This one’s not even hiding its circularity. It has “circulator” right in its name, for heaven’s sake, and it is in fact a giant, unwieldy, disgusting loop. It goes by the name of…the 9.

Oh, of course it’s a minibus.

We went up Thorndike Street for a bit, but we stopped short of downtown, turning onto Middlesex Street. I don’t know why this route runs east down Middlesex Street when every other LRTA route that runs this way goes east down Appleton and west down Middlesex. I don’t even know why they wanted the 9 to run two ways down Middlesex to begin with – we had to use Elliott Street to get onto Appleton anyway and serve the Salvation Army! Then…WHY NOT RUN TWO WAYS DOWN APPLETON????

A rearview shot of Elliott Street. What is this, a back alley?

Appleton became Church, marking the starting point of the loop, and after some suburban-feeling offices, we crossed the Concord River into a more “real” neighborhood. There were dense apartments with some businesses as we turned onto High Street, then East Merrimack Street. Strangely, we came really close to the Lowell General Hospital, but we didn’t actually deviate into it. Why would the “circulator” skip a deviation, while a route that actually goes somewhere (the 2) does deviate? Who knows?

Nice neighborhood!

We passed the Lowell Memorial Auditorium before crossing the Concord River again into downtown Lowell. Of course there were lots of businesses along Merrimack Street, but then we turned onto the narrow Kirk Street. It was a left onto Father Morissette Boulevard from there, and we passed Lowell High School, some offices, and an apartment development.

A canal.

Time to deviate to part of UMass Lowell that’s already served by their shuttle system: right onto Cabot, left onto Hall, right onto Aiken, left onto Perkins, and straight over to Pawtucket. We had to hang out at UMass’s Fox Hall for a few minutes because we were early – always a fun time. The tiny, one-way Pawtucket Street then crossed over a canal on a decrepit bridge that even the minibus felt too heavy for – even more of a fun time.

I’m holding my breath…

We turned onto Salem Street in order to serve the “University Crossing Transit Hub,” a stop that’s only really significant to the UMass shuttle system, and seems pretty darn unnecessary to serve on a city bus. At least we didn’t deviate into the bus loop. Instead, we turned onto Bowers Street, which was tiny and residential, then we turned onto Fletcher Street, which was wider…and residential.

Heading down Bowers Street. There are houses on the left and an apartment building on the right.

Oh, I see, this Fletcher Street section was all just a deviation to serve the Market Basket and the Lowell Senior Center! Cool. We passed both of those on Broadway Street, then it was a left onto Adams Street to go right back up to where we were before. Adams went through a big apartment development, and a few tight turns at its end led us onto Merrimack Street.

I have nothing interesting to say about this intersection.

We took Merrimack Street past some businesses to Lowell City Hall, then we used Dummer Street to get onto Market Street. But okay, we’re back downtown. Surely this is the home stretch? Let’s just take a right onto Dutton Street to return to the terminal. No? We have to continue down Market to serve the “Leo A. Roy Parking Garage”? Ugh…alright. Then it was a right onto Central Street, and once we turned onto Appleton Street, we could head back to the terminal. Well, after that unnecessary jog onto Middlesex Street first. Yup, this route just keeps on giving!

In downtown Lowell.

LRTA Route: 9 (Lowell Circulator)

Ridership: The LRTA’s haphazard Regional Transit Plan has no ridership information for the 9. The best I can give you is the 6’s Saturday ridership, which combines with the 9, and that route gets…78 people for the day. Alright, pretty low. Maybe weekdays are higher, though – how much ridership did my weekday trip get? One person other than me. ‘Kay.

Pros: The route’s title isn’t lying – this thing does indeed circulate. So props to the 9 for being honest about itself.

Cons: This bonkers, 40-minute loop just makes very little sense. It feels like it skips places it should be serving and serves places that it shouldn’t have to. For example, using the 9 to serve Lowell General Hospital would save time for through-riders on the 2, while I doubt the jog to the University Crossing Transit Hub generates enough ridership to bother doing it. And you’ve (hopefully) read the review – those are just a few examples! By the way, the weekday schedule is generally every 40 minutes, but in the morning and evening it has strange inconsistencies in the headway. At least Saturday service runs at a consistent every hour, but the combined route with the 6 is so egregiously twisty that its schedule page should have an “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” addendum. And somehow it’s scheduled to only take one minute longer than the midday schedule! Something definitely doesn’t add up there…

Nearby and Noteworthy: Like…yeah, you can use this to get to vibrant downtown Lowell. But if you’d rather not circumnavigate the earth on the way, I would recommend using the 18 instead.

Final Verdict: 2/10
I mean, at least the 6 kinda goes somewhere. Trying to get from point A to point B on the 9 is just an exercise in futility. For most destinations, there’s either a faster route, or walking takes about the same amount of time as the 9 (not to mention you can leave whenever you want when you walk instead of being chained to a 40-minute headway). Yes, this route absolutely serves its purposes (for example, certain cross-Lowell trips), but it is such a mess that I can’t bring myself to give it a higher score.

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