This is a route designed to waste everybody’s time. No matter where you want to go on the 5, there is almost no doubt that you will have to suffer a ride far longer than it should be. How could a route be so inefficient? Read on, dear reader!

The bus, as seen from behind a glass window.

We headed down Main Street from the Fitchburg Intermodal Center, entering downtown Fitchburg. There were pretty nondescript buildings on both sides, and most held businesses. We passed a few parks and a library, then the road curved north with the pleasant Upper Common as a median.

Interesting view!

Soon we turned onto River Street, crossing the Nashua River. The area was industrial, with a bunch of old factories, but there were a few houses that surprisingly made it into the mix. We went by a repurposed factory housing apartments, then crossed over the Nashua River again. After going under the Commuter Rail tracks, we reached a rotary, where we merged onto Daniels Street.

Going around the rotary.

This road went over the Nashua River again, then it curved up a hill, lined with businesses and dense apartments. We passed a church, then turned onto the residential Daniels Street. Next, we turned onto Oak Hill Road, which we “stayed on” for a while, although the street itself made a few turns at intersections.

Some houses in the neighborhood.

At an intersection with a little pizza parlor, we turned onto Franklin Road, returning to the residential nature from before (aside from one other variety store). As the street became Electric Avenue, though, we were suddenly surrounded by suburban businesses and huge parking lots. The principal one was Parkhill Plaza, into whose parking lot we deviated.

A shelter outside the plaza…but it’s on the wrong side of the street!

Okay, now, are you ready for this next bit? All of that…ever since that rotary from River Street…all of that was a deviation! That’s right, now we had to go alllllllllll the way back to that rotary in order to continue the route. Oh boy, that’s just great, isn’t it? I’ll spare you all the pain of having to recount every street we had driven down, so let’s return to that rotary.

Crossing the Nashua River.

From there, we headed back onto River Street, which was rather woodsy as it paralleled the Commuter Rail tracks. We eventually went under the tracks, coming out in a fairly industrial area. Next, we merged onto Westminster Street, which went by all manners of buildings – houses, businesses, industrial buildings, and even a park.

An industrial view.

There was another woodsy section for a little bit, then we passed a huge industrial building right across the street from some houses. Soon after that, we made a little loop around a small park, arriving at our terminus, Waites Corner, right outside of a variety store. We didn’t stay here for long, though, immediately coming back the way we came.

The park at Waites Corner.

Is that it for deviations? Nope! Although we skipped the really long one from before, we did have to make one more near Fitchburg. Just outside of the Intermodal Center, we instead turned onto Water Street, going over the Commuter Rail tracks. Right over the bridge, we turned into the parking lot for Central Plaza, some awful-looking shopping mall. This is where Nathan and I got off, deciding to walk back to the hub, since they’re so close.

The bus at Central Plaza.

MART Route: 5 (Intermodal Center – Parkhill Plaza – Central Plaza)

Ridership: This is kinda tough to judge, since the ridership data in MART’s Regional Transit Plan is from 2014, when the 5 was interlined with the 6. The ridership given is for both routes combined: 154 average riders on weekdays, and 58 on Saturdays. Sad as it may sound, this was apparently MART’s fourth-busiest route. Now that the 5 is its own separate bus, I can’t tell you how much ridership it gets in total, but my round trip got about 10 people.
UPDATE 4/7: I found more recent MART ridership data that shows the 5 all on its own. The route averaged about 187 riders per day in late 2016, which is pretty good, especially given its ridership two years before!

Pros: The route’s long deviation does serve a very dense neighborhood, one that definitely needs a bus running through it. It also seems to get a decent amount of riders, at least based on my ride – the numbers don’t agree, but perhaps ridership has gone up since 2014.

Cons: Oh boy, there are lots of these. Let’s start out with the elephant in the room: why is the long deviation, which is where literally every person on my ride went, only served in one direction? There were a bunch of people who got on there to get to downtown Fitchburg, but they had to ride all the way out to Waites Corner and then come back in! Check this out:

When going from Parkhill Plaza to the Intermodal Center, it takes only five more minutes to walk than to take the bus! You could even walk to the 3 and take that in – only three minutes slower! If this isn’t horrible route planning, I don’t know what is. And the worst part is that no one got on or off at Waites Corner. Well, gosh, why even serve it, then??

The problem is that there have to be sacrifices made to fix this problem. The route takes 48 minutes for a round trip (yet they run it every 50 minutes, which is stupid – just make it every hour, it’s a lot easier to remember), meaning there’s not enough time to serve the deviation on the way back. This makes me think that the only solution would be to eliminate all Waites Corner service, except for the twice-daily Montachusett Industrial Park trips, and just run the route to Parkhill Plaza. That’s where all the ridership was, after all…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Yeah, no, not really. Parkhill Plaza seems like kind of a dump, as does Central Plaza. That one pizza place the route passes has good reviews…

Final Verdict: 4/10
It’s not like this route doesn’t get riders, because it definitely does. The problem is that they’re practically all coming from that deviation! Having to go all the way out to Waites Corner just to get to Fitchburg seems like the biggest pain. Unfortunately, it seems like the only solution would be to just cut most Waites Corner service. The route would be shorter as a result, but maybe it could be interlined with certain trips on the 4 to keep it from needing too much layover time.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
This is really late notice, but there’s a mock-up version of a new Orange Line car displayed at City Hall! Tomorrow is the last day to see it, and yes, I am most definitely seeing it tomorrow. Expect a post with pictures! I’ve tried not to look at any, so it’s going to be a surprise!