Okay, “GreenLink Connector”, huh? Makes it sound like some sort of frequent Greenfield shuttle. That would be great! A route connecting up major points in Greenfield that runs frequently all day! So, I’m just checking the schedule for the 20 now: let’s see, it connects up major points in Greenfield…it runs frequently…but it only operates…in the morning rush. Huh.
So the 20 is basically a more frequent version of the 21 (which loops around Greenfield) that only runs in the morning rush and goes in the opposite direction, with a million variants. My friend and I chose the 9:00 AM trip, since it seemed to do everything, although for some reason there’s no “GCC” label at the top of it on the schedule, despite the fact that it serves Greenfield Community College. Then again, the schedule doesn’t actually tell you what the GCC label means, so perhaps we missed some important deviation. Oh well, let’s get on with it.
We headed up to Main Street, proceeding through downtown Greenfield past businesses housed in 2-4 story buildings. But those buildings very quickly got shorter and devolved into suburban businesses with parking lots. By the time Main Street turned into Mohawk Trail and crossed the Green River, those buildings were interspersed with short woodsy sections.
We went around a giant rotary interchange with I-91, then outside of the Mohawk Mall (actually just a strip mall, don’t get excited), we turned onto Colrain Road. After a small office building and a BJ’s, there was a short stretch of woods and fields before a cute little roundabout that led us onto College Drive. In an island surrounded by farms, we looped around Greenfield Community College, then came back to the roundabout and went straight across.
We went through the woods a bit before rejoining civilization, turning onto Elm Street into a fairly dense residential neighborhood (but one that apparently only needs a sidewalk on one side of the road). A few apartment developments came up along here, plus a supermarket and a why-would-you-put-this-in-the-middle-of-a-residential-area jail. Things got sparser when the street turned into Leyden Road, but after two minutes of driving, we entered the huge Leyden Woods development.
Coming back down Leyden Road, we took a left onto Silver Street, running past more houses and Greenfield High School. Things got more commercial when we turned onto Federal Street, which was almost entirely lined with suburban businesses with small parking lots out front. We passed the Greenfield Middle School, and eventually it started to get denser as we reentered downtown Greenfield. Crossing Main Street, we returned to the JWO Transit Center.
FRTA Route: 20 (GreenLink Connector)
Ridership: This route was instituted after the FRTA redesigned everything, so my only ridership data comes from my ride, and that’s a big fat zero. I guess it was the 9:00 trip so it was a bit late in the rush…maybe earlier ones get more riders? Any riders at all?
Pros: Alright, I’ll rep for the 20’s frequency: it’s about every 30-40 minutes, which is insanely good for FRTA standards, and it starts at 4:35 AM!
Cons: Okay, obvious first one: it only runs in the morning rush. Um, why? When you commute in the morning, you’ve got plenty of options, but those evening commuters are stuck with the hourly 21! And within the limited time that this route runs, it somehow manages to cram in a ton of variants! There’s a total of five route patterns here, including a single express trip to GCC and another to the Corporate Center (labelled on the schedule as the “Corporate Center Shuttle”). And ultimately, I just can’t see why this route needs its own number. These can’t be branded as the 21, just running in the opposite direction? I’m also skeptical about the amount of service provided – if the 9:00 trip was empty, how busy do the other ones get? Could these resources be better used on other FRTA services?
Nearby and Noteworthy: Nothing much. The only real commercial area besides downtown Greenfield is Federal Street, and it’s not an interesting one.
Final Verdict: 2/10
Nope, I’m not convinced. Maybe the earlier trips get a ton of people, but even if they do, the route is still too darn complicated, and it provides a level of service that isn’t matched in the evening. At the very least, it could be branded as the 21 in the opposite direction, since it’s really confusing on the system map to have two routes doing what looks to be the exact same thing!
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
I was touring Temple University in 2016, and the guide was telling us about transportation access. “Every Regional Rail line stops at Temple, so it’s really convenient,” he said. And I didn’t know much about SEPTA then, but I did know one thing: not the Cynwyd Line! It ends at Suburban! I would’ve been a pedantic idiot and said that if I had actually known how to pronounce Cynwyd, but (probably for the best) I didn’t. So for the record: Kin-wid. Cool.
Of course, the Cynwyd Line not serving Temple really doesn’t matter when it only runs 21 trains each day, ten inbound and eleven outbound. Those are almost all at rush hour, with one midday round trip and one night round trip. With such limited service, then, Cynwyd Station has no right to be this nice!
The station’s amenities are basic, but…you know, ten inbound trains per day, so it’s not that big of a deal. Montgomery Ave runs over the station, and beneath that overpass is a bench, a wastebasket, some train information, and…oh, a bike rack shaped like a bike! That’s…cute. I mean, you could put in two or three bike racks with the same space, and I saw bikes chained up to a number of other locations here, signifying demand for more racks, but…whatever, it’s cute, it’s cute. Further down, the station has a mini-high platform to make it wheelchair accessible.
Stairs and a ramp lead up to the east, and the same goes for the west. Small lots adorn both sides, adding up to a total of 41 spaces that fill up daily (as expected – they’re free!). A simple level crossing gets you to the other side of the single track, but be warned that if a train is laying over at the station, you’ll get a red hand and a persistent announcement of “WARNING. A TRAIN IS APPROACHING THE CROSSING. PLEASE DO NOT CROSS THE TRACKS.” It gets annoying real fast.
So it’s fairly common knowledge in Philadelphia transit circles that the Cynwyd Line used to cross the Schuylkill River, serving Manayunk and terminating at Ivy Ridge. The line no longer does that, obviously (frankly, the service seemed a bit redundant to the Norristown Line), but it’s been replaced by a fantastic trail that begins at Cynwyd. To go along with that, the station’s house-like building is occupied by the Trail’s End Cafe, an amazingly quaint coffee shop that adds a ton of character to the station. It’s open every day except Mondays.
Ridership: Okay, I’m going to read you a low number of average weekday boardings, and then I’m going to say “But considering that it only gets ten inbound trains per day, it’s not terrible.” Sound good? Okay: 119 average weekday boardings. But considering that it only gets ten inbound trains per day, it’s not terrible!
Pros: That cafe really makes this place shine, especially with all the benches and seats set up outside. The station has other good qualities, too: easy walking access to residential neighborhoods and a great trail; a wheelchair-accessible mini-high platform; and a bit of parking.
Cons: The limited service is the obvious one, but there are problems with the station itself, too. More bike racks would be fantastic, especially given the quiet surrounding streets and a clear demand for places to lock up. Also, why is the parking free? It’s kind of a slap in the face to (for example) low-income people from Coatesville who have to pay for parking at Thorndale, even if it is just a dollar a day, when wealthy residents of Lower Merion Township can just drive to Cynwyd and park for nothing.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Cynwyd Station is actually closer to Hymie’s and surrounding restaurants than Merion, so I get another opportunity to rep for a great Jewish deli! There’s a little downtown around the station too, but aside from a BMW dealership (literally the first thing you see when you leave the station) and an expensive-looking Italian restaurant, it hasn’t got much.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Okay, I’ll be honest, the station itself is pretty darn good. I’m not going to remove points for providing free parking, although the bike rack issue is a bigger problem. The only thing really holding Cynwyd back is its limited service, and the area may not generate the ridership needed for more, if it even wants it to begin with.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Jules rode RIPTA’s new 24x route recently. Here are his thoughts:
If you caught Miles’s recent post about the fall changes at the RTAs in southern New England, you may have been surprised to learn that RIPTA was tacking on an interstate express route connecting Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, to touristy Newport through the old Massachusetts mill city of Fall River with six round trips every weekday. Well, the 24x is real, it’s here, I’ve just ridden it, and I think you should, too.
For starters, it was nice to see the signage at Stop X in Kennedy Plaza was updated to include the 24x along with a dedicated sandwich board telling would-be riders of the new route!
I wasn’t the only one learning the route that day — the driver brought an associate on board to train him on where to turn and which roads to take, so he was writing directions down on a notepad. Meanwhile, I have Google Maps and my own memory to work this out.
We turned south off of Exchange Terrace over to Dorrance Street, slogging it out with construction-induced traffic all the way through Downcity to the district court. Thankfully, we left that mess as we merged onto Dyer Street, passing by the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge along the way. Shortly after Dyer became Eddy, we hung a left onto the Point Street Bridge, then swung right onto South Water Street, crossing under Interstate 195 to join the highway heading east.
The 24x does make local stops within Providence city limits in either direction. It does not do so anywhere else, though.
In any case, it was full speed ahead right through the border of the Commonwealth and past Seekonk, Rehoboth, and Swansea right up to Exit 4 to reach the first stop in the neighbor state, the rather small Somerset Park & Ride which, other than the 24x, gets one round trip to Boston via Peter Pan every weekday.
The bus whipped around the small lot before turning right back onto I-195 and traversing the Braga Bridge into Fall River. We left the speedway again at Exit 6 to hit Hartwell Street, then took a left onto 5th Street before hooking into and even berthing at the Louis D. Pettine Transportation Center, SRTA’s Fall River hub. The driver said that people here have been giving the bus strange looks every time one has come in. I wouldn’t blame them — it’s still quite a foreign concept to see RIPTA come to town.
After nearly plowing into the bollards, the driver pulled into reverse gear and headed out of the terminal with a right turn onto 4th Street, another right on Borden Street, then a slight right to get back with Hartwell. We made a left turn at Rodman Street and another one onto Plymouth Ave to get back onto I-195 South.
It was only a short jog before we drifted onto Exit 8A to head south on the route’s numbersake, MA-24 — also known as the Fall River Expressway. After a couple of miles wedged between South Watuppa Pond and SouthCoast Marketplace, MA-24 turned into RI-24 and just like that, we were back in the land of Roger Williams. We also lost exit numbering for a moment, too, but we don’t need no numbers to head to the Fish Road Park & Ride in Tiverton!
After that diversion, we were on our way to our last stop. We got to the end of RI-24 through rocky cliffs, the Sakonnet River Bridge and the northern half of Portsmouth by S-curving down onto RI-114, better known as West Main Road, to join the local 60 service — but not to behave like it. We continued express to breach Middletown, but then swerved right onto Coddington Highway to avoid heavily-trafficked Broadway. To finish things off, we vaulted a left turn though a roundabout, then on-ramped to the last bit of RI-238 before it turned into Farewell Street. All it took was a slight right to America’s Cup Avenue and a couple of other turns before we slid into Newport Gateway Center.
RIPTA Route: 24x (Newport/Fall River/Providence)
Ridership: No official numbers for a new route, but the driver did say that ridership was pretty good for its first week. Having arrived for the last southbound trip of the morning at 9:00, though, I only saw 6 elderly passengers get off in Providence while I was the only one across the entire journey to board the return to Newport — I feel like I’m missing out on a prime peak direction trip.
Pros: I don’t think there’s much of a time savings against the 14 or even the 60 in many cases, save for summertime traffic clogging up Broadway and the Jamestown Bridge — and that ain’t nothing. All three routes are billed to take 75 minutes and I can see why: the 24x might have highways, but it uses a very indirect route while the other two use local streets oriented right toward their destination. The biggest pro here is probably the largest expansion of affordable mass transit access to southeastern Massachusetts from points north and west!
Cons: The 24x does make sense as a commuter-oriented express with three round trips for each rush period, but I feel like the lack of weekend service prevents it from achieving its full potential. There are plenty of connections to be had for a number of day trip destinations. Also, I’d like to see at least a couple of other local Newport stops made, at least in the northbound direction.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Uh, pretty much half of Rhode Island and all of the south coast of Massachusetts. Well, the places that matter.
Final Verdict: 9/10
I apologize in advance, but beg your patience for my indulgence here.
I was one of the few people to have been alerted before the rating was published thanks to a hankering for the almighty Chow Mein Sandwich from Mee Sum Restaurant… and a chance at appearing in a video for Great Big Story (blink at 1:54 and you’ll miss it).
Coming from Boston, it takes a train to Middleborough/Lakeville and four buses through Wareham and New Bedford to get there by lunchtime — there’s no coach bus run direct to Fall River before 2pm! And while the food was cheap, filling, and delicious, it left me with the conundrum of how to head back home.
Why, the solution was simple albeit dangerous! Just walk the 3 miles down from the end of SRTA’s FR 1 through heavy vegetation, blind drives and without sidewalks across state lines to the Fish Road Park & Ride in Tiverton and take the one odd reverse commute run of the 61x. After getting out of the early August drizzle and into the bus, I got into quick conversation with the driver about where I was coming from, how difficult it was to connect two cities in the same metropolitan region and, more importantly, economic region. It was then the driver revealed that RIPTA would be bringing on the 24x for the fall season to replace an agreement it had with, of all vendors, Peter Pan to provide beefed up Fall River-to-Providence service during rush hour.
Consider that a one-way Peter Pan trip costs $14 and that a 10-ride ticket is priced at $65. Now compare that to the $2 RIPTA charges for any of its buses. That’s cheap enough, my 24x driver told me, to let a working-class aunt from Fall River visit her nephew and other relatives in Providence way more often.
And that, my friends, is enough for me to encourage you to use this bus and make it clear that there is a great demand for this essential bistate link.
Alright, let me just check my watch here. Oh look, it’s masochism time! We’re going to get a two-for-one deal of Schuylkill Expressway-related pain! What fun! Brace yourself for a double-dose of traffic purgatory on the 124 and 125.
The 124 and 125 get their own special bus stop on the north side of 13th and Market, and we’ve already got problems. Specifically, the sign is one of SEPTA’s older ones that doesn’t show the stop ID, but the destinations are also all wrong: “124 Chesterbrook & King of Prussia” and “125 King of Prussia via Expwy.” First of all, why does the 125 get a “via Expwy” while the 124 doesn’t? And what expressway? Why not just say “Express”? Also, the 125 goes beyond King of Prussia to Valley Forge – to follow in the format of the 124, it could say “Valley Forge & King of Prussia Express.” And then throw the “Express” on the 124 as well. Also, the 125 gets a wheelchair symbol while the 124 doesn’t. What, is the 125 accessible but the 124 isn’t?
And then there was the slight problem of the 124’s late departure. You see, several other people and I were specifically looking for the 124 (I was taking it to get to the 205), but one bus said “SEPTA” and the other was unmarked. The “SEPTA” bus turned out to be a 125, while the driver for the unmarked presumably-124 said she’d be back in a few minutes. Fifteen minutes later she returned, and we left ten minutes late. Not a good start to a route with chronic on-time performance issues.
We headed onto Arch Street, then in the shadow of the towering City Hall, we took a left onto Broad Street. That merged onto JFK Boulevard and we approached the main City Hall stop. A ton of people were waiting here, and since this was an evening rush trip, I figured we’d get packed. Or…like, three people would get on. I mean, that works too.
JFK Boulevard west of City Hall was office building central, but traffic on the three-lane, one-way road was actually flowing pretty well. We picked someone up at 19th Street, then in the next block the bus had to somehow maneuver across two lanes of traffic to make it into the left turn lane. Using 20th to get to Market, the traffic situation suddenly became a very different story.
Traffic on Market was at a near-standstill. We fought with cars and other buses for space as we inched down the road, eventually making it to the 22nd Street trolley station. It didn’t let up on the Schuylkill River bridge either, and we didn’t escape the traffic until we turned onto Schuylkill Ave to serve 30th Street Station. It had taken us fifteen minutes to do this Market Street portion, and we were now fifteen minutes late. Travelling on JFK Boulevard would surely get the bus across town faster – can a safe stop for 30th not be located there? It would speed buses up so much!
As Schuylkill Ave became an on-ramp to I-76, I was actually hoping we would encounter traffic. I specifically wanted to ride the 124 during the evening rush to experience maximum delays. But while it was pretty slow past the Art Museum and Boathouse Row, the road actually sped up quite a bit after Girard Ave! In fact, traffic the other way was quite a lot worse. It may have been that this was the Friday before Labor Day weekend, so people were heading down the Shore from points northwest?
We genuinely had a good clip going through the forests of Fairmount Park, so it came out of nowhere when the bus slowed down. Wait…but all the other lanes were still moving. Oh, I see, we had to do the Wissahickon Transportation Center deviation. And this exit was bogged down with traffic. Sigh…alright, so we slowly made our way from the off-ramp to the City Ave bridge to cross the Schuylkill.
We finally made it off the bridge, and now it was time to make our way down Ridge Ave to the transportation center. Having ridden the express portion of these routes several times before, I knew this deviation would be worth it – lots of people always get on at Wissahickon. We looped around the bus station, and…no one. No one got on. So we slowly trundled back to the highway. This deviation literally took ten minutes and it was a complete waste of time!
Once we got back on the highway, though, it was smooth sailing. We got some great views of Manayunk from the Schuylkill Expressway’s perch, and it was woods for a while from there. We rounded the Conshy Curve no problem, and despite a little traffic after that, we made it to our exit in decent time. Turning onto Trinity Lane, it was all woods and houses until we reached Gulph Mills Station, deviating inside and holding for a train (but alas, no one transferred).
We headed up onto Gulph Road, and at the intersection of Gulph and Henderson Roads, we reach the splitting point of the 124 and 125. We’ll continue this 124 journey, then follow the 125 back to this point. So, the 124 turns onto Henderson Road, and in doing so, we entered a horrible wasteland of warehouses and offices.
Passing the shopping plaza served directly by the 99, we joined that route by turning onto DeKalb Pike. It was just a lotttttt of suburban businesses, but after we crossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it was time to deviate into the King of Prussia Mall. Lots of people got off here, leaving just six left for the route’s post-mall segment.
There were several turns that led us to Swedesford Road, which passed the “King of Prussia Town Center” before going by a ton of office buildings. Houses lined the side streets, though. We came up along Route 202, a highway, and passed a strip mall. And then we crossed the highway and passed a number of other strip malls.
A couple of passengers from Center City got off the bus at a Residence Inn, which is a pretty impressive commute for people who may very well be tourists. It was basically all offices from there, and we sped past them at what felt like 50 miles an hour. The last bit was a deviation to Chesterbrook: right on Chesterbrook Road, left on Duportail Road, and right onto Morris Drive to reach the end of the route. We had managed to come in “only” 15 minutes late.
Okay, time to shift to a Sunday in early December at Valley Forge National Park. The 125 has a very different terminus from the 124, ending at the gateway to some absolutely beautiful scenery in the Revolutionary War site. I came out here with my friend; we just hopped on the bus at the King of Prussia Mall, walked around the amazing (and free) Visitor Center during the layover, and came straight back on the bus bound for Philly.
The moment we crossed Route 422 on the bus, we were in suburban sprawl. We were running on Valley Forge Road, and while Valley Forge weekend trips don’t get to do the BNY Mellon (an office park) deviation, we did perform the one across the street to the giant Valley Forge Towers complex. Of course, both would be wholly unnecessary if the area had sidewalks, but why would they ever build those?
Still, while the bus had been empty before, a few people got on at the Valley Forge stop (which had a super old bus sign). We came back onto Valley Forge Road, which was now a bunch of offices as it crossed Trout Creek. But because the 125’s independent section up here is super twisty, we took a left onto 1st Ave soon, now heading back toward Valley Forge past more office parks.
Outside of the Valley Forge Casino, we turned onto Gulph Road, which curved east again, passing a few more office buildings. Turning onto Goddard Boulevard, we ended up at the King of Prussia Mall, where the bus got slammed. I mean, for a suburban route, full-seated load plus standees is a lot!
Luckily, the 125’s routing to Gulph Mills is more direct than the 124’s. We headed straight onto Gulph Road, which was a weird mix of houses, offices, and a beautifully landscaped cemetery. There were a few apartment developments that got us more riders later on, and from there, it was a straight shot to Gulph Mills Station, where we would be heading onto I-76 back to Philly.
And…okay, at the risk of making this post too long, I’m also gonna throw in a review of the King of Prussia Transit Center, just because these are the main routes that serve it. Signage from the mall is pretty bad (just an icon of a bus over the appropriate exit, which is a narrow hallway), but once you’re there, the transit center is pretty nice. It has an indoor portion with plenty of seating, a vending machine, two Key machines, and (outdated) information, while there are a few shelters outside as well. Aesthetics aren’t the best, but as far as suburban mall transit centers go, I’d give it a solid 7/10.
Routes: 124/125 (Chesterbrook/Valley Forge and King of Prussia to 13-Market)
Ridership: The routes get similar ridership, but the 125 wins out with 1,845 weekday riders compared to the 124’s 1,535. This comes down to the 125 having slightly more trips as well as the 125’s post-mall section serving a bit more than the 124’s. Despite getting good ridership for suburban routes, though, their farebox recovery ratios are atrocious thanks to the fact that most people are staying on for the long express section. It also means that buses get crowded for a longer period of time, and I almost wonder if weekend buses get busier than weekday ones. Still, the routes get lots of people at rush hour as well, mostly in the reverse-peak direction (I saw some packed 124s and 125s going the other way on my quieter peak-direction 124 trip).
Pros: Okay, an express bus from Philly to King of Prussia makes sense, and it lends itself to good ridership.
Cons: It’s just a shame that these routes are so bad. Where to even begin? Okay, the Schuylkill Expressway section is just the worst thing ever. I was lucky with traffic, and even then it was still a little miserable. And apparently their on-time rates are as high as 64% for the 124 and 60% for the 125? Those numbers are awful, but I wouldn’t be shocked if more often than not, more than 4 out of 10 buses are delayed!
And then the schedules are a mess, too. I’ll start with variants, because good lord, these routes have an unnecessary amount of those. I count nine possible places these routes can terminate, and those are on both ends, so there are a bunch of terminal combinations within that. Plus there are a few random super-express trips on the 125 that skip Wissahickon that are scattered around the schedule. What determines which trips get expressed? Why does it only happen in the outbound direction? Why does the 124 have one of these trips but the schedule doesn’t say “Express”, it just dots out the time at Wissahickon? And why does the headsign not tell you that it’s skipping Wissahickon, leading me to accidentally get on an express trip when I was trying to get to Wissahickon??? Yes, that actually happened. It was on, like, my second-ever bus trip in Philly.
But now we get to the frequencies. Oh, these are a lot of fun. It’s impossible to discern any kind of consistent headway out of these because they’re so all over the place. Gaps can be as short as five minutes (the 125 outbound on weekday mornings) and as long as 140 minutes (the 124 inbound on Sunday nights), and everywhere in between. And look, SEPTA does provide a great service for mall employees, running buses relatively frequently during commute times, even on weekends. But when midday gaps are as long as hourly on each route with very little attempt at coordination, you end up with buses full of shoppers! These schedules are just pure insanity.
Ugh, and then the routings, too. The 124’s post-mall segment only serves office parks and small strip malls. The 125’s is super loopy and it takes forever to get to the Valley Forge Towers, which is where most off-peak passengers out here are going. And imagine if SEPTA had (yes, I know this is far-fetched) free transfers, and buses could end at 30th Street or maybe even Gulph Mills? Gosh, that sure would allow for faster trips and more frequent service, wouldn’t it?
Nearby and Noteworthy: For what it’s worth, I…kinda like the King of Prussia Mall. I haven’t explored the whole thing yet, but it seems like the largest mall in the country by retail space has so many stores that some interesting small businesses have managed to wriggle their way in. My friend and I were planning on walking around the whole thing when we came for the 125, but we ended up getting lost in a record shop that we found early on!
Final Verdict: 3/10
I hate these routes. I wish I could give them a lower score, but I can’t deny that they get good ridership and, at least for reverse-peak commuters, a decent frequency is provided. But ugh, they’re awful in every other way! And until King of Prussia Rail opens up (if it opens up), we’re stuck with these. So…here’s my radical proposal to fix them:
Firstly: the 124 and 125 become shuttles to the King of Prussia Mall. I think the 124 could run rush hour only, especially since it mostly duplicates the 92, but the 92 also kinda sucks so the 124 might need midday service. The 125 is converted to a one-way loop, which only speeds the trip up for people – it would run all day.
Finally, in my desired plan, there would be a route 122 that just goes from King of Prussia to Gulph Mills every 10-15 minutes, connecting to hopefully-just-as-frequent NHSL trains. Yes, this would be a three-seat ride from Center City to the mall, and yes, this can obviously only work if transfers are free, but it would be about the same amount of time as if not faster than slogging down the insanely unreliable I-76 (you could also probably cut the 123). BUT: if an express route has to happen, it should only go to 30th, again with free transfers. Even better would be only going to Wissahickon, especially since folks coming from here do get screwed over by this plan (barring Regional Rail fare integration, that is), but it might be an odd place to end the bus. I’d settle for 30th.
The best part about this plan is that it provides more frequent service with half the buses. The 124/125 at rush hour currently requires 15 vehicles; the Gulph Mills version of this plan would only use a maximum of 8, allowing for more service on, say, the NHSL or other suburban bus routes. The express version would obviously require more vehicles, but terminating at 30th would still save a lot of time and probably let the route shave off a few buses, and the service would be a lot less confusing. It’s also admittedly a lot easier to implement politically – Gulph Mills would be unpopular.
But for now and possibly forever, I’m just gonna keep losing one more portion of my sanity every time I take a bus on the Schuylkill Expressway.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Our FRTA saga begins! For those who don’t know, the FRTA covers Franklin County, the least dense county in Massachusetts, with a hub in Greenfield. It is a very rural system, and that makes it a really interesting one to review. We begin with its route that runs the furthest east (and thus the furthest toward Boston), the 32.
The 32 is the connection between FRTA and MART, allowing for a two-seat ride from Greenfield to Gardner, and further connections on both ends. My friend and I didn’t come via MART, though – in order to ensure we’d be able to finish the whole system in a day, we drove to Orange early in the morning and grabbed the second 32 of the day from there. It has this big loop around which buses go counterclockwise in the morning and clockwise in the evening, so we went to the first stop on that loop and waited.
Right on schedule, a fancy New Flyer MiDi bus came flying in…but the driver didn’t stop! We had to flag it down and it pulled to a halt a little down the road. “This isn’t a stop,” the driver said as we got on. But…but Orange Riverfront Park is listed as a timepoint! The description for this stop on the list of them (which is funny that such a rural system even has fixed stops) says: “On E River St, at entrance to park across from bar.” Well, no bar exists as far as I can tell, and the FRTA doesn’t put signs at a lot of its stops, so who the heck knows. We got on, regardless.
We headed down East River Street in our fancy MiDi, which felt super weird in the best way possible. The road was a bit of a hodgepodge, with individual houses, apartment developments, a few businesses here and there, and a lot of woods and fields. Passing the tiny Orange Municipal Airport, we then took a left onto Daniel Shays Highway when East River Street ended.
This road featured similar scenery to before, but it also featured a bridge over the Millers River. We entered Athol along here and took a left onto Main Street, and right at the border between Athol and Orange, we pulled into a Hannaford. This is the transfer point between FRTA and MART, and right on cue, a MART truck minibus growled its way into the parking lot. We took a brief layover here.
A few people actually made the MART-FRTA transfer, so we pulled out of Hannaford with some new passengers. Continuing down South Main Street, it was still a weird mix of stuff, with a few houses and random businesses (including a Tractor Supply Co., which made sense for the area) between the trees. We picked up a few more people at a lovely Walmart deviation, and from there the buildings started to get denser.
We were eventually among the faded brick buildings and empty storefronts of Orange Center, turning onto Water Street to serve the sorry little shelter that serves as Orange’s main bus hub. From there, we curved around Memorial Park, then we used Main Street to get across the Millers River again before taking a right onto River Street. There were houses for a bit, but we soon made our way up a hill into the woods.
We reached a highway interchange with Route 2 and merged on, starting what I suppose is an “express section”, but it’s the last proper interchange on the highway. There are no stops along here, though, and we were just speeding down the two-lane road past lines of trees (in a city bus, remember!). A bridge over the Millers River provided some views of mountains.
The first building along Route 2 was a factory, and then an auto shop a little later. There were some houses on a hill to the right after that, and once the road gained a sidewalk, we were in “Erving Center.” This tiny downtown had some residences, a few small businesses (including one in the old train station), and a town hall that looked like a community church. We sailed right through.
It was pretty much straight back to forest after that, with a town cemetery and a few houses here and there. The road was built up on a mountain next to the Millers River, but it eventually descended to join up with it for a bit. We ran through a little village called Farley with a decent amount of houses; despite being “dense” (relative to everything else), though, it doesn’t have a stop.
Besides Farley, it was all woods until the road suddenly curved north and civilization rushed in out of nowhere. We were in Millers Falls, and we got our first stop request: someone got off at a bowling alley next to a Dunkin’ Donuts, a post office, and an apartment development. The bus did a loop here, ending up on Lester Street to go under a Route 2 overpass.
There were pretty dense houses along here, and when we turned onto Bridge Street to cross the Millers River, we were in Millers Falls Center. There weren’t many businesses here (it was basically a one-block main street), but it did have a really cute library. We took a right onto that Main Street in the opposite direction of downtown, now following the route of the 23. Ascending a hill, there were a few more blocks of dense houses before we were back in the woods.
This didn’t last for nearly as long, though. Some industrial buildings and a small, dense mobile home park were centered around Turners Falls Airport, and there were pretty consistent (if not particularly close-together) houses along the road after that. As the road changed to Unity Street, we arrived at a surprisingly major stop located next to and named after “Scotty’s Convenience Store.” It even had a shelter!
Unity Street came down a hill, but dense houses occupied every area with flat land. We continued our descent on 3rd Street, which passed a park before heading into the surprisingly dense Turners Falls Center. Like, there were rowhouses here! We took a left onto Avenue A, Turners Falls’s main street, and it was…awesome? Yeah, it was lined with two- and three-story brick buildings, and they had lots of interesting businesses inside!
Also, we were making regular pickups along here, and it got to the point where the bus was literally standing room only. An FRTA bus…with a standing load. I was not expecting this! We passed a suburban shopping center at the south end of downtown, and it got less dense from there, with suburban houses and a golf course along what was now called Montague City Road.
Still, the houses were consistent right up to the rusty (and frankly a bit scary) bridge over the Connecticut River. They kept on going on the other side as we entered Greenfield, but we eventually hit a small industrial area before the road curved west and its name changed to Cheapside Street. That didn’t last long, as we soon merged into Deerfield Street, and after a mix of industrial buildings (including the FRTA garage), businesses, and houses, we pulled into the JWO Transit Center. One down, six to go!
FRTA Route: 32 (Orange/Greenfield)
Ridership: The FRTA’s counts are from 2015, so things may have changed since then (the system itself was even semi-redesigned, affecting a few routes down the line) – at that time, the 32 got 96 passengers per day, which evens out to around 7 per trip. Well, I don’t know if the route’s peaky or if ridership has gone way up since then, but my morning rush journey got 21 riders!
Pros: The ridership seems to be there! And it’s there for good reason: the route provides an important connection to Orange, and it’s especially valuable thanks to the MART transfer there. I’ll bet the route has good ridership in both directions thanks to strong draws on both ends of it. There’s a lot of rural running in between, but that’s par for the course for FRTA. Plus, there are some great views!
Cons: Okay, I get that it’s a rural route, but aside from being really infrequent, the 120-minute headways are problematic for another reason: the MART connection is every 90 minutes! If the FRTA can scrounge up the resources to get the frequency of the 32 to 90 minutes, that would allow every trip to have a timed transfer with MART, which would be huge. One more trip at night (the last one leaves at 5 PM right now) would be awesome, and weekend service would be even better, but baby steps.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Okay, the FRTA has a route more or less dedicated to serving Turners Falls, so I’ll save that for then. For the 32, that leaves Millers Falls, Erving, and Orange. Millers Falls is the most interesting of the three, but you’re probably going to want a car to experience any of these places – a bus every two hours is really hard to plan around.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Yeah, these are gonna be really weird to score. For most bus routes, service every two hours would be blasphemy. But…the FRTA serves really rural places, and it’s working on a shoestring budget, even compared to other RTAs, so it deserves slack. This route does its job reasonably well, and the fact that so many people use it now seems to be a sign that it could sustain better service. Again, having a bus every 90 minutes to match up with MART should be the main goal for now, but other improvements would be welcome, too.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
I noticed that Secane had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of its overhaul, but for some reason it didn’t click with me that I should probably go and check out the new station. An anonymous person in the comments suggested I check it out: “Ahem…Newly renovated Secane station opened yesterday. Review?” Alright, Anonymous, this one’s for you!
Because I’m a masochist, I took the 107 here! I didn’t realize that SEPTA considers it to be an actual connection, since it doesn’t directly serve the station, but the bus stop is just a sign at any rate. From there, I walked to the Providence Road side of the station, which is where the old platforms were and still are. You can get onto them directly from the level crossing, or you can use the staircase from the road.
A canned announcement about midday outbound trains boarding on the inbound side played over the tinny speakers as I walked down the low-level platform. The deep voice of the Regional Rail announcer combined with the rather low quality of the speakers made it hard to make out what he was saying, but I got the jist by standing under one of the speakers. The old station building is on this low-level portion, and it’s now locked and in a state of disarray.
Once you ascend the ramp to the high-level platforms, there are a million signs along the yellow platform strip telling you to WATCH THE GAP. WATCH THE GAP. WATCH THE GAP. Not all of the station is sheltered, but even the open portions have a ton of seating, plus wastebaskets and recycling bins scattered throughout!
Once we get under the awning of the building, there are more benches, but also some additional passenger information. I love the new departure screens, while a panel has the SEPTA map and schedules and information for the Media/Elwyn Line. Unfortunately, the frame of the panel covers up part of the schedule, meaning you can’t really read the station timepoints on weekdays. Also, the schedules still show Secane as being inaccessible. Oops…
I gotta say, I was shocked when that door to the waiting room opened up. This appears to be a full-time waiting room, although no signs announce the opening hours so I have no idea (they also don’t announce that this is a waiting room and everyone is welcome – none of the eventual waiting passengers came in here). The place is temperature-controlled, and it has a ton of seating space, a placard about the history of the station and line, and a fancy TV departure screen (whose clock is a few minutes fast, alas).
There are also bathrooms here, something that was very convenient for me at the time I visited. The men’s room was near-spotless and a joy to use – it even had an “emergency lock release” button in case you need to get out in a hurry. I know it’s brand new, but hopefully it stays this clean for a while. Water fountains are located next to the bathroom entrances, and while the water temperature was tepid at best, I’ll take it over nothing!
A complicated network of stairs and ramps lead down to the parking lot and underpass. The ramps are windy, but I get it – it was cheaper than installing elevators. Six bike racks are provided (although the website says there are none), while the lot currently has 87 spaces – 47 are a dollar a day, free on weekends, while 40 are $25 per month permit spaces. Overnight parking seems to be allowed, with no signs saying you can’t. SEPTA also apparently bought two homes in order to expand the lot by 200 spaces, which is both a blessing (the small lot regularly gets full) and a curse (they’re destroying part of the neighborhood for more parking).
Because the waiting room has no place for ticket sales, SEPTA installed this weird box thing at the parking lot entrance. I guess in the morning rush an employee goes in there and sells people tickets at the tiny window? It’s odd, but it works. What doesn’t quite work is the placement of the two parking machines: they’re sandwiched in between a ramp and the back of the ticket box. It’s possible to get in there, but you’ve gotta squeeze! Honor boxes are provided as well, for those with loose change they need to get rid of.
Alright, here we have the underpass, which is a bit drab, but nice as far as underpasses go. Now we can move on to…hang on. HANG on. “Trains to Central City Philadelphia”? CENTRAL City Philadelphia??????? Who the heck commissioned those? Central City? NO one says that!!!!! Oh my gosh, these signs are everywhere, too! But they’re not even consistent! Some signs say the usual (and CORRECT) Center City! This is awful! 1/10!!!!!
The outbound side gets another set of stairs and ramps to and from the platform and underpass. From here, there are a few bike racks, paths to an apartment complex and Bishop Ave, and a probably toxic pond. That apartment complex has its own parking lot, but it’s reserved for “authorized vehicles” only – presumably people living in it.
So the sheltered part of the outbound side is lined with benches and wastebaskets, with an eventual ramp leading to the low-level platform toward Providence Road. Meanwhile, the unsheltered portion has lots of seating too, as well as a separate shelter with more benches inside. A staircase on this end connects to the path to Bishop Ave; unfortunately, while the inbound side has a similar staircase, there’s no path. It’s an emergency exit. So if you’re coming from Bishop Ave and you want to go inbound, you have to travel to the underpass and go around.
Ridership: So when choosing the Regional Rail station to upgrade, SEPTA chose the one with 393 daily weekday boardings. Huh. Well, it is a local station with a lot of riders walking in from surrounding houses, and there are some nice sets of apartments near the station as well.
Pros: It’s so good! I gotta say, SEPTA did a great job with this station. Even if it was just the high-level platforms, it would still be a pretty good station: it’s accessible, the underpass is nice enough, and there’s a decent amount of parking for both cars and bikes. Plus, I’m not really sure why (maybe it’s because it’s almost the exact middle of the line), but every train stops at Secane – locals, expresses, you name it. It lends itself to really frequent service at rush hour. And once you factor in the station’s waiting room: WOW. It’s SO nice, and it’s open all the time! That raises the station from being good to great.
Cons: Small problems throughout, like the squashed parking machines and the lack of an inbound entrance from Bishop Ave. The level crossings at Providence Road have to stay down when outbound trains are stopped, at least based on this article, but that seems to be the only case of that happening here. Really, though, Secane’s biggest problem is just having relatively low ridership and being ridiculously close to its neighbor stations. It really feels like there were other candidates far more suited to being renovated than this one.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Gosh, it’s a really nice station. I was close to giving it a 9, but I think it’s really let down by its location. The entire Media/Elwyn Line suffers from really close stop spacing, and now that both Secane and its neighbor, Primos, have been upgraded, there’s no chance that either of them will be eliminated. Maybe there’s no chance any of the stops will be eliminated. Sigh…I guess there are always express trains at rush hour…
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Ah…back in the world of SEPTA suburban routes. I don’t think the 99 is bucking any trends as far as insanity goes.
Well, I must tell you, the first two minutes of the 99 are certified deviation-free! We left the Norristown Transportation Center and took DeKalb Street over the Schuylkill River, which was pretty wide at this point. There were some commercial buildings on the other side as we entered Bridgeport, but after we crossed some train tracks…aw man, time for the route to do a jog. So much for a clean deviation record.
So yes, we turned onto 4th Street, which had urban rowhomes, suburban businesses, and some vacant land slots. Making a ridiculously sharp turn onto Ford Street, we passed a bunch of duplex houses before reaching some businesses at the DeKalb Street Norristown High Speed Line station. DeKalb Street became the very wide DeKalb Pike after that, going through the woods for a bit before we turned onto Saulin Boulevard. Oh good, another deviation!
The only building along Saulin Boulevard was industrial, but then the road curved right, then we made another right turn onto Monroe Boulevard, and that curved its way left…and we served a little shopping plaza and apartment development. Okay, but, like, this stuff is a 6-minute walk from the main road, and the roads are sidewalked, and the 124 already goes straight by it without having to deviate…argh, okay. Well, at any rate, we used Henderson Road to get back onto DeKalb Pike.
DeKalb Pike was a giant road passing suburban businesses…and a random cemetery in the middle of it all. We crossed I-276, and on the other side, we pulled off to begin our deviation through the bowels of the King of Prussia Mall. After navigating several roads that went underneath the massive building, we pulled into the main bus stop there, and a bunch of people got off.
We made our way out of the mall and crossed I-276 again on Allendale Road. One side of this road was single-family houses, while the other side featured office buildings. We went full-on office, though, when the bus turned onto 1st Ave – it was all big buildings surrounded by parking lots, plus the Valley Forge Casino. At that point, we turned onto Gulph Road.
Gulph Road ran alongside Valley Forge National Park, so during our brief time on it, we got beautiful views of open countryside. Then we headed onto a highway ramp for Route 422 and got a brief express section crossing the Schuylkill! It was over almost as soon as it started, though – we took the next exit onto Trooper Road.
Another weird situation where houses were on one side and office buildings were on the other, huh? Alright, sure. But soon both sides became suburban businesses, and we did a rather clever deviation via Shannondell Boulevard that not only served a small shopping plaza, but also saved time by avoiding a big out-of-the-way intersection. That’s how you do it!
We turned onto Egypt Road outside of a massive apartment development, then it became mostly houses, with a giant golf course as well. “Audubon Village” had a few businesses in it, but don’t be fooled by the name – it was a shopping plaza, and moreover a small one that didn’t require a deviation. We crossed Perkiomen Creek, and just when I was starting to enjoy how straight the route had been recently, it threw a monster deviation at everyone.
So first we took a right onto Black Rock Road, then a left into Oaks Shopping Center, which was tiny and had basically nothing of interest, and if the sidewalk infrastructure was even a tiny bit better, the bus wouldn’t have to serve it at all. We then came down on Mill Road, and there was this big loop to serve the Marketplace at Oaks, which included a number of recreational businesses, a BJ’s, and the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. And on the way back up to the main road, there was one more deviation-within-a-deviation to serve the Oaks Corporate Center, which consisted of three small office buildings. Cool.
So we made our way back to Cider Mill Road, which ran through the woods. This was a weekend, so we skipped past the weekday-only deviation to SEI Investments (which wouldn’t have to be done if the sidewalk infrastructure was marginally better; also, for their error-of-the-day, SEPTA calls this place SEI Industries in the paper schedule), and we went by a few housing developments later on. There was some serious hilly forest running after that, with our street becoming Arcola Road. We skipped another weekday-only deviation, this one to Providence Corporate Center, which is weekday-only despite having a big apartment complex in it. Then again, if the road through it had a sidewalk, the bus wouldn’t have to deviate at all. Ugh.
Rather than turn onto Collegeville Road immediately, we got to do a seven days a week deviation! This involved continuing straight down Arcola Road and looping around Providence Town Center, a fake suburban town center with more parking than building space. And guess what? If there were sidewalks, the bus wouldn’t have to do this. I’m sensing a pattern here!
We headed back onto Collegeville Road, entering the straight-as-an-arrow home stretch! There were lots of housing developments along here, plus a golf course and some last remaining vestiges of farmland that haven’t yet been taken over by sprawl. As the road’s name became Bridge Street, though, the houses became much more natural, like they had actually been built organically.
There was a fire station and a supermarket before Bridge Street crossed the Schuylkill, and then…we were in Phoenixville. And we went straight down that main drag, and it was like heaven. This town was so much more interesting than anything else we had seen before, with quirky businesses in charming, dense, walkable buildings! We used the more residential Church Street to loop around, but even then, they were dense rowhouses. The bus reached its layover point, and I was excited to explore.
Route: 99 (Phoenixville to Norristown Transportation Center)
Ridership: The weekday ridership is 1,552 people per day, which adds up to around 25 per trip. Given that a number of weekday journeys are short-turns, it’s not bad, and the route ends up being the 13th-busiest suburban bus on SEPTA. My Sunday morning trip, though, got 46 riders (with 20 riding through past KOP)! Maybe the route’s ridership is peaky, so it averages to around 25? Maybe Sunday ridership is similar to weekday, but the lower frequency increases the number of people on each bus? I’m not sure.
Pros: I think the fact that this is a direct link from Norristown and Bridgeport to the King of Prussia Mall helps a lot with ridership, but it’s also a seven-days-a-week connection to a number of important suburban destinations, including Phoenixville. On weekdays and Saturdays, the route runs about every 30 minutes to King of Prussia and every hour to Phoenixville, while on Sundays, it’s simply hourly – this is a pretty good schedule for a suburban route, I think, especially given the ridership proportions.
Cons: Honestly, it all comes down to the routing. But that is a big problem when the route is as crazy as this one is! I get that it’s the only bus that runs through a lot of low-density areas, so the squiggling around makes an iota of sense, but so many of the deviations wouldn’t have to be performed if the pedestrian infrastructure was just a little bit better! Although that’s up to the towns and not SEPTA, those improvements would streamline the 99 a lot.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Phoenixville! Oh my gosh, it’s incredible! There’s this big hippie culture there, and a bunch of the businesses just sell weird stuff – they’re a blast to walk through. It also has a really cool movie theater, several breweries, and an annual festival where they light a giant wooden phoenix on fire!!!! Yeah…Phoenixville is really cool. I’ll also throw in a bizarre museum on the 99’s Marketplace at Oaks deviation: the American Treasure Tour Museum has a bunch of weird, mostly 20th Century historical junk, and it just seems like a strange, fun place to visit. Lots of good stuff on the 99!
Final Verdict: 4/10
The route gets credit for good ridership and a good schedule for a suburban bus, but I can’t give it much more than that because the routing is just ridiculous. Like I said, the first and probably less controversial solution is to build proper road crossings to allow the 99 to skip some of the mini-deviations. But for something more spicy, how about swapping the 99 and the 131? Also see the map here.
Now, this isn’t perfect – it makes for longer travel times for people going to the 131’s deviations in Audubon, most notably. But despite looking pretty long, the routing via the former 99 is not horrible, especially when the Henderson Square Shopping Center deviation is removed (I was considering eliminating the Bridgeport jog as well, but it does serve a lot of rowhouses that aren’t covered by anything else – consider it a possibility), and when you consider that the southern part of the 131 is less affected thanks to being on the way of the former 99 anyway. This also somewhat screws over people going from the western part of the 99 to the King of Prussia Mall, but most of the route that way is commercial, and Phoenixville gets a much more direct link to the mall by way of the 139 (although that only runs six days a week). And for anyone going from the western part of the 99 to Norristown, this is a major improvement.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
The Boston Shuttle. This thing is a beast. You may remember my angry review of the Worcester Shuttle, which boasted an insane boarding procedure requiring passengers to give the driver their names, a minibus with absolutely no signage, and a schedule that was literally impossible to adhere to. Well…let’s see how this one compares!
Like last time, we’ll look at the schedule first. Now the first thing to note is that the yellow stops are “guaranteed,” meaning the bus will automatically stop at them no matter what. You might notice that there are only guaranteed stops in one direction, and none in Boston. This means two things: 1) the $3 fare between guaranteed stops only applies to Boston-bound buses, and 2) in order to get picked up in Boston, you need to call MART at least an hour before the time shown for your location. Neither of these things are what I would call positive.
But don’t worry, the bus will almost certainly arrive late! I’ll give it credit for the guaranteed stop timings, which are at least doable if traffic is light, but it goes completely out the window beyond there. Ten minutes from Littleton Station to Concord Emerson Hospital? Not possible. Ten minutes from there to Bedford VA? Not possible. Fifteen minutes from there to Alewife? Not possible. My favorite is giving the bus five minutes from the vague “METRO BOSTON/MAJOR HOSPITALS” to West Roxbury VA, which seems very much impossible! I guess most of them are request stops, but it would certainly be very late if people were boarding at each one.
Luckily, based on my experiences from the Worcester Shuttle, I knew that this one would use an unmarked minibus that would board in the weird second busway at the Fitchburg ITC. My friend and I boarded the bus with our CharlieCards ready to pay, but this would prove to be problematic. “I gotta figure out how to turn this thing on,” the driver said, referring to the CharlieCard machine in the minibus.
There was also a problem with our destinations. I was going to West Roxbury VA, since I figured that would be the weirdest and furthest place to go. For my friend, it would be most convenient to go to Mount Auburn Hospital, which we figured would fall under the “METRO BOSTON/MAJOR HOSPITALS” designation – it’s in Metro Boston, and it’s a major hospital. “That’s in Cambridge,” the driver said. “I can’t go there.”
We managed to reach a compromise when the driver realized that we’d be more or less passing Mount Auburn Hospital anyway on the way to West Roxbury. “Alright, I can take you there,” he said. Hooray! Now it was time to embark, and I must tell you, the route we took was crazy. To help you follow along, here’s a map I made showing the streets we used. Okay, now let’s do this!
I figured we’d go the normal MART route on Water Street, but no, we actually took a right onto Main Street and another right onto Summer Street. This area had a few industrial buildings, but it was mostly residential otherwise. Suddenly, we turned onto Harvard Street, taking a cool-looking bridge over the Nashua River before…taking a left onto Water Street. Maybe it was faster to take the weird Summer Street route to get here?
Well, we would now surely take Water Street to the Leominster Senior Center. The street was a total mix of buildings, with industrial, residential, and commercial structures. Then…we merged onto Abbott Ave? Huh? This narrow road ran through a residential area past the back of the MART garage, and eventually it just approached Route 2 at a 90-degree angle. Okay, so we made the (incredibly unsafe) turn onto the highway, and we were now expressing westward. Apparently.
But we took the very next exit onto Merriam Ave, entering Leominster as we passed the appropriately-named Twin City Plaza. We came into a residential area after that, though, going by Pierce Pond as well. Using Lindell Ave to get onto Maple Ave, we then merged into West Street, with houses surrounding us all the while.
The houses started to get closer together, and we soon arrived at the Leominster Senior Center. “Hey,” the driver said as we pulled up to the stop. “What are your names?” No! I had completely forgotten about that part! Argh, why the heck does MART feel the need to do this??? We gave the driver our last names and first initials, per usual, but luckily this route didn’t seem to have the “wait 5 minutes at each stop” rule that the Worcester Shuttle had; we pulled out after that, only running about 9 minutes late.
West Street passed through Monument Square, Leominster’s underwhelming downtown, and it turned into Mechanic Street on the other side. There were pretty dense houses and apartments along here, as well as a few local businesses, but buildings got further apart quickly. The road eventually curved a bit south and passed a giant field and a few office buildings.
We entered the woods as we crossed the Nashua River again, and after the road went under I-190, we ended up passing through a big ol’ farm! We were at a highway interchange soon after that, and so we merged onto Route 2 to begin our true express portion. Wait…but there was an interchange further back on Mechanic Street that we could’ve used…never mind, I won’t question it.
We blazed through the woods on Route 2 for a few exits, but this was a short segment because there’s a “guaranteed stop” at MWCC Devens. Pulling off the highway at Exit 37, we took Jackson Road over the seemingly-ubiquitous-at-this-point Nashua River, entering the mess of office and army buildings known as Devens, MA. Why there’s a Mount Wachusett Community College building out here, I have no idea, but we still deviated into its parking lot and unsurprisingly picked up no one.
With that, we headed back down Jackson Road and merged onto Route 2 once more. Again, we rushed through the woods for a few exits but had to leave the highway one more time, at Exit 39, in order to serve Littleton Station. This took us onto Taylor Street, which ran past some office buildings, as did our next road, Foster Street. Pulling into the Littleton parking lot, we (once again unsurprisingly) picked up no one. On the way out, we got held up by a train at the level crossing.
Making our way back onto the highway, it would surely be an express straight to Boston now. Well, barring the fact that Route 2 ceases to be a highway in Acton. It’s still a fast-moving road, but it has a few level intersections with traffic lights and there are a few buildings along it (in this case, a recycling center and a motel with a rather low star rating on Google).
The road entered a rotary with a prison next to it, then we crossed the Assabet River (hey, anything that’s not the Nashua is okay with me). And then…we left the highway? Yeah, we turned off onto Elm Street, which was a very local road through a residential neighborhood. Even weirder was turning onto Musketaquid Road, a mansion-lined street so narrow that it shouldn’t have been two-way, let alone allowed a minibus to drive down it.
We turned onto Nashawtuc Road next, another narrow street that crossed the Sudbury River, which seemed to have submerged a number of trees. 2011 Street View images show the area as being a field, with the river being a normal width, so this flooding was relatively recent. Nashawtuc Road heads straight to Concord Station, but just before it, we turned onto Main Street, making our way towards Concord Center instead. We passed Concord Academy and a public library across the street, then we were in and among the old-timey shops in Concord’s downtown.
We maneuvered our way around some traffic islands in the center, ending up on Bedford Street, which had a cemetery on one side and houses on the other. Hang on…Bedford Street? Oh, maybe we were going to the Bedford VA! We were definitely heading in that direction as the road passed more houses, as well as some forest and farmland.
The street became Concord Road as we entered Bedford. It would head straight into Bedford Center, where we could…wait, why are we turning onto McMahon Ave? Okay, I guess we were back in narrow side street land as we turned onto Railroad Ave, which looped its way around a middle school and Bedford High School before passing a few industrial buildings and arriving at the end of the Minuteman Bikeway.
There were MBTA bus signs in view at this intersection! We were getting close! So, would we follow the 62 up South Road to get to the VA? Nope, we took Hartford Street instead, a parallel road a block away that was once again a narrow residential side street. Its name changed no fewer than three times before settling on Springs Road; at this point, the 62’s route had joined us too!
We headed past a park and golf course before entering the Bedford VA campus. Would we loop around and use the 62‘s stop? No, that would be ridiculous. The bus pulled into this weird parking lot surrounded by back entrances to the hospital. There were two old men waiting to board. “Wow, you’re early today!” one of them said as he stepped on. “Yup, I found a shortcut!” the driver replied. I checked my watch. We had arrived 22 minutes late.
And another fatal flaw of the route was revealed here: Bedford VA is only “served” in the Boston-bound direction. That meant that these guys who just got on would have to sit through our deviations in Boston. Why the heck is that the case?? Emerson Hospital in Concord is served in both directions! Why not Bedford VA?
Heading back the way we came for a bit, we turned off onto the all-residential Page Road. This was pretty consistently houses, with not much deviation aside from a swimming and tennis club and a crossing of the Shawsheen River. Entering Lexington, the road became Grove Street and we were running along with the Lexpress 6, of all things.
We eventually turned onto Burlington Street and soon after went around a rotary to Hancock Street. The houses along here started to get denser as we got closer to Lexington Center, but we skirted it by using Harrington Road to traverse the northwest side of Lexington Common. This took us to a brief stretch on Mass Ave before we turned onto Worthen Road, following the MBTA 76‘s route and going by recreational facilities and Lexington High.
We then turned onto Waltham Street, which aside from a bit of retail at the intersection with Marrett Road, was entirely residential. However, we soon passed a small farm and golf club before…oh my gosh, Route 2! We could run express again! Yes, we got this blissful express section for…a few exits. And then we got off again.
We were on Pleasant Street for a block before turning onto Brighton Street, which ran past the dense yet suburban houses of east Belmont. This was following the route of the MBTA 78, and we actually saw one along here! There were some businesses and industrial buildings centered around a level crossing with the Fitchburg Line, then the street turned into Blanchard Road as we approached Concord Ave.
Crossing Concord Ave, we were now following the 74, but we took a rotary onto Grove Street to join up with the 75. This took us past a golf course, which continued as we turned onto Huron Ave alongside a playground and a cemetery. Reaching a point where everything felt bizarre because we were in a MART minibus, we took a right onto Aberdeen Ave, running under the trolley wires on this wide-medianed street.
Taking a left onto Mount Auburn Street, we ran along the Mount Auburn Cemetery before crossing Fresh Pond Parkway. The Mount Auburn Hospital was here, and we pulled straight up to the front door to let my friend off. Meanwhile, I was here for the long haul: we still had to get to West Roxbury!
Now, as we headed west on Mount Auburn Street again, we faced a bit of a predicament: we had to make a left onto Fresh Pond Parkway (er…Gerry’s Landing Road? I had no idea it was called that), but that’s an illegal move. So instead, we took a left onto the residential Coolidge Ave, made a three-point turn at the closest intersection, and swung our way back up so we could take a right! Well, that’s one way to solve the problem!
Now on Fresh Po…er, Gerry’s Landing Road, we swung over the Charles River on Eliot Bridge and then hooked a right onto Soldiers Field Road. I was really hoping we would go on Storrow Drive, making for possibly the only public transit experience anyone would ever get on that low-clearance highway, but alas, we were heading westward instead. Granted, part of my reasoning for choosing West Roxbury VA was that I assumed there would be at least one person getting on at “METRO BOSTON/AREA HOSPITALS” so we would have to deviate downtown – that didn’t seem to be the case, though.
We passed a bunch of parks, both Harvard-owned and public, before taking the little side road on the right that lets vehicles go left onto Everett Street. This took us straight into an actual neighborhood, and although the road itself was pretty industrial, the side streets were full of dense houses. We crossed I-90 and the Worcester Line, getting a view of rush hour commuters at Boston Landing, then we turned onto Beacon Street (soon to become Brighton Ave) into Union Square.
We would basically become a 66 at this point, turning onto Harvard Ave when we got to it. Although the side streets were full of dense houses, Harvard Ave was a totally commercial corridor, with a bunch of businesses centered around Commonwealth Ave and Coolidge Corner (Beacon Street). Hang on…Comm Ave and Beacon Street? We were interacting with the Green Line! In a MART minibus!
We continued down Harvard Ave, passing more businesses and some apartments, but suddenly we turned onto School Street, which became Cypress Street. Harvard Ave had been super urban, but Cypress Street was leafy with large duplex and single-family houses. We went by Brookline Hills Station and crossed Route 9, and the neighborhood got denser south of there, with apartments and some local businesses along the road.
We took a left onto Chestnut Street, which swung around a rotary before we headed onto Perkins Street. Sailing along Jamaica Pond, we were very much in the woodsy part of Brookline now, with the street becoming Goddard Ave and passing some very large houses. The road did some curves as it went by a private grade school.
We were going along Larz Anderson Park now, whose luscious landscaping made it feel like a country estate (oh wait, it was). Goddard Street merged into Newton Street, which ran between some farms and a golf course, although both were blocked by trees on each side. There was finally a bit of civilization after a cemetery, with some businesses at a rotary and little houses along Grove Street. We were following the 51 now.
The road became Independence Drive as we entered Boston, and we passed through an apartment development. There were some businesses and a small clinic at the intersection with VFW Parkway, onto which we turned, flying down the wide, woodsy road. There were houses along here, and…well, not a ton else for a while.
The parkway went past a cemetery and a marsh, and there were some condos and businesses after we went under the Needham Line. As the Charles River showed up on the right, the VA Hospital appeared to the left. Oh my gosh! We made it! I realized just how uncomfortable I had been sitting in this jiggly minibus for two and a half hours as I got out of it, having arrived at the destination a cool 55 minutes late.
