The Boston Shuttle. This thing is a beast. You may remember my angry review of the Worcester Shuttle, which boasted an insane boarding procedure requiring passengers to give the driver their names, a minibus with absolutely no signage, and a schedule that was literally impossible to adhere to. Well…let’s see how this one compares!

Like last time, we’ll look at the schedule first. Now the first thing to note is that the yellow stops are “guaranteed,” meaning the bus will automatically stop at them no matter what. You might notice that there are only guaranteed stops in one direction, and none in Boston. This means two things: 1) the $3 fare between guaranteed stops only applies to Boston-bound buses, and 2) in order to get picked up in Boston, you need to call MART at least an hour before the time shown for your location. Neither of these things are what I would call positive.

But don’t worry, the bus will almost certainly arrive late! I’ll give it credit for the guaranteed stop timings, which are at least doable if traffic is light, but it goes completely out the window beyond there. Ten minutes from Littleton Station to Concord Emerson Hospital? Not possible. Ten minutes from there to Bedford VA? Not possible. Fifteen minutes from there to Alewife? Not possible. My favorite is giving the bus five minutes from the vague “METRO BOSTON/MAJOR HOSPITALS” to West Roxbury VA, which seems very much impossible! I guess most of them are request stops, but it would certainly be very late if people were boarding at each one.

My steed for the next three-odd hours.

Luckily, based on my experiences from the Worcester Shuttle, I knew that this one would use an unmarked minibus that would board in the weird second busway at the Fitchburg ITC. My friend and I boarded the bus with our CharlieCards ready to pay, but this would prove to be problematic. “I gotta figure out how to turn this thing on,” the driver said, referring to the CharlieCard machine in the minibus.

There was also a problem with our destinations. I was going to West Roxbury VA, since I figured that would be the weirdest and furthest place to go. For my friend, it would be most convenient to go to Mount Auburn Hospital, which we figured would fall under the “METRO BOSTON/MAJOR HOSPITALS” designation – it’s in Metro Boston, and it’s a major hospital. “That’s in Cambridge,” the driver said. “I can’t go there.”

We managed to reach a compromise when the driver realized that we’d be more or less passing Mount Auburn Hospital anyway on the way to West Roxbury. “Alright, I can take you there,” he said. Hooray! Now it was time to embark, and I must tell you, the route we took was crazy. To help you follow along, here’s a map I made showing the streets we used. Okay, now let’s do this!

Some industrial buildings.

I figured we’d go the normal MART route on Water Street, but no, we actually took a right onto Main Street and another right onto Summer Street. This area had a few industrial buildings, but it was mostly residential otherwise. Suddenly, we turned onto Harvard Street, taking a cool-looking bridge over the Nashua River before…taking a left onto Water Street. Maybe it was faster to take the weird Summer Street route to get here?

The problem with cool-looking bridges is that it’s often hard to take photos from them.

Well, we would now surely take Water Street to the Leominster Senior Center. The street was a total mix of buildings, with industrial, residential, and commercial structures. Then…we merged onto Abbott Ave? Huh? This narrow road ran through a residential area past the back of the MART garage, and eventually it just approached Route 2 at a 90-degree angle. Okay, so we made the (incredibly unsafe) turn onto the highway, and we were now expressing westward. Apparently.

Rollin’ along the highway…

But we took the very next exit onto Merriam Ave, entering Leominster as we passed the appropriately-named Twin City Plaza. We came into a residential area after that, though, going by Pierce Pond as well. Using Lindell Ave to get onto Maple Ave, we then merged into West Street, with houses surrounding us all the while.

The snowy pond (did I mention this is the oldest post in my backlog?).

The houses started to get closer together, and we soon arrived at the Leominster Senior Center. “Hey,” the driver said as we pulled up to the stop. “What are your names?” No! I had completely forgotten about that part! Argh, why the heck does MART feel the need to do this??? We gave the driver our last names and first initials, per usual, but luckily this route didn’t seem to have the “wait 5 minutes at each stop” rule that the Worcester Shuttle had; we pulled out after that, only running about 9 minutes late.

Monument Square in Leominster, with a real MART bus boarding.

West Street passed through Monument Square, Leominster’s underwhelming downtown, and it turned into Mechanic Street on the other side. There were pretty dense houses and apartments along here, as well as a few local businesses, but buildings got further apart quickly. The road eventually curved a bit south and passed a giant field and a few office buildings.

The Nashua River.

We entered the woods as we crossed the Nashua River again, and after the road went under I-190, we ended up passing through a big ol’ farm! We were at a highway interchange soon after that, and so we merged onto Route 2 to begin our true express portion. Wait…but there was an interchange further back on Mechanic Street that we could’ve used…never mind, I won’t question it.

My friend and I switched to the left side of the bus once we reached the express section.

We blazed through the woods on Route 2 for a few exits, but this was a short segment because there’s a “guaranteed stop” at MWCC Devens. Pulling off the highway at Exit 37, we took Jackson Road over the seemingly-ubiquitous-at-this-point Nashua River, entering the mess of office and army buildings known as Devens, MA. Why there’s a Mount Wachusett Community College building out here, I have no idea, but we still deviated into its parking lot and unsurprisingly picked up no one.

The MWCC building.

With that, we headed back down Jackson Road and merged onto Route 2 once more. Again, we rushed through the woods for a few exits but had to leave the highway one more time, at Exit 39, in order to serve Littleton Station. This took us onto Taylor Street, which ran past some office buildings, as did our next road, Foster Street. Pulling into the Littleton parking lot, we (once again unsurprisingly) picked up no one. On the way out, we got held up by a train at the level crossing.

Hey, multimodal!

Making our way back onto the highway, it would surely be an express straight to Boston now. Well, barring the fact that Route 2 ceases to be a highway in Acton. It’s still a fast-moving road, but it has a few level intersections with traffic lights and there are a few buildings along it (in this case, a recycling center and a motel with a rather low star rating on Google).

A big field.

The road entered a rotary with a prison next to it, then we crossed the Assabet River (hey, anything that’s not the Nashua is okay with me). And then…we left the highway? Yeah, we turned off onto Elm Street, which was a very local road through a residential neighborhood. Even weirder was turning onto Musketaquid Road, a mansion-lined street so narrow that it shouldn’t have been two-way, let alone allowed a minibus to drive down it.

The huge floodplain of the Sudbury River.

We turned onto Nashawtuc Road next, another narrow street that crossed the Sudbury River, which seemed to have submerged a number of trees. 2011 Street View images show the area as being a field, with the river being a normal width, so this flooding was relatively recent. Nashawtuc Road heads straight to Concord Station, but just before it, we turned onto Main Street, making our way towards Concord Center instead. We passed Concord Academy and a public library across the street, then we were in and among the old-timey shops in Concord’s downtown.

Aww, this is sweet. Too bad there’s no actual bus service here.

We maneuvered our way around some traffic islands in the center, ending up on Bedford Street, which had a cemetery on one side and houses on the other. Hang on…Bedford Street? Oh, maybe we were going to the Bedford VA! We were definitely heading in that direction as the road passed more houses, as well as some forest and farmland.

Louisa May Alcott is buried somewhere in there…

The street became Concord Road as we entered Bedford. It would head straight into Bedford Center, where we could…wait, why are we turning onto McMahon Ave? Okay, I guess we were back in narrow side street land as we turned onto Railroad Ave, which looped its way around a middle school and Bedford High School before passing a few industrial buildings and arriving at the end of the Minuteman Bikeway.

I’m sure Bedford High really appreciates the bus service.

There were MBTA bus signs in view at this intersection! We were getting close! So, would we follow the 62 up South Road to get to the VA? Nope, we took Hartford Street instead, a parallel road a block away that was once again a narrow residential side street. Its name changed no fewer than three times before settling on Springs Road; at this point, the 62’s route had joined us too!

Look! An MBTA bus stop sign!

We headed past a park and golf course before entering the Bedford VA campus. Would we loop around and use the 62‘s stop? No, that would be ridiculous. The bus pulled into this weird parking lot surrounded by back entrances to the hospital. There were two old men waiting to board. “Wow, you’re early today!” one of them said as he stepped on. “Yup, I found a shortcut!” the driver replied. I checked my watch. We had arrived 22 minutes late.

Oh, what madness is this???

And another fatal flaw of the route was revealed here: Bedford VA is only “served” in the Boston-bound direction. That meant that these guys who just got on would have to sit through our deviations in Boston. Why the heck is that the case?? Emerson Hospital in Concord is served in both directions! Why not Bedford VA?

More woods.

Heading back the way we came for a bit, we turned off onto the all-residential Page Road. This was pretty consistently houses, with not much deviation aside from a swimming and tennis club and a crossing of the Shawsheen River. Entering Lexington, the road became Grove Street and we were running along with the Lexpress 6, of all things.

I-95, briefly breaking the “quiet residential road” vibe.

We eventually turned onto Burlington Street and soon after went around a rotary to Hancock Street. The houses along here started to get denser as we got closer to Lexington Center, but we skirted it by using Harrington Road to traverse the northwest side of Lexington Common. This took us to a brief stretch on Mass Ave before we turned onto Worthen Road, following the MBTA 76‘s route and going by recreational facilities and Lexington High.

A row of businesses.

We then turned onto Waltham Street, which aside from a bit of retail at the intersection with Marrett Road, was entirely residential. However, we soon passed a small farm and golf club before…oh my gosh, Route 2! We could run express again! Yes, we got this blissful express section for…a few exits. And then we got off again.

So long, Route 2!

We were on Pleasant Street for a block before turning onto Brighton Street, which ran past the dense yet suburban houses of east Belmont. This was following the route of the MBTA 78, and we actually saw one along here! There were some businesses and industrial buildings centered around a level crossing with the Fitchburg Line, then the street turned into Blanchard Road as we approached Concord Ave.

A residential side street.

Crossing Concord Ave, we were now following the 74, but we took a rotary onto Grove Street to join up with the 75. This took us past a golf course, which continued as we turned onto Huron Ave alongside a playground and a cemetery. Reaching a point where everything felt bizarre because we were in a MART minibus, we took a right onto Aberdeen Ave, running under the trolley wires on this wide-medianed street.

A MART minibus and an MBTA trackless trolley interacting…this is so cool.

Taking a left onto Mount Auburn Street, we ran along the Mount Auburn Cemetery before crossing Fresh Pond Parkway. The Mount Auburn Hospital was here, and we pulled straight up to the front door to let my friend off. Meanwhile, I was here for the long haul: we still had to get to West Roxbury!

My friend took this photo of the bus leaving the hospital. Look at the trackless trolley in the background! How crazy is that???

Now, as we headed west on Mount Auburn Street again, we faced a bit of a predicament: we had to make a left onto Fresh Pond Parkway (er…Gerry’s Landing Road? I had no idea it was called that), but that’s an illegal move. So instead, we took a left onto the residential Coolidge Ave, made a three-point turn at the closest intersection, and swung our way back up so we could take a right! Well, that’s one way to solve the problem!

In the midst of our turnaround.

Now on Fresh Po…er, Gerry’s Landing Road, we swung over the Charles River on Eliot Bridge and then hooked a right onto Soldiers Field Road. I was really hoping we would go on Storrow Drive, making for possibly the only public transit experience anyone would ever get on that low-clearance highway, but alas, we were heading westward instead. Granted, part of my reasoning for choosing West Roxbury VA was that I assumed there would be at least one person getting on at “METRO BOSTON/AREA HOSPITALS” so we would have to deviate downtown – that didn’t seem to be the case, though.

Up and over the Charles.

We passed a bunch of parks, both Harvard-owned and public, before taking the little side road on the right that lets vehicles go left onto Everett Street. This took us straight into an actual neighborhood, and although the road itself was pretty industrial, the side streets were full of dense houses. We crossed I-90 and the Worcester Line, getting a view of rush hour commuters at Boston Landing, then we turned onto Beacon Street (soon to become Brighton Ave) into Union Square.

A 66 coming off of Cambridge Street in Union Square.

We would basically become a 66 at this point, turning onto Harvard Ave when we got to it. Although the side streets were full of dense houses, Harvard Ave was a totally commercial corridor, with a bunch of businesses centered around Commonwealth Ave and Coolidge Corner (Beacon Street). Hang on…Comm Ave and Beacon Street? We were interacting with the Green Line! In a MART minibus!

Oof, an awful photo of the Green Line tracks at Coolidge Corner.

We continued down Harvard Ave, passing more businesses and some apartments, but suddenly we turned onto School Street, which became Cypress Street. Harvard Ave had been super urban, but Cypress Street was leafy with large duplex and single-family houses. We went by Brookline Hills Station and crossed Route 9, and the neighborhood got denser south of there, with apartments and some local businesses along the road.

Fun fact: my grandma lived in this neighborhood, and when I was little, I fell in a nearby playground and banged my head on a pole. The scar remains to this day!

We took a left onto Chestnut Street, which swung around a rotary before we headed onto Perkins Street. Sailing along Jamaica Pond, we were very much in the woodsy part of Brookline now, with the street becoming Goddard Ave and passing some very large houses. The road did some curves as it went by a private grade school.

Some traffic along Jamaica Pond.

We were going along Larz Anderson Park now, whose luscious landscaping made it feel like a country estate (oh wait, it was). Goddard Street merged into Newton Street, which ran between some farms and a golf course, although both were blocked by trees on each side. There was finally a bit of civilization after a cemetery, with some businesses at a rotary and little houses along Grove Street. We were following the 51 now.

Man, this is beautiful!

The road became Independence Drive as we entered Boston, and we passed through an apartment development. There were some businesses and a small clinic at the intersection with VFW Parkway, onto which we turned, flying down the wide, woodsy road. There were houses along here, and…well, not a ton else for a while.

Trees and houses.

The parkway went past a cemetery and a marsh, and there were some condos and businesses after we went under the Needham Line. As the Charles River showed up on the right, the VA Hospital appeared to the left. Oh my gosh! We made it! I realized just how uncomfortable I had been sitting in this jiggly minibus for two and a half hours as I got out of it, having arrived at the destination a cool 55 minutes late.

Phew, it’s gonna be a long trip for that bus back to Fitchburg.

MART Route: Boston Shuttle

Ridership: MART counts the Boston and Worcester Shuttles as the same thing, so between the two, they get…24 riders a day. That’s around 4 riders per round trip. Assuming no one boarded my bus at Alewife or Concord on the way back, its round trip just got two other riders, the people from Bedford. So basically, ridership on this route is not very good.

Pros: Okay, a direct connection from Fitchburg to basically any hospital in the Boston area (well, not Mount Auburn, though) is pretty sweet. I wouldn’t expect such a specialized service to run any more often than three times a day, so the frequency is fine. The general fare of $12 is very slightly cheaper than the Commuter Rail, plus there are a number of discounts for certain groups of people, including free rides for veterans.

Cons: 55 minutes late? Really? Honestly, they shouldn’t even have printed times on the schedule beyond the guaranteed stops (which are kind of a waste to begin with). It should just say something like “The bus will serve whichever hospitals are requested”, and the bus driver can give passengers an estimated time of arrival based on traffic and how many hospitals they’re scheduled to serve. As it stands, you better not schedule an appointment for around the scheduled arrival time, because you probably won’t make it! And please, for the sake of those two people who seem to regularly use the bus from Bedford, make it a return stop too! Finally, giving your name to the driver…yeah, still really annoying.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I mean, lots of hospitals in Boston, I guess! But you could sort of cheat the system if you happen to be coming from Fitchburg and trying to go somewhere in Boston. Want some good food in Chinatown? Take the Boston Shuttle to Tufts! Want some history at Beacon Hill? Take the Boston Shuttle to Mass General! Want some exposure to world-class art museums? Take the Boston Shuttle to Longwood!

Final Verdict: 3/10
I find it a lot harder to get angry about this one than I did for the Worcester Shuttle. Whereas the Worcester Shuttle’s schedule was flat-out impossible to accomplish, especially when the bus had to hold for five minutes at each stop, this one is…well, still fairly impossible, but technically feasible depending on which hospitals the bus is asked to go to. Still, just ditch the schedule, it’s only providing false hope. Other than that, the route just gets such low ridership and it’s so expensive for MART to run that it’s hard to justify a score higher than a 3. It serves its purpose, but it’s also completely insane.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates