Well, we’ve covered the North Shuttle, now it’s time to head south!
While the North Shuttle acts as a park-and-ride route for northern Bellingham, the South Shuttle has ulterior motives: it runs from Forge Park to almost the Rhode Island border, and across that border is the sixth largest city in the state, Woonsocket. I wonder what this could possibly be trying to serve! When the driver asked where I, the sole passenger on the bus, was going, I said Hilltop Farms, the last stop on the route mere steps away from Rhode Island. “Okay,” he said, “We’ah gonna take a shoahtcut.”
That “shoahtcut” involved going the complete wrong way: instead of taking a right onto Central Street, we took a left instead, running over to Grove Street to head south on that. Well, given that it was dark and Grove Street was pretty much all forest, my pictures came out terribly! Aside from a few housing developments and industrial buildings, it was super barren.
There was a bit of civilization in the form of a residential neighborhood at the intersection with Washington Street, onto which we turned. It’s a shame it was so dark, though – amongst the houses along here were some patches of farmland! But while there was a consistent stream of houses now, they were often covered by trees, so especially in the dark, it still felt equally woodsy!
We had actually been in Franklin this whole time, finally entering Bellingham along this stretch. There were a number of lumber stores and auto shops around the intersection with Lake Street, and soon houses along the road got denser. By the time we finally merged back with the normal route (“shoahtcut” complete, I guess), there were actually a ton of businesses (with parking lots) and even some apartments along the street. The driver accidentally drove past Hilltop Farms, and with an apology dropped me off at a pool place a few businesses down. I didn’t mind – quicker walk to Woonsocket!
GATRA Route: Bellingham South Shuttle
Ridership: Well, if we remember from last time, the two Bellingham shuttles get a combined 19 riders per day, equalling around two people per trip. That means this one theoretically averages four commuters per day, although given that I rode soon before Christmas, there was no one else on my trip. Also, yeah…four commuters a day. Not great.
Pros: Well…its two trips in each direction per day time with trains, and it almost makes it to Woonsocket…
Cons: I’ll be honest, in its current state, this thing makes so much less sense than the North Shuttle. First of all, there’s only one park-and-ride location on the route, and it’s at Bellingham Marketplace – not even the closest stop to Woonsocket. And while northern Bellingham has a lot more going on in terms of residential density, especially in the neighboring town of Milford, southern Bellingham is sparse: I can’t imagine many people going out of their way to park at Bellingham Marketplace for this thing, even factoring in the cheaper cost. Indeed, thanks to the data from Jules’s guest post on this route, we can confirm that even on a normal day, no one’s using this to park – they’re all taking it to the end or close to it (also, his trip took a different “shoahtcut” from mine – this thing just doesn’t like to follow its prescribed routing!).
Nearby and Noteworthy: Um, neon pool shop, hello?? But also, despite the longish walk to downtown Woonsocket, this is the quickest way to get there by transit if you happen to be travelling at rush hour. Jules also mentions the Beef Barn in his guest post, and…yeah, that place looks awesome.
Final Verdict: 2/10
I’ll give it to GATRA that the southern terminus of the shuttle is in a pretty dense residential and commercial area. But you know what’s a really dense residential and commercial area? Woonsocket. It would really do GATRA good to figure out the bureaucratic logistics of getting this thing across state lines to at least the RIPTA stop on John Cummings Way. It’s just a four minute drive beyond the current terminus, but it could potentially help or add to the 328 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Boston…or indeed, the combined 1,745 daily commuters from Woonsocket to Bellingham or Franklin (source: this really cool document)! At the moment, the Bellingham South Shuttle just feels unfinished.
Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Some years back, GATRA used to run a route from Taunton all the way down to Kennedy Plaza in Providence via Route 44 and East Providence. So, it’s not as though GATRA hasn’t had experience with doing cross-border services in the past, because that route lasted a good number of years before that time in the 00s when some RTAs were cutting back left and right. I’m sure they still have whatever capability to pull that off somewhere in their back pocket.
I’ve seen that on the Wayback Machine before – definitely a route they should bring back! But even now there’s some cross-border activity with the way the 11 and 24 end just barely in Pawtucket!
I can’t imagine a minibus at Kennedy Plaza, that would look so weird! But yes, definitely a route they should bring back.
I also think the GATRA Pawtucket routes should go to Pawtucket Transit Center for frequent RIPTA Connections. Why not?
Thanks for helping me discover the wayback machine – I’ve been happily nerding out over it for a few days. It’s amazing seeing local trains making New Haven to New York in 1:49 – these days the trip is almost 20 minutes longer!
The RIPTA 24x runs over 15 MILES in Massachusetts! The RIPTA 1 and 35 run over the border! RIPTA’s 32 and 34 run about 1-2 miles into Seekonk! Heck, GATRA runs the 11 and 24 into RI! State borders are not a problem. Why doesn’t GATRA just fill the surprisingly big Woonsocket – Bellingham/Franklin market, something they could ACTULLY GET RIDERSHIP???? Like I mentioned, the State borders are NOT A PROBLEM.
Well actually, RIPTA might be the one to do it instead. I remember RIPTA put a Woonsocket – Bellingham route as part of the RITMP transit scenarios. https://transitforwardri.com/scenarios.asp
The biggest hurdle RIPTA had up until recent years with crossing the border had to do with differing insurance liabilities between staying in state and crossing borders. They had deemed the differing rates too prohibitively expensive for them as an agency to take on at the time. Thus, they didn’t even go so much as an inch over the border. Pawtucket’s route structure back then showed that stark contrast. When they started serving the South Attleboro T, that was them dipping their toes in the water. Then, Seekonk Square and Fall River became doable for them.
It may have been less prohibitively expensive for GATRA to have that insurance due to their smaller fleet size. Pure speculation, but it seems a feasible reason. Any way you look at it, there are still a lot of untapped cross-border routes that have potential in RI, and it’d be worth it for one, the other, or both in cooperation to run with that potential.