MART Route: Boston Shuttle
Ridership: MART counts the Boston and Worcester Shuttles as the same thing, so between the two, they get…24 riders a day. That’s around 4 riders per round trip. Assuming no one boarded my bus at Alewife or Concord on the way back, its round trip just got two other riders, the people from Bedford. So basically, ridership on this route is not very good.
Pros: Okay, a direct connection from Fitchburg to basically any hospital in the Boston area (well, not Mount Auburn, though) is pretty sweet. I wouldn’t expect such a specialized service to run any more often than three times a day, so the frequency is fine. The general fare of $12 is very slightly cheaper than the Commuter Rail, plus there are a number of discounts for certain groups of people, including free rides for veterans.
Cons: 55 minutes late? Really? Honestly, they shouldn’t even have printed times on the schedule beyond the guaranteed stops (which are kind of a waste to begin with). It should just say something like “The bus will serve whichever hospitals are requested”, and the bus driver can give passengers an estimated time of arrival based on traffic and how many hospitals they’re scheduled to serve. As it stands, you better not schedule an appointment for around the scheduled arrival time, because you probably won’t make it! And please, for the sake of those two people who seem to regularly use the bus from Bedford, make it a return stop too! Finally, giving your name to the driver…yeah, still really annoying.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I mean, lots of hospitals in Boston, I guess! But you could sort of cheat the system if you happen to be coming from Fitchburg and trying to go somewhere in Boston. Want some good food in Chinatown? Take the Boston Shuttle to Tufts! Want some history at Beacon Hill? Take the Boston Shuttle to Mass General! Want some exposure to world-class art museums? Take the Boston Shuttle to Longwood!
Final Verdict: 3/10
I find it a lot harder to get angry about this one than I did for the Worcester Shuttle. Whereas the Worcester Shuttle’s schedule was flat-out impossible to accomplish, especially when the bus had to hold for five minutes at each stop, this one is…well, still fairly impossible, but technically feasible depending on which hospitals the bus is asked to go to. Still, just ditch the schedule, it’s only providing false hope. Other than that, the route just gets such low ridership and it’s so expensive for MART to run that it’s hard to justify a score higher than a 3. It serves its purpose, but it’s also completely insane.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Alright, Doylestown, you’re gonna have to come through for me here. Your town is so quaint and pretty, so I need this station to live up to that standard. Do you think you can do that for me?
The entrance to Doylestown from South Clinton Street (or South Clinton Avenue, as SEPTA says on their website, because they can’t seem to do anything right) is fairly unassuming: at first glance, you see a platform, a few bike racks, and a 169-space parking lot ($1 a day, free on weekends, one sign says no overnight parking ever while the others seem okay with it). But what’s that building in the distance…?
Ah, I love Doylestown’s station building. Beneath its awnings, it shelters some benches, some wastebaskets, and a convenient ATM (maybe one day a Key fare machine, eh, SEPTA?). Inside its walls made of stone, there’s the typical SEPTA building that’s only open during the morning rush (it looked fairly nice from what I could see), but there’s also a really cute sewing store that’s open generally midday, every day except Monday! I wouldn’t expect anything less specific and unique from Doylestown.
Most of the platform amenities are concentrated around the building, too. You’ve got a bunch of wastebaskets, a useless LED screen, train information, some newspaper boxes, and one bench. That makes for a total of two sheltered benches, with one more out in the open. I guess the two steps down to the platform proper allow for makeshift seating, too, but I can only imagine the crowd of people huddled under the building when it rains.
Darn it, Doylestown, you’re really gonna make your disabled passengers go alllllll the way to the end of the long platform to get the train from the mini-high? Not cool. At least they get to go by the outdoor seating of The Station Taphouse, which is kind of awesome, but…no, this layout is awful! Aw man, I’m gonna have a really hard time coming up with a score in the end…
Oh right, Doylestown has a bus shelter for its bus connections. Its…weird, weird bus connections. Okay, first we have the Doylestown DART, which is a weird minibus loop thing that I’ll almost certainly have to ride someday. There are also intercity buses from here, including Greyhound service to and from Philly and Scranton (ticket to Philly: $12, plus a $2.50 purchasing fee) and Transbridge service to and from NYC and the Lehigh Valley. While the fare to New York is insane ($31.35!) and even worse for the airports around there, you can go anywhere else along the route for just $4, including to places like New Hope and Bethlehem – I’ll definitely be trying this out at some point. The 55, however, does not directly serve the station.
Ridership: It’s fairly low, at 358 riders per day. Maybe it’s because the train feels more indirect from here, since it has to curve out to Lansdale and back in again? But the morning rush drive can take up to 2 hours, while the train is a consistent 90 minutes, so I dunno. I’d also be curious to know what weekend ridership is like, since Doylestown is such a great place to visit for leisure.
Pros: The building really takes the cake here, adding lots of character to the station while also providing some shelter and playing host to a sewing shop. The size of the parking lot is impressive given the downtown location of the station, and there’s a decent amount of bike parking, too. The station is a multimodal hub, with Transbridge being a particularly desirable connection.
Cons: The accessibility situation is the main offender here. While it’s good that the station’s accessible, the ease of getting onto the train for people who need a high-level platform is…low.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Aghhgahaghaah, I LOVE Doylestown! You like history and culture? Doylestown has SO much history and culture. You like restaurants? Doylestown has SO many restaurants. You like cool, unique shops? Doylestown has SO many cool, unique shops! It also has an independent movie theater and a colonial market thing and a CASTLE! Look, I’m just gonna direct you to this map; I adore this town…er, borough.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Ahhhh, I’m sorry! It just has the cute building and the bus connections and it’s in such a lovely town…argh, and I know there’s the accessibility issue, but that’s the one major problem here, and, I mean, at least the station is accessible, right? Hey, Thorndale got a 5, and Doylestown doesn’t have nearly as many problems as that station! Okay, I feel a little more content now that I’ve thought that comparison through.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
The route that’s furthest back in my backlog is one that I wanted to save to be the last MART route I review. I was all set to write it up, and then…they added this. So before I can talk about that route, I have to talk about the Littleton – Westford Commuter Rail Shuttle, which finally (at rush hour only) bridges the gap between MART and LRTA.
Now this is a cool shuttle because it serves park-and-rides for regular commuters as well as office parks for reverse commuters. My friend and I were heading outbound in the evening rush, so we were seeing the extent of the park-and-ride ridership, which was…no one. All ready to go, the minibus joined the queue of cars leaving the station, and we pulled out onto the woodsy residential Foster Street.
Once we merged with King Street, we entered some form of civilization. The houses got denser, and we soon came into Littleton Common, which consisted of some businesses with parking lots and a town common bisected by a road. The bus is supposed to deviate to the “IBM Park and Ride” (a desolate portion of the giant IBM office lot), but since the driver had asked where we were going, he knew to skip the stop.
The LRTA 15 ends at IBM on its trip from Lowell, so as we entered Westford, we were now on a double-RTA street! It was called Littleton Road now as we went by Kimball Farm and a marsh, but that bucolic charm was ruined when we entered an area of endless office parks. There were a few shopping plazas before we turned onto Technology Park Drive, a fitting name. After doing a spirally deviation into another “Park and Ride,” this one within the lot for Juniper Networks, we made our way to the Hampton Inn, the last stop before the bus would return to Littleton.
MART Route: Littleton – Westford Commuter Rail Shuttle
Ridership: That’s a big fat zero, and no one got on at any of the office parks before Hampton Inn either. Maybe some of the ones on the way back generate a few riders?
Pros: I seriously can’t speak highly enough about this route on paper! A commuter shuttle that serves both regular commuters and reverse commuters in the same corridor, timing with trains to and from Boston? I mean, it’s perfect!
Cons: I think one earlier trip in the morning and one later trip in the evening would be helpful. This definitely seems to be more geared toward office park employees, but if they wanted to make the park-and-rides more appealing (I mean, heck, $2.50 per day on the bus beats the $6 per day at Littleton), a bit more service would be great to give people options.
Nearby and Noteworthy: You could use this to get to destinations in Littleton if you want to, I guess. Littleton Common has some cool businesses. But most of the time, the LRTA 15 will probably be the better bet here.
Final Verdict: 4/10
The ridership just isn’t there right now, from what I can gather. Maybe some internal advertising within the office parks the route serves combined with a bit of extra service could increase that. It’s great on paper, but I can’t really justify giving it higher than a 4 given the ridership I saw. For what it’s worth, though, thanks to this route, you could now conceivably get from Salisbury Beach to Enfield, CT using only RTAs!
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
I don’t know what the weirdest thing about the 55 is. Is it that there’s a one-seat bus ride between Olney and Doylestown, a distance of about 20 miles? Is it that this bus, which goes way out into the hinterlands, is a City Transit route? Is it that it uses 60-foot buses? Well, if you ever want to get to Doylestown on a budget (and you have a lot of time), this is the way to do it.
The bus was pretty busy as we headed up the commercial corridor of Broad Street. We merged onto Old York Road, and a few more people got on at the first stop there. “Ain’t no way I’m standing all the way to Doylestown!” a lady exclaimed as she took one of the remaining seats. There were more businesses along here, set in three-story buildings with apartments on top.
It got residential with a lot of rowhouses and a few big apartment buildings. Because of a one-way section going the wrong way, we had to take a right onto Chelten Ave, then a left onto Broad Street, and then a right onto Old York again, passing some businesses in the process. Cheltenham Ave marked the border between Philadelphia and the outside world (Cheltenham Township, in this case), and once we crossed it, the scenery changed dramatically.
Old York Road went from being a modest two-lane street to becoming a wide four-lane road with a concrete median. We flew past a ton of leafy single-family homes on the wide road, also passing a small Jewish college and some religious buildings. Going underneath Regional Rail just north of Elkins Park Station, we ran through a “downtown” area that would’ve been a lot nicer if the roads weren’t so big and wide.
There were more houses heading north, but also another college and a few synagogues. Crossing Township Line Road, we entered Abington Township briefly before leaving it for Jenkintown, which is its own entity (I will never understand how jurisdictional borders work in Pennsylvania). Although there was a bit of suburban sprawl at first, Old York Road soon shrunk down to two lanes through downtown Jenkintown, which was an area with lots of restaurants and a really cool one-screen independent movie theater.
As we left the core of downtown, we passed a few more goodies (a beautiful library and a game store) before the road got wide and we entered the wrong side of suburbia again. Businesses with giant parking lots abounded, clustered around the Noble Regional Rail station. We passed through downtown Abington Township, I guess, which felt less like a cute town center and more like a collection of buildings and parking lots that a giant road happens to pass through.
Entering pure sprawl again, we went by Abington Hospital, and two shopping plazas right next to each other with near-identical names (“Abington Shopping Center” and “Abington Towne Center”). From there, the road was just lined with little businesses, mostly chain restaurants, that were surrounded by parking lots. We eventually curved westward, passing Willow Grove Station, and now it was time for the Willow Grove Park Mall deviation.
Okay, so the paper schedule for the 55 has this cute inset showing what route buses take at the Willow Grove Park Mall. The problem is that it’s completely wrong, so don’t trust it. We turned onto Park Ave, running past a few municipal buildings next to the Willow Grove Shopping Center. We then turned onto Moreland Road alongside The Plaza at Willow Grove Park (and an adjacent and artificial-looking pond), and finally we looped around to the bus stop for the Willow Grove Park Mall. These shopping centers all sound exactly the same and it’s driving me crazy…
A majority of 55 trips terminate here, but ours was of course one of the infrequent ones that continues to Doylestown. We turned again onto Moreland Road, then we took Easton Road around the back of the Willow Grove Shopping Center. The route actually stays on Easton Road to continue north, and we left the shopping centers of Willow Grove behind for suburban businesses, offices, and houses.
We went under the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which had an elaborate toll-controlled intersection with Easton Road. The bus was just speeding down this wide (four lanes with a center turning lane) suburban road from there, occasionally dropping people off at some of the many stops. As we approached the massive Horsham Air Guard Station, it felt even more middle-of-nowhere because of the giant airfield next to the road!
My friend and I got off along here for reasons that will be divulged in the “Nearby and Noteworthy” segment, but 80 minutes later, we were back on another bus to continue the journey northward. As the airfield ended, we crossed County Line Road into Bucks County, passing larger suburban businesses with bigger parking lots. After going over Little Neshaminy Creek, we went by a “lifestyle center” (Valley Square) across the street from a more conventional shopping center (Warrington Plaza).
The scenery north of that was a hodgepodge of housing developments, industrial buildings, businesses with parking lots, shopping centers, and whatever else Warrington Township decided to throw our way. A school? Sure. A quarry? Why not. Two prisons? Bring ’em on!
Easton Road passed through an interchange with the ridiculously overbuilt Doylestown Bypass (it was originally going to be part of a longer highway), and then an interchange with the ridiculously overbuilt Route 202 (which yes, was originally meant to be longer). Suburbia lasted for a bit longer, but…wait. The road is narrower. It’s just two lanes now! And there are old-timey streetlights! This can only mean one thing…
Doylestown’s downtown is oriented more east-west than north-south, so we were only in it for a few blocks, but while we were there, it was beautiful. And even as we left the core of it, the houses were still dense and the street was walkable. It had to end at some point, though – the road got wide again, and we started passing a bunch of shopping centers and businesses with parking lots. Cross Keys Place was the one we pulled into to end the very long ride.
Route: 55 (Willow Grove and Doylestown to Olney Transportation Center)
Ridership: My Saturday trip got a bunch of people! There were a total of 78 riders up until Horsham when we got off, and when we boarded again, there were 27 for the ride continuing north. Of those 78 people on the first trip, 34 continued past the Willow Grove Park Mall, which is where most service ends. That makes me wonder if the Willow Grove trips get significantly fewer riders than the Doylestown ones. An interesting note about the 55 is that because it serves so many suburban job centers, the peak direction is actually away from Olney in the morning and towards Olney in the evening.
Pros: The trunk portion of the route to Willow Grove gets great service for such a suburban line: every 10-13 minutes at rush hour, every 18-20 minutes middays, every 20 minutes on Saturdays, and every 30 minutes on Sundays. The route runs super early and late, too, with the last trip on weekdays leaving Olney at 2:37 AM, and the first one leaving at 4:29 AM! Finally, the route itself is completely straight aside from the one deviation at Willow Grove Park Mall (which is a big enough destination to justify it), and it provides a good way for people to get out to suburban retail jobs.
Cons: Once you get north of Willow Grove, the service drops dramatically. First of all, there’s a stupid number of complicated variants on weekdays, to the point where I don’t even want to count them for fear of missing one. Looks like…8? Maybe more? I’m not sure. Anyway, a lot of these variants are limited trips to industrial parks that do make reasonable sense, such as Willow Grove Industrial Commons (which is really close to the 22 as the crow flies, but a 40-minute walk in actuality) and a 2:37 AM trip to UPS when nothing else runs there. Some of the more annoying ones are the trips to Valley Square about halfway between Willow Grove and Doylestown that just run whenever they want, and the once-a-day afternoon trip that deviates to Warrington Industrial Park. If you’re gonna make people walk in the morning anyway, then why not remove the afternoon trip to simplify the service at least a little bit? And from what I can gather from the load profile, even some of the variants that seem to make sense don’t get people. The bus that arrives at Willow Grove Industrial Commons at 7:14 seems to get around 4 riders, and the one that arrives at 11:36 apparently gets zero!
All of these variants also serve to take away service from Doylestown, which gets pretty screwed over. On weekdays it’s (approximately) every hour, which is passable, but every 80 minutes on Saturdays and every 90 minutes on Sundays is really bad service. Retail doesn’t close on weekends! I know it would take a lot more service hours to operate since Doylestown is way out there, but every 60 minutes minimum on weekends would be at least somewhat usable for these suburban areas with surprisingly strong transit demand.
Nearby and Noteworthy: I’ve talked about Jenkintown and Doylestown (the latter of which I will almost certainly gush about when I review its station), but what was that destination we got off the bus in Horsham for? The Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum. This amazing museum is cheap to visit, and it covers a forgotten piece of aviation history that was supposed to be the next big thing: the autogyro, which I had never heard of before visiting the museum. The volunteers inside are incredibly nice and knowledgeable, too. I cannot recommend this place enough.
Final Verdict: 5/10
Service south of Willow Grove is about a 7, and service north of Willow Grove is about a 3 or 4, so I averaged the two out. The route north of Willow Grove just gets far too complicated and infrequent to be a usable transit service. But there are ways to fix it! First of all, this route uses 60-foot buses, but no trip exceeds about 53 people, which a 60-footer can easily handle. A rush hour with service every 15 minutes instead of every 12-ish should be able to handle those loads just fine. And where do the gained service hours go? Towards better Doylestown service, of course! Like I said, 60 minutes minimum would provide a usable service for the people that go up beyond Willow Grove, which was a surprising amount. If 30-odd people per trip are willing to use a bus that runs every 80 minutes, a bus that comes every 60 could probably attract a few more. Even if not (weekday trips seem to average around 20 according to the load profile), it sure would make their lives easier.
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
I was with my friend on the Red Line leaving Ashmont. “I have to use the bathroom,” they said. And I…had no idea where any bathrooms were. I knew there was one at South Station, but were there any before that? “If only someone had made a map showing all of the public bathrooms on the T,” I thought.
Now that map exists! A female friend and I went around the whole system to every station with fare control snapping photos of and taking notes about all the bathrooms we could find. I then compiled them into an interactive map (with lots of info about each one) and a cobbled-together MS Paint version of the official MBTA map (in case you really gotta go and don’t want to futz around with that interactive map stuff). Here’s the diagrammatic one (I’ll explain the icons in more detail below):
And here’s the interactive Google map (or click here, which seems to work a lot better):
Firstly, the colors. Green means that the station is inside fare control, as in you have to be on the paid side of the fare gates in order to access it. Red is the opposite, meaning that you have to leave the fare gates to get to that bathroom (or if you happen to be in the area – lucky you, it’s a public restroom!).
The numbers represent a somewhat subjective rating system. We scored each bathroom on a 1 to 3 scale, with 3 being the best and 1 being the worst. You might disagree with our scores (everyone’s tolerance for grossness is different), but they should give you a rough idea of what you’re getting yourself into. They also only represent the conditions when we were there – things may have changed since then.
The interactive map adds some more info about each bathroom. You can click on one to see whether it’s single-stall or multiple-stall, whether or not it’s gendered, some notes about its condition, and photos. There’s also a hidden layer of bathrooms that look public but are locked (or at least, they were locked when we came through) – open up the map description and check off that layer if you want to see those.
UPDATE: A note on our rules. I should’ve done a better job explaining which bathrooms we count and which ones we don’t. Our rules were MBTA property only (thus excluding the Macy’s that connects to Downtown Crossing, for example), and bathrooms that can be accessed by the public without needing to ask anyone. There are a lot of unmarked employee bathrooms around the system that the public could use if they asked nicely and the employee on hand was willing to let them, but we didn’t want to count those cases because a number of factors dictate whether or not you can use them. Bathrooms that look public but aren’t appear in the “Locked Bathrooms” layer in the interactive map.
So if you know someone with a tendency to have to use the bathroom often (but let’s be real, we all have emergencies), send this to them! Now they’ll be able to know everywhere on the MBTA where they can go.
Oh come on, SEPTA, stop teasing us! “201 S. Bailey Road, Coatesville, PA, 19320”? There’s a lot of ambiguity about which borough or township or whatever Thorndale Station is in, but it sure as heck isn’t Coatesville…even though the Paoli/Thorndale Line should absolutely be extended there. But nope, we’re stuck with Thorndale, about three miles down the road and basically in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the station will be good, at least.
Thorndale has signs everywhere saying that trains could depart on either side. Now, I don’t know if this is true or not, but if it was, I would have two observations right off the bat: 1) it’s a huge pain to get between platforms because this station is the width of, like, ten tracks, and 2) it would stink to leave from the northern platform, because it’s way worse than the southern one. Why’s that, then?
Unlike the other side, the north (we’ll say “outbound”) platform is almost entirely low-level! There’s a mini-high platform way down, making for a super long trip for anyone who can’t use stairs. The eastern side has a shelter, at least, and beneath it is a decent amount of seating. You’ve also got wastebaskets, Key Card readers, train information, a help phone, and an LED train departure screen that just says “No Info Available.” (since we’re at a terminal station, I guess)
I like the way they’ve set up the exits from this platform: a winding ramp is there for those who need it, but there are also two staircases that provide more direct trips down. The pedestrian amenities on Lincoln Highway when you get to the bottom are pretty poor, with the only sidewalk leading toward the intersection with Bailey Road. That’s also the only place where you can cross the highway. But why would you want to do that…?
Despite Coatesville being in SEPTA’s service area, they can’t even be bothered to run a bus out there, so Krapf’s comes in to fill the gap. Their Route “A” runs from Coatesville to West Chester serving three Regional Rail stations along the way. Thorndale is the closest one to Coatesville, making it the best place to transfer if you’re heading out there. That means it would make a lot of sense if the closest westbound bus shelter wasn’t really inconvenient to access, requiring jaywalking to get to in the most efficient manner. Well…I guess no one thought to tell Krapf’s that. There is a stop with just a sign in a slightly more convenient place, and the eastbound shelter is super easy to get to (although I would guess that that’s the lesser-used direction).
Getting between the platforms is a bit of an ordeal, requiring one to use a grimy sidewalk elevated above the road underneath the railroad bridge. Mystery liquid drips down the walls, and watch out for the big metal plate that was totally blocking the sidewalk when I was here (although it’s probably gone now). I love the old Amtrak logos on the bridge, though – did Amtrak ever even stop here?
The other side of the station is where all of the parking is. A small lot right next to the platform only has disabled parking, with a total of ten spaces; it also pretty much functions as a drop-off area. Some bike racks at one end of the lot accommodate about six bikes, but annoyingly, no one thought to build a sidewalk from there to the stairs (yes, it’s a short distance along a quiet parking lot, but still). Meanwhile, across the street is the 447-space proper parking lot, which costs a dollar a day or $25 a month for a permit (free on weekends). Payment is in the form of coin-only honor boxes, but I would guess that the Key-based payment machines they’ve set up here are up and running by now.
Like with the outbound side, the inbound side features a crazy ramp. This one starts at the underpass beneath the tracks and snakes its way up to the platform via the accessible parking lot. There are also stair alternatives from both the underpass and the lot.
So again, there’s an apparent ambiguity about which side of the station trains will stop on. I don’t know if that’s true or not – I mean, when I was here, everybody knew to convene on the inbound side – but this southern platform is way better. Fully high level? Check. Lots of shelter? Check. Plenty of seating and amenities? Checkeroo. The one problem is, again, the real-time signs just saying “No info available,” but it’s a terminal station, so they probably can’t generate real-time predictions from here. Scheduled times would be nice, though. At any rate, this platform is leagues ahead of the one on the other side of the tracks.
Ridership: It’s pretty respectable for a Regional Rail station, especially one that really doesn’t get that much service: Thorndale gets 535 boardings per weekday and 558 alightings. If you divide the 558 figure by the 21 trains that serve the station every weekday, you get about 27 people coming here on each train. Even on the Saturday morning I was here, there were maybe 15 people who boarded the train.
Pros: It’s kind of amazing how neatly this station organizes its good bits and bad bits – all of the good parts are to the south. The inbound platform is fantastic (fully high level, amenities, the works), and the lots offer plenty of parking for both cars and bikes.
Cons: Meanwhile, the north side of the station has the mostly low-level outbound platform and the pretty weak pedestrian and bus infrastructure. For some more general notes, the ambiguity about which side the train is going to board on is frustrating given the length of time it takes to cross the tracks, although I would guess that most if not all trains board on the inbound side. Also, this station just doesn’t get great service – hourly on weekdays is okay, as is the roughly half-hourly rush hour schedule, but every 2+ hours on Saturdays? No Sunday service? Awful!
Nearby and Noteworthy: Welcome to, as the signs say, the “Thorndale Business District.” Here you’ll find a Wawa. An Applebee’s. A Kohl’s. Well, at least there’s a diner for breakfast and a pizza joint for dinner.
Final Verdict: 5/10
With the assumption that most to all trains board on the inbound side, I feel comfortable giving this a 5. It still has a lot of problems, from the low-level outbound platform to the limited service, but it feels wrong to give a suburban station with parking and a high-level platform a lower score. I mean, its purpose is to get suburbanites into the city, and it basically accomplishes that. Thorndale’s biggest flaw, though? Not being Coatesville. Let’s extend that line!
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Consider this my SEPTA service change guide. Literally the only non-seasonal change they seem to be making is the elimination of the 205, and the rerouting of the 204 and 206 to compensate. Thus, I figured why not ride the very last trip on this completely insignificant Regional Rail suburban feeder and review it?
I made sure to get an early 124 that would give me plenty of time in Chesterbrook, since I don’t trust the 124 not to be late. True to form, we arrived at Chesterbrook about 20 minutes behind schedule, giving me half an hour to find the stop. One problem, though: there were no stops that said “205” on them. Either SEPTA took down the 205 signs in advance, or they never had them up to begin with. I wouldn’t put the latter past them…
Eventually I gave up my search and just walked over to the little 30-foot bus, which was laying over in an office park. “Where do you board?” I asked through the open window. She told me to wait at the bus shelter that said “124” on it. I walked over there, and about ten minutes later, the bus pulled out of its hidey-hole (one minute early) to begin the last-ever 205 trip. There was one other rider on board, surprisingly!
We began by looping around the Chesterbrook Corporate Center on its office park roads, picking up no one else. Making our way to Duportail Road, we ended up in the woods, passing only an ominous “Authorized Vehicles Only” driveway. After the intersection with Swedesford Road, our street turned into…a highway on-ramp. Okay, did not realize the 205 had an express section.
We had a nice nonstop portion along Route 202, going by woods and highway walls with trees painted on them. Once we took the exit (marked simply “Exit”), we were back in office park land, going down Swedesford Road past streets with really fancily-foliaged medians. Turning onto Chesterfield Parkway, we ran through a series of office parks that included picnic tables next to parking lots (ho hum) and a beach volleyball court (ooh!). Someone else got on along here, which was exciting.
Crossing Swedesford Road for the last time, our street became Cedar Hollow Road, which went over Route 202 and across the Chester Valley Trail. There was even a residential neighborhood that we went by! We turned onto Industrial Boulevard next, which pulled a 180-degree turn around this bizarre incomplete rotary next to some office parks before climbing up into the woods. Our little bus was really struggling to get up the hill!
We broke out into the Paoli Medical Plaza, where the guy who boarded in Chesterbrook left the bus – that’s a trip he won’t be able to make again after today. The road curved around to an intersection with Lancaster Ave, onto which we turned. We went underneath the Main Line tracks, then there was some retail development that I guess was downtown Paoli. “Paoli Village Shoppes” – give me a break. And then the SEPTA station popped up out of nowhere, and into it we went. I was the last person ever to step off a 205!
Route: 205 (Chesterbrook to Paoli Station)
Ridership: 40 whole riders a day? Averaging out to two people per trip? How could they posssssibly justify getting rid of thissssss?
Pros: The route pretty nicely aligns with Paoli/Thorndale Line trains, and I gotta say, it was impressive that we left Chesterbrook a minute early and arrived at Paoli a minute early. Essentially right on schedule!
Cons: Who would want to use this to commute to Chesterbrook when in order to get there, you have to take this crazy roundabout trip? The 124 is a mess, but getting off at Gulph Mills and taking the Norristown High Speed Line in eases the pain quite a lot! And 40 riders a day, I mean, come on…
Nearby and Noteworthy: You like office parks? The 205 gives you office parks. You like beach volleyball? The 205 gives you beach volleyball.
Final Verdict: 2/10
Yeah, I mean, rerouting the 204 and 206 to cover up for the 205’s loss makes a lot of sense to me. I fully support the elimination of this route. I just hope that guy who went from Chesterbrook to Paoli Medical Plaza can find another way there, though…
Latest SEPTA News: Service Updates
Time to tackle the Massachusetts RTAs! Not every system is incorporating changes, and not all of those changes are groundbreaking, but there’s some cool stuff in here. If you’re short on time, head down to RIPTA, which is doing the coolest thing.
They didn’t announce it on their website, but the last trip on the 21X will shift up 15 minutes to accommodate passengers from the 11N. That’ll start on September 3rd. Dunno why they didn’t do the same for the last 1, though…
Aside from losing seasonal services, nothing.
Gosh, all of the RTAs that come first alphabetically aren’t doing much! The CCRTA’s fall schedule, like always, removes seasonal routes and Sunday service. There is one minor change, though: buses tend to run express to Patriot Square after their runs, since that’s where the yard is. Those trips now show up on the schedule.
Ooh ooh ooh, hang on, this is interesting. GATRA is entering the – ahem – “microtransit” market with a new flexible route in Foxboro and Mansfield. It went into service on August 19th, and it’s free “thru” September! It uses the Transloc app, but you can also book a ride on the phone or online. This will basically be a free Uber that (presumably) uses a minibus, and you can certainly color me intrigued.
“The Circulator route [the 9] will make changes to its route pattern in order to improve on time performance.” Oh cool, so they’ll make it less terrible? Oh no, it’s just a minor routing change for inbound buses near the terminal. Sigh…okay. This came into effect August 12th.
Still nothing? Weren’t they supposed to have some “microtransit” service by now?
Actually some pretty comprehensive changes here that will go into effect September 3rd. Let’s see what they’re up to…
Mathworks Express Shuttle: A new round trip is being added in the evening rush! That’s nice.
Route 20 Shuttle: Shoot, I’ve actually ridden this (it’s in the backlog) – if only I had gotten the review out saying it runs too early, because then I could’ve claimed these changes were based on me! But yes, evening rush service will run later now, plus there are a few time shifts in the morning.
2/3: NO, WHY???? The MWRTA has added an extra deviation to these already infrequent loops, making the frequencies about five minutes worse than they used to be. Ugh, the 2 had this beautiful hourly Saturday schedule, which is so rare for the MWRTA, but now it’s gonna be every 65 minutes! Disgusting! Well, I hope the seniors at Saint Patrick’s Manor use their new service – if anyone deserves a deviation, it would be a retirement home that doesn’t appear to have its own bus.
MassBay Campus to Campus Shuttle: A massive service cut – this college service is every 45 minutes now (and it’s the summer!), but it’ll become every hour and a half in the fall. Oof.
MassBay Riverside Shuttle: Just reverting back to the usual fall schedule, with 15-minute service from Riverside.
As the summer comes to a close, NRTA will be reverting to its off-season service. No information on the website as to when that’ll actually happen, though.
Most UMass Transit routes will see a few running time changes starting September 3rd. Meanwhile, down in Springfield from August 25th, the Loop and B7S saw running time changes; the B7E’s route changed slightly; and the G2E will run every 50 minutes instead of every 60. Finally, the R44 in Northampton will become a loop on September 1st. For more information on all of these, click here.
RIPTA’s fall schedule changes begin August 31st.
3: Oh cool, the 3 will finally be branded as two separate routes! The “3A” will be branded as the 4 while the “3B” will change to just the 3. Also, not to brag (okay, totally to brag…), but who called it a year ago?
8x: Whereas the Greenwood Community Church Park and Ride used to only be served on the trips that terminated there, every bus will deviate in there now.
24x: OH WOW THIS IS AMAZING! So it’s a new express route that will go from Providence to Newport…VIA FALL RIVER AND SOMERSET! That is very cool. It’ll run six round trips on weekdays (three in the morning, three in the evening), and I can’t wait to ride it. This will make it a lot easier to get to Fall River from Boston, although granted, that’s a low bar.
29: The 7:10 trip from Cowesett Corners will now leave at 7:00, forever ruining the clean 90-minute frequency on the route. Maybe it’s to better connect with buses to Providence at the Warwick Mall?
55: Oh, this actually makes a lot of sense: the 55 will be extended from Our Lady of Fatima Hospital to Rhode Island College. Near Providence, it’s also being rerouted to take the route that most other Providence Station buses take, going via the north side of the building rather than the south side. These changes seem to have no effect on headway – if anything, they actually increased service, with buses on Sundays now running every 45 minutes instead of hourly.
56: Buses will leave their starting point a few minutes earlier or later for better on-time performance.
57: Same as the 56, but Sunday service is also being increased to every 45 minutes from every hour.
58: Buses are being rerouted to serve a Stop & Shop (don’t worry, it’s a well-executed deviation), with minor running time changes.
67: Morning and evening short-turns from Bellevue and Ruggles will leave five to ten minutes earlier.
92: Some minor running time changes for better on-time performance.
A number of changes came into effect on August 26th:
FR 2: The 2 lost its deviation to Commonwealth Landing, which is being covered by a rerouting of the FR 14. Don’t worry, though, a new variant came in to replace it: three trips a day to the Stop & Shop Distribution Center, organized on the schedule in the most hard-to-follow way possible!
FR 5/FR 10: “As of August 26, 2019, the Fall River Route 5 – Stafford Road the 3:35 PM trip departing Atlantic Charter School has been changed to depart at 2:30 PM.” Er…I think they mean the FR 10 in this awkwardly-phrased sentence, but I’ll link both just in case. They claim that both schedules have changed, but they don’t explain what the new FR 10 one entails.
FR 14: Wow, in one fell swoop, they eliminated the meandering route in Somerset. Buses will now take a much more direct routing (via Commonwealth Landing) to the Swansea Walmart, which they still call the Swansea Mall despite the fact that it’s closed now. Hopefully this new route will be a more useful and direct connection for people!
NB 6: Oh yeah, let’s just add a once a day deviation that meanders through a residential neighborhood to serve a nursing home! Great idea! I’m sure people will find that very useful!
NB 9/NB 10: The 9 will no longer make deviations to serve the 10’s route in the morning, since the 10 will now run earlier. Basically a wash – the 9 doesn’t lose the variant because it still serves those places in the evening.
Woah, VTA is making huge cuts. For the shoulder season (starting September 29th), the last round trip on the 1, 7, 9, and 13 will be eliminated, and the 2, 4, 8, and 10A will lose all service. Meanwhile, in the winter, nearly all service will be cut, with only the 1, 10, and 13 running, and only the 10 running Sunday service. They are planning either a demand response or fixed route service with one vehicle to cover the area served by the 3, 5, and 6, but that has yet to be determined. “Should more funding become available,” they say, “service will be added.” Goodness, it looks like they’re in a rough spot. More information here.
The WRTA made changes that came into effect August 24th:
1: Add another deviation to the 1? Okay! It’ll now serve the Dillon Street Apartments, making the route even more snaky.
4: “Some timetable changes,” which I can’t really figure out because I don’t have access to the old schedule. Millbury will be the terminus now, and the first three trips on weekdays will serve The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley “by request only” – the rest will deviate.
15: Lakeway Commons will become “by request only” on outbound trips, making it impossible to board an outbound bus there unless someone on board already requested the deviation. So…maybe just cut the deviation entirely?
23: Ugh, no, why? Buses will alternate between serving The Fairways like usual, and “Century Drive,” which seems to be serving a single small Red Cross building. This is not a direction that the WRTA should be heading in.