On Burnout (or, why this blog has been comatose for the past two months)

It’s been a tough year. When this whole pandemic business began, I thought “Wow, I’ll really be able to catch up on my backlog! I’ll have SO much time to write!” Well…I’ve definitely had a lot of time. The writing didn’t really happen.

Like many folks this year, I’ve found myself with a bad case of pandemic brain. I’ve been worse at getting back to friends, I’ve found myself getting more distracted, and it’s been really hard to sit down and write a long, detailed blog post about a bus route that a lot of people rely on. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that despite using work as an excuse (although I really have been quite busy on that front too), my real issue is that my brain has just been mushy, and forming cohesive sentences that will be seen by a bunch of people is not something it’s often capable of – that’s certainly been reflective in my post frequency this past year. Instead, I usually find myself socializing, watching YouTube videos, or playing games in my spare time (have you heard of NIMBY Rails? it’s SO good).

It’s hard to grapple with this feeling that I’m neglecting the blog. After all, I attribute so much of where I am now to its success, including job opportunities and even the school I’m at. Maybe that’s short-selling myself – I mean, I wrote the thing – but it’s also hard not to view the blog’s success as a lucky break for which I was just along for the ride. Either way, to neglect it feels like I’m neglecting my child. In writing this blog, I’ve tried to strike a balance between being extremely detail-oriented and thorough in my reviews, while also keeping things funny and entertaining. The fear of not being able to strike that balance makes it even harder to get writing inspiration.

Honestly, something I’ve been a lot more enthusiastic about is making more videos. I know I haven’t delivered on that front either, but I have lots of ideas that I’m excited about. I’ve even got one video that’s filmed and in the beginning stages of editing! Making videos is a totally different experience from blogging: I don’t have to worry about penning the exact right words to critique a bus route without offending those who ride it, and instead it’s just me being (hopefully) entertaining and doing something fun, often with friends.

I know this may feel like a change. I’ve been struggling to get into a blog-writing groove for practically the entire pandemic, though, and it feels cathartic to finally realize what’s been wrong and get it down on paper. I really want to make content in some form, and if that happens to be primarily videos for now, I think that’s better than trying to force myself to do something I’m not enthusiastic about and can’t give justice to. I can’t give a definite timeline on when print posts will come back (heck, writing this has made me itch a little bit to write a real review) or how often I’ll end up doing videos, but I really appreciate each and every one of you for sticking with me, even when I’ve been quiet. Writing this blog has been a journey (I literally just realized that we hit the eight-year mark in January), and while I don’t want this journey to end, it might look different moving forward – but I’m excited about all the possibilities for the future!

Guide to the MBTA’s Winter 2020 Service Changes

Well, it’s not time for the Forging Behind cuts yet, but here we are with some new service changes that come into effect…er…tomorrow! Sorry for being late, I’ve been engulfed in finals. There certainly aren’t as many cuts here as what is being proposed with the Forging Behind changes, but we are still losing a few routes. Which ones, you ask? You’ll have to read on to find out…

SL1: Well, off to a great start – the SL1 didn’t even get its own schedule this season! It’s coming back in the winter, but comparing the proper Silver Line schedule to the headway-based rapid transit schedule isn’t easy! Generally it seems like service is being cut on weekdays (particularly in the morning rush), though, which makes sense given that this route serves the airport.

SL3: Service during rush hour is being increased – it’s another case where it’s hard to tell because of the way the schedules are set up, but looking at the future online timetable, it does appear to have better rush hour service than it does now (every 6-9 minutes versus every 10-12).

SLW: Another case where I have to compare online timetables, since this “route” is so obscure to begin with. Since this is a peak-oriented shuttle serving mostly office jobs, you can see why it’s getting cut back on weekdays: it’s going from every 2-3 minutes at rush hour to every 8. Seems fair to me.

7: This is another peak-oriented route centered on downtown, so as expected, it’s losing rush hour service – rather than running every 4-5 minutes at rush hour, the 7 will be every 7-8. Since the morning peak schedule won’t be as demanding, the short-turn trips to Congress and Atlantic are being removed, while the midday schedule is being made more even (although not consistent – gaps are either 40 or 45 minutes, which is better than the mess now, but still).

9: This one doesn’t get credit in the official list since the actual schedule isn’t affected, but I still think it’s a big deal: the 9 is finally losing its weird Broadway loop! This does mean its stop at the station will move to the other side of Dorchester Ave, though, so be wary of that if you take the 9 from here.

11: Pretty much just a weekday outbound trip being added at 7:57 PM, while the 7:43 trip gets shifted back to 7:40 to compensate. Nice, nice!

14: This route is getting a bit simpler, but also a lot more complicated. On the one hand, the first trip on weekdays (which is a short-turn now) will be starting from Heath Street, removing the route’s only variant. However, the weekday schedule will now be significantly more crazy, with similar headways but wilder departure times. The madness results in one additional inbound trip in the evening rush, though, so that’s…something!

16: “Added trips throughout the day on weekdays,” says the MBTA. Well, allow me to push up my glasses and say, “Um, actually, the 7:16 AM outbound trip is being eliminated, so you have not added trips throughout the day.” No, but in all seriousness, they did a good job with this one: midday service, which is currently every 25 minutes, will generally be every 18-20 now, while evening rush service gets a boost too.

36: The actual times aren’t changing (besides a few running time adjustments), but fewer rush hour trips will run all the way to Millennium Park, terminating at the VA Hospital instead.

39: Ahhhh, time change central!! Headways are barely affected (Saturdays go from every 11 minutes to every 10, and there are fewer morning school trips to Boston Latin – although the amount of afternoon ones stays the same, interestingly), but pretty much every trip leaves at or takes a different amount of time (trips are scheduled much faster, which is good given how often buses are early – they should be doing this for every route on the system).

41: There’s a general service increase here (every 35 minutes instead of every 40 minutes middays, although while morning rush headways gain 5 minutes, evening rush headways lose about the same, albeit with one fewer vehicle running), seemingly thanks to scheduling the trips to be much faster – this bus was chronically early even pre-pandemic.

52: Well hey, a morning rush round trip is added to this very limited route! That’s good, I suppose!

55: This schedule just keeps getting weirder, man. Weekday trips from 8:48 on are being eliminated, limiting the weekday schedule to just rush hours…while weekends will still run every 30-40 minutes until 11 PM!

57: Aw man, RIP the 57A. Honestly, looking at this schedule, though, it seems like the 57 is actually getting more service hours added to it? Rush hour frequencies may be a little lower (only by a minute or two), but since every trip is going all the way to Watertown now, I think there’s technically a service increase here. It definitely simplifies the route, but it will probably make sense to bring the short-turns back once rush hour (and its associated traffic) becomes more of a thing again.

60: We’ve got a lot of time shifts, but the travel times themselves don’t seem to have changed much. Departure times at rush hour will be more standardized, but unfortunately that comes with enough of a frequency drop in the morning (it’ll be every 25-30 minutes rather than every 20-25 minutes) that it’ll lose a trip.

62/76: Interestingly, travel times are being increased for this route. I guess it must be running late.

65: Just time shifts for outbound morning rush trips, but hey, a new trip is added! Guess that’s where the 60’s missing run went, huh?

71: Ah, the first of many Harvard routes returning to their proper bus tunnel routing. But aside from the slightly increased frequency across the board resulting from that change, short-turn trips from Aberdeen Ave will be axed. How come? See below…

72: GOOD RIDDANCE!!!! The 72 is being “temporarily” suspended “for the winter”. Yeah, right. If this route actually comes back, I’ll…I’ll do a video where I attempt to board or disembark at every stop along the route in a day. You can hold me to that. And you probably should, because otherwise I might forget…

73: Another route returning to the Harvard bus tunnel, with increased frequency because of it.

74/75: Ditto, although there don’t seem to be any actual schedule changes for these ones.

77: MY BELOVED PAL THE 77A IS COMING BACK!!!! Besides that, buses are back in the Harvard bus tunnel, but while Sundays see a slight service increase, weekdays have a slight decrease – I would imagine that rush hour trips just aren’t filling up on this one.

78: The big deal here is the Harvard tunnel opening up again, of course, BUT: THERE ARE RUNNING TIME SHIFTS OF UP TO ONE MINUTE ON INBOUND SUNDAY TRIPS!!! HOW WILL WE SURVIVE??

89: There are little changes all over the place for this one. First, the 89/93 will see a minor time shift on weekends, while in the morning, it will no longer serve Davis (I didn’t realize that was a thing even…I kinda wonder if that’s a typo on the paper schedule). A few Clarendon Hill trips also have departure time changes, and two runs in the afternoon will go to Davis instead of there. Finally, the last trip on Saturdays, which for some reason runs to Clarendon Hill right now, will instead terminate at Davis.

94: Time shift city! The biggest ones are at night; most of the midday ones are only by a few minutes. Weekends are untouched.

96: The same boat as the 94 (right down to nights having the biggest changes), with two additions: running times are also changed on weekends, and this is the last bus where I can say it’s returning to its normal Harvard tunnel route!

99: There are a few time shifts on weekends, but this is also the first of a few routes whose last trip is being shifted later to time better with the last Orange Line train. Is this the T slowly acknowledging that the last trip never ever ever runs on time?

101: A few very minor time shifts for a few trips in the early morning and late evening on weekdays. Also, running times are being shortened in the outbound direction.

104: The 5:32 AM inbound trip on Saturdays will now leave at 5:35. Crazy.

105: Ahh, there’s an annoying time shift on Saturday afternoons that briefly changes the headway from every 70 minutes to an 85-minute gap followed by a 50-minute gap. That’s it for 105 changes, but it sure is a bad one.

106: Time shifts seven days a week, often to cleaner departure times, which is nice!

108: Same story! In particular, this route’s shifts thankfully make the weekday midday schedule more consistent.

109: Some minor time shifts on weekdays and Sundays. Also there is some wonkiness with the Saturday PM schedule – nothing’s actually changed, but this new timetable seems to fix some typos on the previous one.

110: Another one where the last trip is shifted later for better connections to the last train.

111: Ditto, but only on Sundays. Also, I never noticed this route’s last trip on Saturdays was scheduled as late as 1:25 AM – probably the only realistic last trip on the MBTA!

116/117: Some very minor time shifts in the early morning on weekdays.

132: We’re getting a slightly more consistent Saturday schedule. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the current one – baby steps!

134: Time shifts throughout the day on weekdays, all in an effort to make this incredibly inconsistent route leave at more consistent times! I find it funny that the MBTA says that the last trip on Sundays is shifted forward to better time with the Orange Line – that last trip is indeed shifting forward, but it still leaves at 12:15, well before the last train. I dunno what connection they’re talking about!

136/137: I don’t think the website gives the full story here. Yes, there are some small time shifts weekday evenings, and all day on weekends (sadly leading to less consistent departures in the case of the latter), but this new schedule has some quirks too. Specifically, the 6:05 PM outbound 136 trip on weekdays will now be a 137 (although I think this is just correcting a typo on the old schedule), and the inbound 2:45 PM weekday trip from Wakefield Square will no longer be limited to school days (I wonder if this is a new typo, though – why would the outbound still only run on school days but not the inbound?).

195: “Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday trip eliminated in the AM peak.” Honey, those are the ONLY trips! This bizarre little route is kaput! I’m curious if it’ll come back in the future – it serves such a specific purpose (transporting discharged homeless people from the Pine Street Inn back into the city) that it feels like it would have to come back, right?

201/202: Minor time shifts throughout the weekday.

214/216: Uhhh…okay, this is weird. So I guess they’re bringing solo 214 trips back on weekday middays…but the midday 216 will still deviate to serve Germantown like a 214/216? I guess maybe Germantown is generating more ridership than Houghs Neck. There are also time shifts on weekends, including an increase in Sunday night service from every hour to every 40 minutes. Finally, the Mayor McGrath Highway variant is being added to select weekend midday trips. Sigh…that’s an annoying variant.

215: Time shifts on Saturdays.

354: Interesting, Medford Square is being added to every trip, even in the peak direction! I guess that’s to make up for the loss of the 325. Also, because the T has rightfully made the running times much shorter, the route is able to run one more trip per rush.

411: Time shifts on weekdays and Saturdays, mostly for consistency’s sake!

426: So this is the first of several Lynn routes that’s being routed away from Silsbee Street because the new buses up there can’t fit beneath that rail bridge. Most notably, this means the “Arrives 3-6 minutes earlier at Greater Lynn Senior Services” variant is gone for all these routes, which is good, because I have never ever figured out what that meant. Also, in the 426’s case, weekday times are shifting, mostly making the route’s departures more consistent.

429: Another route moving away from Silsbee Street, although the Greater Lynn Senior Services note has accidentally been left on for Sunday service (it’s definitely a typo). There are also time shifts seven days a week in the outbound direction.

430: Time shifts again, both on weekdays and Saturdays. Also, the addition of a Square One Mall timepoint on the paper schedule is much appreciated – that’s an important stop!

450: This one is mostly running time changes to reflect faster travel times. There is, however, a brand new inbound trip on weekdays at 4:15 PM…but it only goes to West Lynn Garage. Darn…still, I guess if the bus is going to be doing the trip anyway, might as well put it in service.

455: Running time changes in the inbound direction on weekdays. Also, it’s another one moving away from Silsbee Street!

456: “Weekday schedule changes throughout the day and new routing away from Silsbee Street”? But…this route is suspended “until further notice”…

501: Running time changes, but only for the Copley Square timepoint going inbound – everything else appears to be unchanged.

504: Time shifts throughout the day on weekdays, but it doesn’t seem like there are any radical changes in the frequency.

553: “Trips eliminated after 9 PM.” Well, the paper schedule is way ahead of you – it already wasn’t showing those trips!

I guess in light of Forging Behind, none of these changes were that radical. I think the T could be doing way more with taking advantage of the lower running times to increase frequency – there’s been some of that, but not as much as there should be. Hey, they did get rid of the 72 though, which is totally a plus! Ever since they rerouted the 75, that thing’s been totally redundant.

Braintree Logan Express

Wow, they’ve cut the Logan Expresses back even more since the last time I wrote about one of these (which was…twenty years ago? Something like that). I mean, it makes sense though – right now the only state we Massachusettsans can even visit without quarantining when we come back is Hawaii, and…oh, there is actually a nonstop flight that does that. Geez, that must be miserable, huh? Well, anyway, my point is that very few people are flying right now, but we’re not gonna let that stop us from looking at the Braintree Logan Express!

This sign cracks me up every time I see it. That bottom bubble used to say “Dunkin Donuts”, an amenity no longer here.

The Logan Express terminal in Braintree is announced by this big wacky sign that dates back to when the facility was a drive-in theater – you can actually still see one of the screens at the edge of the parking lot. It’s a big lot that costs $7 a day to park in, although given how busy this route got pre-COVID, it seems like it would regularly fill up. The terminal is well-located (for cars at least), situated close to Exit 6 on I-93 – for me, who walked from the South Shore Plaza, it was decidedly not well-located.

Inside the terminal.

As deceptive as the decrepit sign outside is, the terminal itself is actually quite nice. It’s located inside the old concessions building for the drive-in, but it’s been completely redone, with rows of airport seats, a few with outlets. Wastebaskets, recycling bins, a ticket office, and vending machines (including one that makes coffee!) round out the amenities in the main area. I’m also amused by a courtesy phone for a nearby Hyatt – perhaps they run a guest shuttle here? Finally, while the bathrooms themselves are fine, they’re located in an odd back hallway area.

The main attraction.

The terminal review was complete, and it was time to hop on the bus! With a bunch of people on board, we pulled out onto Forbes Road, which parallels I-93 and the suburban development surrounding it (office parks, business hotels, and parking lots). We turned onto Granite Street across from the South Shore Plaza, but we spent just a few seconds on this wide road before heading onto the highway ramp to I-93.

Obligatory rainbow swash!

The highway swung north at its interchange with Route 3, and it proceeded to run through the suburbia of Quincy, often separated by a layer of trees. I-93 got a bit more up close and personal with the neighborhood in East Milton Square, where it briefly burrowed beneath the commercial center in a short tunnel. Running through a marsh after that, we travelled alongside the Neponset River for a bit, going by a few Red Line stations in the process.

Oh hey, speaking of the Red Line – hi, Cabot Yard!

The highway went past the South Bay Center mall as we got closer to Boston, and soon the bus pulled off onto the separate express lane to the airport. With the Boston skyline looming closer, the lane suddenly dipped beneath the elevated highway, running between the two sets of tracks that run into South Station before entering a tunnel. Weirdly, the tunnel ran separately from the directly parallel I-90 tube, so we didn’t properly merge on until I-90’s short outdoor section in the Seaport District. It was definitely short though – we were back underground in the Ted Williams Tunnel in seconds. In classic Logan Express fashion, I wanted to go all the way to Terminal E, so once we came out of the tunnel in the airport, I stayed on until the VERY end.

Darn cars in the way, part 2.

Route: Braintree Logan Express

Ridership: I was surprised to find out that this is the busiest route on the Logan Express system (740,000 annual riders, or around 2,027 per day), but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it – this is the only Logan Express route that runs south, and the terminal is on the driving route from a bunch of places (Providence, New Bedford, the Cape, etc.). No wonder it’s the busiest one!

Pros: Like the other Logan Express routes, this essentially acts as a shuttle from a parking lot in the suburbs that’s cheaper than going to the airport itself. And since this is the busiest one, it’s arguably doing its job the best! The amenities within the terminal are good for what they are, and pre-pandemic, this thing had some excellent frequencies: every 20 minutes on weekdays and every half hour on weekends, with some really impressive service spans to boot (2 AM to 11 PM inbound!). It’s every hour now, but I’m sure they’ll improve it once people start flying again.

Cons: Why does Framingham, the second busiest Logan Express route, get a big fancy terminal with a massive parking garage when all this one gets is a lot? I’m not usually into adding more parking, but in this case, the service is pretty explicitly designed for car users, and I don’t think the current setup is enough.

Nearby and Noteworthy: You can use the Framingham Express to get to the Natick Mall; I suppose you could use the Braintree Express to get to the South Shore Plaza? Or just, like, the 236 or 238 for much cheaper. There’s not much around the Braintree terminal…

Final Verdict: 7/10
Yeah, I actually think this one is worse than the Framingham one! Even though it gets higher ridership, it doesn’t have the facilities to actually support that ridership – the pandemic would be a great time to close one of the lots and build a garage. Of course, we have no idea what the future looks like, do we? Maybe there’s not going to be a market for a Logan Express even after we get a widespread vaccine. Well…this is why I’m glad I’m in the transit industry rather than the aviation industry!

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