“I have a transfer,” I told the driver as I boarded the bus. The woman gave a cursory glance at my slip. “You shoulda gotten a shuttle transfah,” she said in a grumpy voice. Okay, sorry I didn’t realize that the LRTA has three types of transfers! Transferring to the Downtown Shuttle is the only free one on the LRTA, though, so maybe I should’ve known that instead of wasting 25 cents on a useless slip.

My shadow’s in there! How unprofessional!
We made our way onto Thorndike Street, passing some pretty decrepit areas until we went over the Pawtucket Canal. The road became Dutton Street on the other side, and we were running alongside another canal, the Lowell Streetcar track, and some office buildings in old factories. As we go closer to downtown, more attractions showed up, including some businesses, the National Streetcar Museum, and, as we merged onto Arcand Drive, Lowell City Hall.
Going over the Pawtucket Canal.
We turned onto Father Morissette Boulevard, going by a parking garage and Lowell High School, whose multiple buildings cross a canal! The street quickly changed names to French Street, and there were more historical attractions everywhere (and another parking garage). We made our way around to Merrimack Street, the main business drag of Lowell, and here we made a layover.
It’s busy!
After sitting around for six minutes (considering it took us a mere nine minutes to get there, that’s a lot of layover time!), we continued down Merrimack Street and turned onto the bumpy cobblestone Shattuck Street. We then made our way onto Market Street, which was kinda like Merrimack Street if none of the businesses were open…ever. We went over another canal on Central Street, and the retail fared much better along this thoroughfare.
Lowell’s canals are so awesome!
Things got worse when we headed down Middlesex Street – this was a road that had seen better days. It had the same old brick factories and buildings we had been seeing before, but the ones along here have yet to see redevelopment, so they look dilapidated instead of charming. There was some construction of a new building where we turned onto Thorndike Street, and this led us back to the Kennedy Center.
Oh yes, a truly riveting photo of the new construction.
LRTA Route: 18 (Downtown Shuttle)
Ridership: Based on what I saw, I thought this route gets pretty low ridership: my outbound trip had one person and there were four on the inbound. Indeed, I rode on a Saturday, and the Saturday numbers are slightly below average, with the route getting about 130 riders on those days. Weekdays, on the other hand? 608 per day! That’s a huge jump if I ever saw one!
Pros: To my understanding, the main purpose of the 18 is to serve as a connection between downtown Lowell and the LRTA routes that don’t serve downtown. On that front, it works great, with free transfers to and from all local routes. The schedule is awesome, with service every 15 minutes on weekdays and every half hour on Saturdays. Plus, they interline the shuttle with other routes, so you never have one bus dedicated to just the shuttle. I think this is a good arrangement, since it allows for a more efficient distribution of buses around the system.
Cons: Although the Kennedy Center is a little out of the way from downtown, I can’t see someone dropping a whole dollar to ride this thing on its own. A 50 cent fare combined with the 15 minute headways would make this a great connection for tourists coming from the Commuter Rail. Sure, tourism to Lowell is probably not huge, but an advertising push for the shuttle could change that.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lowell has a huge underside, for sure, but there’s no denying that this city has a ton of history. Its downtown is packed with museums and attractions, plus a ton of restaurants and businesses on Merrimack Street!

Final Verdict: 8/10
For its given purpose of connecting certain routes to downtown, the 18 does a great job. If the LRTA wanted to flesh it out a bit more and boost its ridership, they could try advertising it on Commuter Rail trains and trying to get more people to use it on its own, maybe with a lower fare. My dream downtown shuttle, of course, would be an extension of the Lowell Streetcar to the Kennedy Center. That would be the day…

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates