Oh YES! THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF GATRA!!!!! And this is a side of our favorite RTA not seen quite as often on here: commuter routes with HORRIBLE ridership! Welcome to the Bellingham North Shuttle!

Oh, of course it uses Dial-A-Ride vehicles.

I suppose it’s not a surprise, per se, that this thing uses unsigned Dial-A-Ride vehicles. I mean, it’s a GATRA commuter route, they couldn’t give a hoot about these. But the, er, unsignedness of the bus gets a little harder to swallow when you realize that there are two Bellingham routes. So in order to find the bus you want at Forge Park (or excuse me, “Forge Park MBTA”), you literally just have to go up to the door and ask if it’s the right one. Boy, have I missed you, GATRA.

It’s what appears to be an office building? It’s a bit dark…

Since it was a few days before Christmas, traffic on both the street and the bus was low (I was the only one on). We headed down Central Street, which was wide and industrial, aside from a few restaurants at the intersection with Maple Street. Also at that intersection was an apartment complex, which really would’ve been better sited, like, a mile down the road outside of Forge Park station…

It’s supposed to be “transit-oriented development”, not “kinda-close-to-transit-such-that-maybe-you-could-drive-to-it-if-you-really-wanted-to development”!

We were in Bellingham now, and development along what was now called Mechanic Street was…weird. Like, businesses here, a cemetery there, whoop, here’s a residential cul-de-sac, hey, who threw a long, narrow cemetery in here? Bellingham Center had a nice town common, but other than that, it had…a shopping plaza? Some other car-oriented businesses? A church? Definitely not one of Massachusetts’s better downtowns…

World-class photography by Miles Taylor.

We crossed a train track and the Charles River before entering a proper residential neighborhood. Among the single-family houses, there was also an apartment complex and a campground of all things (it didn’t exactly seem like this scenic place to pitch a tent and relax under the stars). A brief section of woods led us to Home Depot Plaza, the end of this one-way trip. Yes…now it was time to walk back to Forge Park in the dark. Good times.

If you want to make a transit-oriented lawnmower purchase, this is the route for you.

GATRA Route: Bellingham North Shuttle

Ridership: Oho, double trouble from GATRA’s ridership data: they count both Bellingham routes as one thing! Okay, so we have to remember that this number is gonna be inflated, so it might be higher than you expect. Andddddddddd…19 riders per day. Oh dear. Split between the ten combined daily trips of the Bellingham shuttles, that gives us an average of slightly less than…2 riders per trip. So the Bellingham North Shuttle attracts about 6 commuters per day. What a time to be alive.

Pros: I give this thing credit that its $40 monthly pass combined with free commuter parking at the locations it serves beats spending $105 a month to park directly at the station. The three rush hour trips in each direction per day all connect to Commuter Rail trains, and that’s nice. Although…I see nothing on the GATRA website about them suspending service on these routes due to the pandemic. Are they just connecting to nothing right now? ‘Cause, like, the Franklin Line definitely isn’t on its regular schedule…

Cons: Okay, 6 commuters a day. What is this thing doing wrong? Well, I think one issue is the bizarre loopy nature of the shuttle: the bus only takes the route I described in the evening rush, while in the morning rush, it starts in Bellingham Center, runs up and deviates into Home Depot, and then hops on I-495 to get to the station. Why? Don’t even bother with that morning rush routing, the evening one makes far more sense – sure, Home Depot people get a slightly longer ride in the morning, but the service will be so much simpler because of it, plus overall trip times would be quicker! But still, that shouldn’t be enough to single handedly drag down ridership this much. Honestly, like so many of these commuter shuttles, it might come down to lack of advertising. It would be fantastic if the MBTA was able to partner with these RTAs to get those schedules printed on their timetables so more people know about them…but of course, then they might lose parking revenue. Sigh…

Nearby and Noteworthy: I wasn’t impressed with Bellingham. But I can confirm from experience that the town common is quite nice.

Final Verdict: 3/10
Alright, GATRA, there’s potential here. Honestly, the service offered is a pretty good deal for commuters, even if it does limit you to three trains per day. The most important thing is to get the word out there so more people know about it! Also, an interesting quirk from the agency’s Regional Transit Plan: they were considering adding midday service to this thing! While it’s a nice idea and it does serve a number of shopping plazas, I don’t think the population is there to support ridership on such a small loop. Interesting thought, though – at the very least, it might attract more than 6 people a day.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates