak station. This thing is such an absolute mess, and it almost boggles the mind how much it’s deteriorated. Where do you even start? The closed passageways? The empty parking lot? The Amtrak building that was only open for ten years before being left to rot? The dark hallway covered in graffiti? The elevators that SEPTA has literally let break, making the station inaccessible? I have never seen anything like this. You could film an apocalypse movie here without having to change anything.

Nearby and Noteworthy: AZ Budget just has one door, as far as I can tell, but it was just completely blocked off by stuff when I was here! Is it possible to get in? Who knows? I mean, it’s not like you’re gonna see any glorious remnants of the old station building in there, but it would still be an interesting place to walk through.

Final Verdict: 6/10 for BSL station, 2/10 for North Broad, 1/10 for North Philadelphia
So I guess that averages out to a 3/10 for the whole complex. The Broad Street Line station isn’t that bad, but the Regional Rail stops drag the whole place down. Again, they barely get any ridership, and as it stands they face serious vandalism problems, so I can see why SEPTA would be hesitant to fix them up. The Broad Street Line is cheap, frequent, and almost just as fast, so of course almost all of the ridership is gonna end up on that. Fare reform on Regional Rail could help bring more riders to these stations, but existing riders and their political representation would certainly not be okay with that. It’s gotten to a point where this neighborhood has fallen so far that transportation improvements are only one tiny piece of the puzzle. There’s a solution out there. It’s beyond the scope of this blog.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

Spring Garden (MFL)

Ah…that part of the El where it runs along the highway for a bit. And it stops at quite possibly my least favorite station on the line, Spring Garden. Ugh, I can hear the rushing cars just thinking about it…

Yup, and even more so when I look at this picture.

Right in the middle of I-95, Spring Garden’s platform is a miserable place to wait. There are your typical platform amenities, but the architecture is austere and the cars on the four-lane highway are just awful. Also, it gets invaded by spiders every summer, so…that’s something to watch out for.

This is…a staircase.

Alright, as far as ways to get out of here, we’ll first tackle the exit-only staircase. It’s pretty dank, but it gets the job done, and a ton of people use it whenever a train comes in. The staircase was designed pretty well for bus connections, too: it’s on the north side of the station, where the only bus that drops off is the westbound 43. Everything else stops on the south side, meaning most bus riders will be dropped off on the same side of the street as the actual entrance.

Beneath the bridge.

The station entrances are beneath the giant I-95 bridge. The beautiful light fixtures help to make the place more lively (although it’s still pretty unpleasant to be there), and while there aren’t any benches for connecting buses (there should be, there’s room), at least the bridge provides a makeshift shelter. The 43 cuts straight across Spring Garden Street, while the 25 deviates here on its north-south journey, picking up next to the station entrance in both directions. I’m sure almost all of the passengers on westbound 43s jaywalk across the road when they get dropped off on the opposite side, though.

Tight fit…

The entrance to the station features a narrow staircase and a narrower escalator (the latter only being able to fit one person). There’s no elevator, making this one of just three MFL stations that’s not accessible. And since Spring Garden is squashed between two sides of a highway, it’s not gonna be getting one anytime soon.

Nice and cramped! Also no, I wasn’t here at 1:16 AM. Hope the clock has been fixed by now.

Once you get up to the top, you’re in the most cramped mezzanine on the SEPTA system. Usually they go for giant mezzanines with too few faregates, but this time they’ve got a tiny mezzanine with too few faregates! Three are right up front, while a fourth secret one requires snaking around to the side of the cashier’s booth. Good luck paying your fares, by the way: you’ll have to wait in line behind the one fare machine.

Two trains at the station.

Station: Spring Garden (MFL)

Ridership: Spring Garden gets less ridership than its neighbors, probably because half its coverage area is taken up by highway! Still, 3,275 riders per weekday does beat out many stations further up the line. Once you get past the highway, there are dense apartments and businesses, so people are coming from somewhere.

Pros: Aspects of the station are…competent. The platform has shelter, as does the bus section. The lights underneath the bridge are nice.

Cons: Spring Garden is squashed and dank. The entrance and mezzanine are too small, while the platform suffers from being surrounded by thousands of cars per day. It’s really satisfying to speed past traffic on the train, but I’m sure the fume situation at Spring Garden is rough when things are really blocked up.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Fantastic restaurants and shops line nearby 2nd Street, including this bowling alley, which I almost went to once with some friends before we found out it was full. One day I’ll try it out – it’s pretty cheap bowling!

