Ohhhhh, we’re in for a good one here…if “good” means “REALLY REALLY TERRIBLE.” I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Uhhh…okay, so it’s split into three “routes” that only run at certain times: a “commuter” route at rush hour, a “downtown commuter” route that barely runs at all, and a “local” route that runs midday from McDonalds to the Westborough Country Club (it sounds ridiculous just to say it). This is all done with one bus, keep in mind, so the timetable is just a complete mess. Luckily, there are two trips in the afternoon that do both a “local” and “commuter” in one trip, so we’ll be taking a look at one of those. Let’s check out the Westborough Shuttle.

First there’s a bit of a story…

So Nathan and I were taking an Uber from Worcester to the Westborough Country Club, but we were running late, and unfortunately we just missed the bus. Clearly all hope was lost…until we realized we could walk to Westborough Station and beat the bus by about half an hour. Oh good, great, you know it’s a great route when you can walk from end to end and beat the bus by a significant amount of time…

The bus…from above.

Of course there was no sign at the train station, but luckily the bus arrived early. As is common for these minibus shuttles, Nathan and I were the only ones on board. We left the station parking lot and took Smith Parkway to Otis Street, where there were a few huge office parks for a bit. The street led us to Route 9, which we merged onto.

Route 9.

Route 9 was lined with those classic…Route 9 buildings. Basically, there were just a lot of businesses and shopping centers with parking lots everywhere, interspersed with random bouts of marshland and forest. After going through an interchange with Route 135, the road narrowed from six lanes to four and the businesses and parking lots got smaller.

A side street.

The reprieve was short, though – after a mobile home park, the street widened again and all those huge businesses and parking lots were back in full force. The road did eventually get narrower once more, and after a brief section of woods, we exited off of it. Now it was time for quite possibly the most clustered bunch of deviations I’ve ever seen on any bus route…

It’s gonna be like this for a while.

We headed down Research Drive, which closely paralleled Route 9. After going by the BJ’s Corporate Office, the street became West Park Drive and curved away from the highway. It took us into the woods, where a few office parks hid behind the trees. We went down this road to the end, then turned around and came back up.

Oh boy, how exciting!

After going by that BJ’s again, we turned onto Friberg Parkway at an intersection with a very office park kind of pond next to it. This street took us past, surprise, more office parks. We curved around and then turned onto Connector Road, which was woods for the most part, aside from a few of those office park hotels you see in these kinds of areas.

A bit of a break!

Connector Road took us over Route 9 and around onto Computer Drive, past a small shopping plaza. As we came down alongside the highway again, we passed more office parks, as well as that BJ’s again on the other side. Next, we turned onto Technology Drive, which looped around past – sigh – more office parks.

The Westborough water tower, I guess?

We came back onto Computer Drive, running back along Route 9, and passing that stupid BJ’s one last time. We merged onto Route 9 and headed back the way we came just a bit before taking the first exit and pulling into the McDonalds parking lot. That’s right – the Westborough Shuttle deviates to serve McDonalds. This was also the start of the “local” route.

A road off of Route 9.

We travelled down East Main Street, passing some housing developments and a post office, then it became mostly residential. It wasn’t long, though, before we made that most classic of minibus shuttle deviations: one to the Westborough Senior Center. There were a few houses and offices when we returned to East Main Street, then it became some really uninteresting businesses with parking lots.

What a great shopping plaza…

After going under the Commuter Rail tracks, we turned into a modern outdoor mall sorta thing: Bay State Commons. It didn’t have any big-name businesses, though, aside from a Roche Bros. We then returned to East Main Street, which became West Main Street as we travelled around a rotary. This was downtown Westborough, and the street was lined with retail buildings.

A street in downtown Westborough.

There were some relatively dense houses on the other side of downtown, as well as a municipal building and a library. Soon after that, we passed the Westborough High School, which all inbound trips deviate to serve at all times of the day. The driver said he had never ever picked anyone up at the school, even during school hours. After some more houses, we finally arrived at the Westborough Country Club, which the bus literally deviated to serve. Oh yeah, that’s the perfect place to end a bus.

The bus at the scenic country club.

WRTA Route: Westborough Shuttle (Westborough MBTA – Computer Drive (Commuter)/Westborough Local)

Ridership: In early 2016, the route got a massive 26 people per day…meaning less than 1 person per trip. Oh, that’s some great ridership. The driver gave an even more telling report: no one uses this route except on the commuter trips. Very telling indeed…

Pros: Well, if you really want to find something good to say about this route, you could at least say it’s frequent – literally, this thing runs every half hour middays. Every. Half. Hour. For a route that connects McDonalds to the Westborough Country Club. I’ll just let that sink in.

Cons: Literally. Everything. Uhhh, let’s start with a simple one: the schedule makes absolutely no sense to look at. Give it a shot. See if you can make heads or tails of it. Also, the route really doesn’t serve anything that anyone would want to take the bus to. Other than that, literally every trip has problems:

  • Morning Commuter Trips: I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with these, but the way they’re written on the schedule is ridiculous. Why are all the trips shown as “outbound”? This is inconsistent from the evening commuter trips, which are actually written somewhat coherently.
  • Midday Local Trips: Let me just repeat the route’s destinations: McDonalds to the Westborough Country Club. Every half hour. And all the inbound trips deviate to serve the high school. This is ridiculous.
  • 2:05 and 3:15 Local/Commuter Trips: These trips are just stupid. Why does the route feel the need to serve the Commuter Rail station in the early afternoon? And why does it have to do the ridiculous office park loops even though no one is out of work; ergo, no one uses this bus to the office parks at this time.
  • 4:20 Local Trip: So the bus has 15 minutes to kill at McDonalds before heading out on a Commuter trip. Does it A) take a layover like any normal bus route would, or B) do a completely pointless 15-minute round trip to Bay State Commons? Based on this schedule so far, I think you can guess which one it is.
  • Evening Commuter Trips: These trips actually get people, heading to the Commuter Rail from the office parks, so it’s important that the bus times with the train. But no…the driver said he has to leave early so that he can get the commuters to the train on time, because the schedule doesn’t give the route enough time to get there. He said the commuters have missed the train before…with an early departure!
  • Evening Downtown Commuter Trip: This one is just shown really stupidly on the schedule. The trip has three timepoints, but the schedule makes it look like it goes outbound to the second one, then inbound to the third! There’s an “MBTA Station” timepoint in the “Inbound” column…USE IT.
Nearby and Noteworthy: There’s downtown Westborough, but that’s about it, and no one’s going to take the bus to a downtown. In order for a route like this to be viable, you have to serve big businesses like Walmart or Stop and Shop, but the Westborough Shuttle does none of that.
Final Verdict: 1/10
Based on what I’ve seen, they could seriously just run this thing for the commuter trips and it would be fine. Middays, it just runs overly frequent service to absolutely nowhere. If they really want to have proper midday service, they should actually serve some malls – I dunno, like maybe the ones the route goes close to but doesn’t actually serve? For example:

Yeah, I know it’s pretty deviatory, but this route actually serves busy malls that people would actually want to go to. Not to mention the trip takes about 28 minutes, so it would be an hourly service – a much more realistic frequency for a route like this. Also, get rid of that stupid combined local/commuter trip! What a waste of time!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates