Welcome to the most rural route that the FRTA operates! The 41, the system’s westernmost route, runs out to a tiny town called Charlemont that I wouldn’t have heard of if the 41 didn’t end there. Also, it only runs four times per day…
We headed to Main Street from the JWO Transit Center, going through downtown Greenfield. As far as driving straight out to Charlemont goes, staying on Main Street would be the most efficient thing to do; however, the route has to deviate to Greenfield Community College, so we instead merged onto Colrain Street. This took us through the woods for a bit, then it became College Drive after a roundabout and we ended up at the college. This is actually a major source of ridership for the route, with people commuting here from points west.
We came back down on Colrain Road, passing “Big Y Plaza” without deviating like the 21 does. Taking a right onto Mohawk Trail (Route 2), we very quickly left civilization for lots and lots of trees. The road made its way up a hill, with only the occasional house showing up. We did, however, pass the “Longview Tower“, which is now rusty and closed – people used to be able to climb up the novelty tower to be able to see “three states.”
At some point along here, we entered Shelburne, not that that did much to the (quite pretty) scenery. There was one point where a few businesses were clustered around, including a farm market right next to its farm, a coffee shop with a little golf course behind it, and a random ATM next to a cemetery. We also deviated into the tiny parking lot for an antique shop for some reason – maybe it was safer to drop off there than on the main road? There wouldn’t be so many buildings in that close proximity to each other again for a while, but they did show up fairly consistently, mostly houses.
Shelburne does have a “downtown” of sorts called Shelburne Center, and that’s the next major place we ended up. Along with an “Indian” trading post right on the highway, it has a fire station, a church, and a library, the latter two and a few other buildings offering fantastic old-fashioned rural architecture…but it could barely be seen from Route 2, which sped past, separated from the buildings by a curtain of trees. The route doesn’t even have a stop here.
So, we continued on our way, passing woods and farms, with still occasional buildings in between. Weirdly, the next stop on the route after that little clump of businesses where we deviated into the antique shop wasn’t until “Mohawk Trail and Mini Storage”, which was indeed next to a mini storage place in the middle of the forest – it was across the street from a state police building, so maybe that’s why there’s a stop here. Soon after that, we merged onto South Maple Street and took a left onto Bridge Street, where suddenly there were dense houses everywhere. This was the village of Shelburne Falls.
We didn’t get to travel through the wonderful little downtown on Bridge Street, as the route takes a right onto Main Street, but we were right next to it and the stop here was popular. Main Street was residential, and it led us out of the village, where did a little jog to get back onto Mohawk Trail. It crossed the Deerfield River to enter the town of Buckland, where three trips a day deviate to the Mohawk High School, before crossing the river again a minute later, entering Charlemont.
It certainly wasn’t dense, but the road in Charlemont did have houses at a fairly consistent rate. There was a lot of farmland here as we paralleled the Deerfield River. Also, near where we entered the town, there’s a 46-space park-and-ride that’s probably way too big for its own good. Every trip deviates into there…except ours, for some reason! People use the bus at 11 AM too!
The next two stops were outbound only: the first was outside of the “Red Rose Motel” (wonder how often that one is used), and the one after was next to the “Olde Willow Motel” (another barnburner for ridership, I’m sure). A stop that did get someone was at the Academy at Charlemont, a private high school that encourages students to take the FRTA there. We pulled into its driveway to pick someone up (they stayed on in Charlemont, since for this particular trip, the stop is westbound only), and along the road soon after was a corn maze!
There was a section of forest before the road was suddenly lined with houses. This was Charlemont Center, and since August 2018, the route has been terminating at the Federated Church, a cute little church building on the east side of the village. Back when I rode previously in that summer, though, the route went about a half mile down the road, looping around next to the village post office. There’s not much in Charlemont Center – a school, a general store, a few fishing stores – but it’s the end of the line.
FRTA Route: 41 (Charlemont/Greenfield)
Ridership: Okay, raw numbers first: this route unsurprisingly gets among the lowest ridership in the system, with 32 daily riders in 2014. But…that would mean four people per one-way trip. Yet on my ride, 5 people rode out and 8 people came back in. Hmm…either the 11:00 round trip is exceptionally busy, or ridership on this route has gone up.
And it’s worth talking about the people, who are A) remarkably resilient for relying on this four-times-a-day route in the middle of nowhere, and B) very weird. One old guy with a very loud voice regalled my friend and I with a story about how he crashed into a parked car once. “Smell this,” he said as he held out his medical marijuana. And what was the purpose of his trip? He was meeting a friend in Shelburne Falls…for lunch. He would get a full 27 minutes there before hopping on the return trip of the exact same bus!
Another person was…whimsical. “I’m climbing out of the McDonald’s corporate capitalism pit like Batman in the Dark Knight,” he said before bursting out laughing for no reason in particular. He also told us “You should hitchhike sometime” and called me and my friend “the precocious young one” and “the old sage,” respectively. Yeah, it was an odd trip.
Pros: Okay, first pro: it’s pretty amazing that the FRTA even runs this bus in the first place! I mean, this thing is really rural, and there’s probably only, I dunno, 3,000 people who live along its independent section? With that being said, the ridership surprised me – an impressive amount of people use the 41. One thing that helps is the number of schools the route serves (Academy at Charlemont, Mohawk High School, Greenfield Community College), but my trip was a midday one in the summer!
Cons: Yeah…four times a day. Obviously not a great schedule. I will defend the FRTA here, though, as even if they did have the resources to operate more service, they would be much better spent on other routes. I do wish the schedule was more consistent, though; every trip should serve the Charlemont Park and Ride, for example. Having more stops along the route, particularly for the more populated areas like Shelburne Center, would be nice as well. Finally, for a pie-in-the-sky proposal, extending the route to North Adams to connect with the BRTA would be reallyyyyyy cooooool…but that’s 30 minutes away from Charlemont, and it would get really limited ridership. I would rather see a route from Greenfield to Brattleboro, VT – now that’s a rural transit investment that’s worth it!
Nearby and Noteworthy: Whoa, Charlemont has a ski resort? That’s neat! But more importantly, Shelburne Falls is amazing and the fact that you can take a bus there is incredible. Okay, first you have the Bridge of Flowers, which is an old interurban trolley bridge converted into a pedestrian walkway with tons of flowers along it – it’s beautiful for both your eyes and your nose. Then there’s the Shelburne Trolley Museum, which I haven’t been to, but it’s priced very reasonably and the transformation of their operating trolley from a chicken coop to the showcase of the museum is incredible. And finally, you have so many fantastic restaurants and businesses along Bridge Street. I know this bus has an awful schedule, but even if you come by car, I cannot recommend Shelburne Falls enough.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Hey, I mean, as far as insanely rural routes go, they run it pretty well. I don’t think a bus like this could really do better than a 6 just because of the nature of running a route as out-there as this one, but I think the 41 does a great job for what it’s trying to do. And for anyone with the patience to do the five-seat ride from Boston to Shelburne Falls to see the stuff I mentioned…kudos to you. You deserve a medal.
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