Final Verdict: 2/10
Definitely the worst that the Market-Frankford Line has to offer. It’s cramped, it’s dingy (despite the light fixtures), and it’s surrounded by an awful highway. Luckily this is the only station in Philly like this – imagine how miserable it would be to have to review every station on, I dunno, the Green Line in LA.

Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates

226 (Columbian Square – Braintree Station)

Day two of new MBTA routes, and we’re heading down to Braintree to ride the first 226 ever! Oh wait…the first trip leaves before the first Red Line train gets there. Huh, okay, hang on…

Day two of new routes, and we’re heading down to Braintree to ride the second 226 ever! While technically not a new route (a private company subsidized by the T ran between Braintree and Columbian Square until low ridership canned the route in the 90s), it sure feels a lot newer than the 61, since this bus travels over roads that haven’t been touched by transit in decades. Or at least, one little stretch of Union Street…the rest isn’t new.

Hey, they got a sign up! Nice!

The 226 is replacing an extension of the 225 from Weymouth Landing to Columbian Square that didn’t mesh well with the rest of the route. There were many wins by splitting off that section: the 225 is now fantastically simple; Columbian Square riders now get a much more direct ride to the Red Line; and that area of Weymouth now gets much more service, especially on Saturdays. So at least on paper, we’re already in a much better boat than with the 61.

The bus laying over at Braintree.

Unfortunately, the headsign for the 226 wasn’t working, so an inspector had the driver sign “225C COLUMBIAN SQ” just to have something up there. We headed out from Braintree with one other rider, who was I think actually using the bus to get somewhere! “Welcome to the new route, guys!” the driver yelled out as we drove down Union Street. “Do you like it?” “Yeah!” I yelled back. We arrived in Columbian Square under the red glow of the almost-sunrise; the other rider got off at the South Shore Hospital.

The tape below the “225” label says that the 226 will replace it at this stop.

Now we had to figure out what to sign the bus for the trip back. The driver was trying to do the 226 code, but it wouldn’t work. A 226 going the other way had been signed as “BRAINTREE STA”, but neither of us knew the code for that. “How about 2362?” I said, thinking of that early-morning 236 variant that ends at Braintree.

“This is probably the best we’re gonna get,” the driver said.

We left our layover point a few minutes late thanks to the headsign troubles, taking a right onto Pleasant Street at the main commercial center of Columbian Square. Four people were waiting at the next stop – a sign that we’d get good ridership coming in. “Welcome to the 226 to Braintree!” the driver said to the passengers enthusiastically.

I was up front talking to the driver (awesome guy), so expect a bunch of shots out the front of the bus!

We turned onto Main Street, a wide suburban road that passed medical buildings, businesses with parking lots, and houses. We turned onto Middle Street, a twisty road that serves a bunch of apartment developments. “These stops are super busy,” said the driver. We weren’t getting packed, probably because it’s Christmas Eve Eve, but we were still getting a few people at each stop.

One of the apartment complexes.

The road was lined with houses before we arrived at the intersection with Washington Street, which was flanked by two strip malls. We made a left onto Washington, passing a cemetery, a few mobile home parks, and some offices. There were a ton of auto shops as Main Street merged into Washington Street, and we were soon in 225 territory.

Coming into Lincoln Square.

Washington Street came down a slight hill as we entered the Lincoln Square/Weymouth Landing area. Now that we were on the same road as the 225, some people waiting didn’t want to get on our bus – they might start switching to the 226 later if they realize it’ll get them to the Red Line faster (or they could genuinely just be going to Quincy Center). A modern mixed-use apartment building and another under construction appeared just before the Weymouth Landing Commuter Rail station, but we took a left onto Commercial Street, avoiding the station.

A residential neighborhood.

This was the section of the route that hasn’t seen a bus in years! This road took us into Braintree, where the surroundings consisted mostly of houses. An apartment development did show up at one point, though: “That’s gonna get a lot of people when they find out about the bus,” the driver said. The 236 joined up with us at Middle Street, and from there, a rotary around Route 3 and a ramp up to the Braintree Busway led us to the end of the route.

Back to a “225C” for the next trip out.

Route: 226 (Columbian Square – Braintree Station)

Ridership: Going out was just the one guy, but coming in was a decent load of fifteen people! This is pretty much a holiday, so I’m sure the bus will fill up during a true rush hour. For some more solid numbers, we can see that the 225C got about 137 inbound riders on its independent section every weekday. But unlike the 61, which is inconveniencing existing riders, the 226 will make many commutes shorter: I think ridership may well go up, and it’ll also be able to capture some of the many riders who currently board the 225 around Weymouth Landing.

Pros: Now this is how you use a new route to replace part of an existing one. The 226, sorta like the 95 to Arlington Center, shows how close some areas in the MBTA service area are, but how hard it is to get between them. The scheduled time between Braintree Station and Weymouth Landing is, at maximum, ten minutes. Ten minutes! That used to require going up to Quincy Center on the train and back down on the 225! The route in general is nice and short, so it should be pretty reliable.

Columbian Square to Braintree takes just 25 minutes, a huge improvement over the 40+ minutes it took the 225C to get to Quincy Center. The resulting shorter trip to the Red Line should help out commuters, and maybe even reverse commuters to places like the South Shore Hospital. Plus, the schedule is pretty well-constructed, with major frequency increases over the previous service: it’s about every half hour at rush hour, and every hour middays, nights, and Saturdays. Saturdays see the largest improvement, having previously seen just five 225C trips per day – now they get thirteen 226s daily.

Cons: It’s too bad Sunday service wasn’t added, but that’s something Columbian Square didn’t have before, anyway. Also, particularly on weeknights and Saturdays, the route isn’t quite every hour, with a few weird and seemingly pointless departure time shifts.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Columbian Square has a cute little movie theater? That’s so cool!

Final Verdict: 8/10
I worry I’m inflating the score because this is so much better than what was there before, but no, I think the 226 deserves an 8. For what is a very suburban route, it runs a pretty good and consistent service. Yes, the lack of Sunday service is a major con, but splitting the route off from the 225 arguably makes it easier to add it to the area. “We got an extra bus on Sundays? Alright, throw it on the 226 and run it hourly!” Seriously, MBTA, good job on this one. We need changes like this more often.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

61 (North Waltham – Waltham Center)

Isn’t it great that this service change fell on a Sunday? Since the 226 doesn’t run on Sundays, I’m able to get day-one reviews of both that and the other (seven-days-a-week) new route introduced this rating that we’ll be talking about today: the 61. Perfect!

The last 70A ever.

The 61 is the replacement for the 70A, which, until yesterday, ran from Central Square to North Waltham via a confusing figure-8 loop. In order to make service on the 70 more frequent and consistent (in theory, at least – in execution this didn’t really happen), the 70A was cut off, simplified, and replaced with this new route, the 61. So essentially, we’ve got a Waltham Circulator on our hands…wonderful.

61 signs aren’t up yet, but the tape over the 70A does speak of its existence.

Even though it is kind of a circulator route, I like the idea of cutting off the 70A in theory – it really did not mesh well with the 70, and it only served to make that corridor more confusing. They’ve even simplified the North Waltham loop to avoid the figure-8 and the horrible variants that came with it, opting for a “P” shape instead. But the problem is that the 61 makes no effort to connect with 70 trips, making for a nerve-racking transfer if the 70 is late (which it often is).

The 61 headsign DIDN’T WORK. But that’s what happens when the first run of your new route operates with bus 0666…

But the first 61 trip ever, and many other 61 trips, came from a 70 with pretty much no layover…not that you would know that from looking at a schedule. When planning how to get to the first 61 trip at 9:36, I looked at the Sunday timetable and saw that a 70 arrives at 9:30. “That’s cutting it close,” I thought. “I’d better get to Waltham earlier.” Nothing about the fact that that 70 becomes a 61. This genuinely boggled my mind that they didn’t think to include this in the timetable.

Pretty standard Waltham housing stock

Okay, let me stop spoiling the cons section and actually begin the trip. The bus left Waltham Center with seven people on it: me, my three friends, and a family of three riding to check the route out. This was pretty much expected, since the 70A didn’t have Sunday service before – it might take a bit to catch on. We headed out from Waltham’s Central Square, doing a few turns out of the center before getting onto Lexington Street.

More houses.

Lexington Street was commercial, although it was at much lower densities than in Waltham Center. Once we turned onto Dale Street, it was all houses, continuing as we swung a right onto Bacon Street. We took this until Totten Pond Road, onto which we made a left – previously, this is where the figure-8 started, but it’s now a two-way section.

Ooh, this is a change.

After a park and a skating rink, we suddenly entered Office Park Land. The cluster of business-oriented hotels, businesses, and offices marked Totten Pond Road’s intersection with I-95. We didn’t cross the highway, though, instead turning onto Wyman Street to run alongside it. More offices appeared on the other side of the road.

Looking out over the Cambridge Reservoir.

As the street pulled away from the highway, we turned onto Lincoln Street, where we arrived at “North Waltham” – the route’s terminus of sorts. In actuality, buses never lay over here for longer than two minutes, since there’s a one-way loop afterward. And actually, it is nice that the 61 can do that; the 70A was so long that it needed a lot of recovery time at this point, but the 61 is nice and short, so it can get away with a tiny layover.

There was just enough time for a quick photo!

Once we left the strange layover point underneath a bunch of telephone wires, we entered a more standard residential neighborhood as we merged onto Lake Street. Incredibly, someone got on along here – the first rider using the route to actually get somewhere! Some strip malls showed up as we took a left onto Lexington Street. There was a ton of apartment developments along here, hidden behind trees and long driveways.

Making the turn onto Lexington.

More retail appeared at the intersection with Trapelo Road, onto which we turned, entering a residential neighborhood again. Finally, we turned onto Smith Street, which joined up with Wyman Street and completed the loop. After we completed the already charted territory back to Waltham Center, the driver said, “I’m laying over for 50 minutes before going to Cambridge. You’re welcome to stay on and keep warm until the next bus comes.” Really? They scheduled a 50-minute layover before the return trip to Cambridge on the 70, with another 70 passing through in that time? Granted, we arrived over 15 minutes early…which in itself is kind of insane…boy, I’m excited for the cons section.

Back in Waltham Center.

Route: 61 (North Waltham – Waltham Center)

Ridership: This one’s hard to predict. The 70A was always counted as part of the 70, so we can’t get raw numbers on how well that route performed overall. We do have stop data, though: adding up all of the boardings on the 70A’s independent section, we can see that the route got an average of 200 boardings on its loop per day. Huh…well, hopefully the 61 does better!

Pros: The 70A was a beast of a route, so canning it was a good move and a long time coming. The 61 keeps about the same frequencies, plus it adds new Sunday service, so from a raw “service to North Waltham” perspective, this is a major improvement. Also, getting rid of the figure-8 was great for simplicity, and they did it in such a way that the peaky office parks get bidirectional service – no AM/PM variants necessary!

Cons: Yikes, there’s a lot to unpack here. Okay, what’s wrong with the 61 on paper? The schedule is a major issue: it just does whateverrrrr it wants. Pick any day and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Service is essentially every half hour at peak times and essentially every hour at all other times, but just look at these weekday departures: 10:00, 10:55, 11:48, 12:59, 1:51, 3:02, 3:48, 4:21, 4:56, 5:19…AHHHHHHH!!! There is no consistency here, and it’s not helped by the fact that the route may have been given too much time – a 15-minute arrival at Waltham Center, even on a Sunday morning, is very very early.

But let’s get to the real heart of the problem here: this is a separate route from the 70…but it’s also kinda not. And there are problems with both of those two faces! For trips that are separate from the 70, you end up with multiple concerns regarding transfers. Firstly, the 70’s reliability holds together about as well as Humpty Dumpty, so I sure as heck would be concerned about missing my 61 in Waltham. Plus, what if I’m coming from somewhere that’s not on the 70 and I’m paying with stored value? Porter Square, for example: I pay $2.40 to get on the Red Line, then I get a free transfer to the 70…but then I have to pay again on the 61 because of how the T’s fare structure works. So…another $1.70, I guess? With the one-seat ride, that used to be free.

Of course, some 61s (no idea how many – could be a ton, could be a few) appear to come from the 70. Now there’s the problem of the 61 potentially leaving late, because again, the 70 has a 54% on-time rate. But okay, it’s nice that some one-seat rides are provided…I just wish I could know about them! Who seriously thought this was information that shouldn’t be included in the timetable?? Just have an “n” note or “d” note or whatever letter in the alphabet you want on the 70 trips that continue on as 61s without a long layover, and vice versa! This shows passengers which transfers are guaranteed, as well as which ones are free. Make this happen, MBTA, it’s a simple change.

Nearby and Noteworthy: When I was younger, I once took this bus (well, the 70A) to my piano lessons in Lexington, which I will totally rep for, because they were instrumental (heh) in fostering my love of music. Yeah, we did usually drive there, but in my defense, it was a pain to get out to by bus. Retail along the 61 is mostly chain restaurants, with some higher-end stuff around the office parks.

Final Verdict: 3/10
What we have here is a route with good intentions, but it can’t get beyond those. It’s trying to take over from a real beast of a route, which is admirable, and the fact that it not only tremendously simplified the previous routing, but also added Sunday service to an area that didn’t have it before is fantastic. The execution, though…this is just awful. The schedule is all over the place, and there are numerous issues with both buses that don’t connect (unguaranteed transfer, having to pay twice) and ones that do (unreliability, and PLEASE LABEL THEM ON THE SCHEDULE!!!!). It’s probably better than the 70A, but that’s a low, low bar to clear.

Also, should the 70A loop have been cut off on its own like what they did, or should it have been merged with an express bus? Or something else entirely? Discuss!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates