It’s a little-known fact that Burlington has its own, non-MBTA public transit system. The Burlington B Line (a name that seems to be rarely used, but it’s out there) is partially funded by the MBTA and operated by everyone’s favorite transit company, Joseph’s. You always know you’re in for a treat when they’re involved. So for the low, low fare of $3 a ride, let’s see what this strange system has to offer!
The way this system is laid out could not be any more confusing. It consists of five “routes,” but they’re all basically variations of each other, with very few independent sections. Also, many of them have their own variations that we’ll get to, adding to a total of 12 different schedules on the timetable! They’re numbered 10 through 14, but they also have colors for some reason. Also, the system only has one bus. Yes, five routes, one bus. That means that most of the routes only run a few times a day, including one, the 11, that has just one trip (the B Line is weekdays only). I rode all of them in an afternoon, and despite the fact that on top of the $3 fare, it costs $0.50 to “transfer” (even though it’s always the same bus, good lord, this is so stupid), the driver let me stay on and ride everything for the base fare. Thanks!
We begin at the B Line’s hub, the Center School. But it’s not actually a school anymore, it’s the Burlington Recreation Department (which I’m sure is a huge destination worthy of being a transit hub). And if you look up “Center School” on Google Maps, it doesn’t come up. And Burlington B Line has no GTFS data on Maps, so you can’t find any of its stops. Clearly, we’re off to a good start. The building does have a little B Line shelter outside, but it’s dingy and there’s nowhere to sit inside it. At least it has a wastebasket that needed emptying when I was here! Incidentally, B Line also doesn’t produce a map of its routes, but the MBTA does, so that could be helpful when reading this review.
The 13 is one of the twice-a-day routes, with trips at 11 AM and 2:30 PM from Center School, running a clockwise loop in the morning and counter-clockwise in the afternoon. Its purpose seems to be connecting residential neighborhoods to Shaw’s, including houses along Francis Wyman Drive, which no other route serves. This was the afternoon “reverse” trip (the 13R in the schedule), so we were going to Shaw’s first. We left Center School and ran up Center Street along the east side of the Burlington Town Common, passing municipal buildings before making our way onto Cambridge Street.
Alright, I’ll give this to B Line: its Shaw’s deviation isn’t bad. It uses a road that runs next to the store rather than goes into the parking lot, and there’s actually a B Line sign and bench! The vast majority of the system is flag-down, so a bit of actual infrastructure was nice to see. Unfortunately, our next deviation via Moran Ave and Grant Ave to serve some tiny, insignificant shopping plaza was less welcome. Coming off of this jog, we turned onto Skilton Lane, a street lined with suburban houses.
We turned onto Fox Hill Road, continuing the saga of suburbia. A clover-shaped elementary school was on the corner of Fox Hill and Westwood, where we took a left, running down Westwood until Wilmington Road, onto which we turned. Aside from a small shopping plaza, this was all houses. Wilmington Road runs to Chestnut and Cambridge, the end of both the 350 and the LRTA 13 and thus a major transfer point, but the B Line decided it would be better to jog onto tiny side roads: Allison Drive, Paula Street, and Leroy Drive. The 12, which shares this section, runs back to Chestnut once it gets onto Cambridge, but the 13 (er…B Line, not LRTA – that’s confusing) takes a right instead before going onto Francis Wyman Road, its independent section. We took this as far as Bedford Street, then used that to get back to Center School, running by houses practically right up until we returned to the common.
One down, four to go. The next route was the 14, another twice-a-day run with trips at 9 AM and 3:30 PM. Too much time for a shopping trip, but not quite enough time to go to school – I’m not sure what the point of this one is. Regardless, we pulled out of Center School and ran south down Center Street before turning onto Birchcrest Street. This was for a deviation to the Tower Hill Apartments, and once we had served that, it was back onto Center Street.
There were a few schools where Center Street merged into Winn Street, but we weren’t on that for long before turning onto Peach Orchard Road. This was a narrow and suburban road, but between the standalone houses were a couple of housing developments hidden behind long driveways. We actually did pick up a passenger along here, but this bit is shared with the 10, so she would have a way of getting back despite this being the “last” 14 trip of the day.
We turned onto Pearl Street, which actually entered Winchester. Despite some businesses a few blocks away on the 134‘s Main Street corridor, though, we stayed safely within Pearl Street’s realm of suburban houses. We came really close to the Trade Center 128 office/business complex, but it was behind a fence, and B Line again chose to stick to Pearl Street. At least it had some apartments along it at this point, with a few more as we turned onto Beacon Street, paralleling I-95.
Beacon Street returned to Winn Street, where the 14 gets a brief independent deviation. Rather than heading back up towards Center School, we took a left onto Winn, going under I-95 and doing a little loop via Wyman Street and Mountain Road to turn around. There were a few businesses down here, but how can anyone visit them when the bus only runs twice a day? Rejoining the 10 after the deviation, we went up the residential Winn Street up until Shaw’s, which we served again. From there, it was a straight shot back down to the Center School.
And now, the once-a-day 11! The route begins on Bedford Street, which is shared by four out of the five B Line routes. We turned onto Terrace Hall Ave, leaving the 13 on Bedford Street but continuing to run along the route of the 10 and 12. This was all houses for a while until we hit an elementary school, and soon after that was a bunch of industrial buildings. We deviated into the complex via A Street (something not shown on the map), then we made our way onto the wide Middlesex Turnpike, which was all offices.
We turned onto Meadow Road, another thing not on the map, and used this small industrial street to snake down to the Burlington Mall. We then deviated into the mall itself, another thing that, yes, does not appear on the map, but at least this one has a scheduled timepoint so we know it was supposed to happen. This stop got a passenger, but our next (again, unmapped) deviation, this one into Lahey Clinic, wasn’t so well-used. After Lahey, we came back down Burlington Mall Road and turned onto Lexington Street. It was all suburban houses, and it led us practically straight back to the Center School.
Okay, those were the B Line’s three short routes. The 10 and the 12 are both longer, so much so that they serve the Center School twice and get “A” variants for the segment after the second time serving the school. In other words, they’re figure-8s. We begin with the 10 (er, excuse me, the “10A Reversed”), which is the only route on the system that runs more than twice a day. That’s right, the 10 runs all day, with frequent headways ranging from…every 90 to 150 minutes. Huh.
We ran along the north side of the Burlington Town Common and turned south onto Cambridge Street. Running alongside the MBTA 350, this was a horrendous mixture of suburban businesses, suburban offices, and suburban houses. The road went under I-95, then we performed a deviation to Burlington Plaza. We travelled up Wayside Road from there, but rather than go toward the Burlington Mall like the 350, we made our way onto Blanchard Road, which was just a bunch of woods with the occasional office park shoehorned in.
We turned onto Muller Road, which snaked its way past some houses (better than woods!) before we took a side road to get into Middlesex Commons, and of course this doesn’t appear on the map because why would that make sense? Travelling on the windy Old Concord Road from there, we eventually ended up back on Middlesex Turnpike, racing north to finally deviate into the Burlington Mall. Now, the regular 10A does an additional deviation to the Lahey Clinic, but the 10A Reversed doesn’t. Sure.
We instead took Burlington Mall Road to 2nd Ave, running through the Northwest Office Park in an unmapped deviation. After passing the up-and-coming 3rd Ave development, the bus passed some more offices before returning to Middlesex Turnpike. We did that unmapped industrial park deviation that the 11 did, then we returned to Center School along the route of the 11 (but weirdly, the timepoint calls it “Center Street,” which makes absolutely no sense – the bus still deviated into the school).
Now it was time for the 10 Reversed, otherwise known as “the rest of the route.” There’s actually not a lot to say here, since it’s the exact same thing as the 14, minus the 14’s little Winn Street deviation. I could rant here about this awful route numbering scheme and how it’s so unnecessarily complicated, but we’ll just save it for the “Cons” section later. Also, the regular 10 doesn’t deviate to Shaw’s, but the 10 Reversed does. Again: sure.
Alright, time for our last route, the 12! …12A. …12A Reversed. Whatever. It begins on Bedford Street like most of the other routes, but it does have an extra qualifier: the 12 can deviate to McGinnis Drive on request. Hear that, B Line riders? If you want to go directly to the Mount Hope Christian Center at the convenient times of 8:52 or 5:02, the 12 has you covered. Other than that potential deviation (which we didn’t do, alas), the 12 is the same thing as the 10, although we did serve Lahey Clinic after the Burlington Mall this time.
We returned to Center School from Lahey Clinic like an 11, running along Lexington Street (but of course, the map shows the 12 as returning like a 10). Upon our arrival back there, it was time for the 12 Reversed, which started out with the good ol’ Shaw’s deviation (even though it doesn’t appear as a timepoint for the route). There was one more independent section from Shaw’s, but it was just running up Cambridge Street (excuse me, “Cambride Street” according to the schedule) past some houses and suburban businesses. Once we got to Leroy Drive, we returned to Center School via the suburban roads that the 13 took. And thus, our B Line saga is concluded. I hope to never have to ride this thing again.
B Line Routes: 10 (Blue Line), 10A (Blue Line), 10 Reversed (Blue Line), 10A Reversed (Blue Line), 11 (Orange Line), 11 Reversed (Orange Line) [doesn’t exist but the schedule claims it does], 12 (Yellow Line), 12A (Yellow Line), 12 Reversed (Yellow Line), 12A Reversed (Yellow Line), 13 (Pink Line) [there should also be a 13 Reversed but the schedule doesn’t list it], and 14 (Brown Line). Phew.
Ridership: The whole system gets an average of…55 riders per weekday. That’s an average productivity of 4.5 riders per hour. Yeesh. This PowerPoint has a detailed graph showing how ridership stacks up throughout the day – it looks like the system is peaky, so people are taking it to get to work and school more so than to shop. I also got a photo of the driver’s ridership recording for the day, showing lower numbers than usual:
Pros: Not all of Burlington is covered by MBTA buses. I like the idea of a local bus system here. I really do.
Cons: But the implementation? Oh my gosh, where do I even begin? I think a good way of gauging the B-Line’s quality is by looking at this schedule from 2009. At this point in time, the system used two buses instead of one, and just look at how much more useful it is! Also, in 2009, the adult fare was $1.50, equivalent to what the T was charging at the time. While the senior/disabled/student fare has remained at $1 from then to now, the adult fare has jumped to $3.00! At least passes are a decent deal, but they still jumped up 150% since 2009, which is crazy. Why does it cost 50% more to ride this horrible bus service across town than it does to hop the 350 all the way down to Alewife? Also, free transfers to and from the MBTA would be a huge boost for ridership, allowing people in more suburban areas to access the 350.
And oh yeah, the service. Look, obviously it’s horrible, with most of the routes only running twice (or even once) a day. But even besides that, it only uses one bus. Why should a one-bus service be so complicated? A good example is the 10 and 14 – they do the exact same thing, but the 14 has one extra little deviation. That really needs to be a separate “route,” huh? And how about the “A” variations of the 10 and 12 that are just continuations of the same thing? This service does not need twelve different schedules to have to explain itself! It just makes it much harder to use for new riders! Plus, B Line produces no official map for itself. The only thing we have is the MBTA PDF online, which you have to find yourself since B Line doesn’t link it, and even then, that map has a ton of mistakes, as we saw!
Nearby and Noteworthy: In terms of stuff exclusively served by the B Line, I’d say not much. The biggest thing it serves that the MBTA doesn’t is 3rd Ave, but that’ll be rectified soon when the T extends the 350 there.
Final Verdict: 1/10
I’m sorry, but despite its 55 whole riders per day, this service is near-useless. Considering that it’s existed since 1988, you would think it would have more of a presence in the town, but service has declined so much since then (check out the Lexpress-style system in 2003 on page 53 of this PDF to really get an idea of how far it’s fallen). Even if someone did want to start riding B Line, I can’t imagine them not being turned off by the ridiculously high one-trip fares or the insane route structure. This thing badly needs a redesign – I know there’s only so much you can do with one bus, but honestly, even an unwieldy, giant, infrequent loop would be better than what they have now. Get your act together, B Line. It’s the only way you’ll increase ridership, lest the service shuts down completely.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
A wonderfully enlightening trip! Kudos for this reporting–and the Lexpress companion-piece, which provides an insightful comparison. Do know that originally the “Bee-Line” also had three buses and a far higher ridership–with a significantly lower fare. In our too often grid-locked town, I am glad that the B-Line’s demise has been postponed till the end of this year. Here’s hoping that articles such as this will encourage people to get on board with suggestions to improve, not end, what could be a traffic-easing B-Line revival! Contact town officials (Town Meeting members, the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board members, etc.) to show ideas and support for local public transit. It’s a forward-looking move in the right direction!