Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvard Shuttle: Extended Overnight (Quad - Mather House via Memorial Hall)

We're taking a break from the PVTA for just a bit while I work on a huge review that I think all you guys will really like! In the meantime, let's look at this piece of trash.

Comin' round the bend.
The Extended Overnight is Harvard's overnight bus (obviously), running from around 1 AM to 4 AM (5 on Saturday and Sunday mornings) on a strange, loopy, deviatory route around the entirety of Harvard Square. Nathan, Sam, and I took this route before doing the 171, because...well, why not? We boarded at the Quad at 3:10 in the morning.

No buses coming out of here at this time of night!
From the Quad, we made our way down to Garden Street, which was briefly residential before we came up alongside Cambridge Common. We looped all the way around, circling the Harvard Bus Tunnel and running up Mass Ave. It wasn't for long, though - we turned onto Everett Street, then Oxford Street, going by various Harvard buildings.

We turned onto Kirkland Street, then we pulled into the Memorial Hall deviation...and had to wait, because we were early. Well, gosh, I might as well be reviewing a PVTA route, since clearly Harvard took a page out of their book! We finally left and made a loop around the block via Quincy Street, Cambridge Street, Prescott Street, and Broadway, before coming back to the one-way Quincy.

The Yahd!
We were alongside Harvard Yard now, and we continued our loop around its perimeter by heading onto Mass Ave. We ran past the Holyoke Gate stop, however the route bypasses it, because...no, I have no idea why it does that. We turned onto Dunster Street, then Mount Auburn Street, going by smaller, more local Harvard Square businesses.

The intersection of Mount Auburn, Bow, and Linden Streets...duh!!! It's so obvious from the picture!
Next, we turned onto Dewolfe Street, then Cowperthwaite Street, which took us to Mather House...and we were early again! Oh boy! After a wait, we had to deviate to serve Peabody Terrace (or "Peobody" in the schedule - good one, guys), so we turned onto Banks Street. Upon reaching the stop, we just...did a three-point turn to turn around. Sigh...

The driver graciously let me take a picture at Mather House!
We went up Banks Street until Mount Auburn Street, where we looped around to Mass Ave for the third time on the trip. We took this up towards Harvard Square, but we got off at the stop just before it, at the intersection with Quincy Street. The bus continued towards Harvard, where it would eventually go back up to the Quad.

Goodbye, you rascal.
Harvard Shuttle Route: Extended Overnight (Quad - Mather House via Memorial Hall)

Ridership: On the outbound trip to the Quad, there was one person who got off. For our entire ride, there was absolutely no one. Yes, folks, this route truly gets amazing ridership.

Pros: It does provide overnight service to Harvard, but as we'll see, this doesn't mean much...

Cons: Okay, first of all, the route is a loopy mess. It's literally faster to walk to your destination than take the bus a lot of the time! Also, why the heck is it every thirty-five minutes? I mean, this thing definitely has at least five minutes of waiting time - it could easily be cut down to every 30 minutes to simplify the schedule. Finally,and here's the real kicker, why does this route run at all? Harvard provides an evening on-demand van service for all students and faculty that can be called with a special app - why isn't this just the only service? It would get people to their destinations much faster, plus it would save the university money by not having to run the Extended Overnight around in circles all night!

Nearby and Noteworthy: I don't know what you're doing up at 3 AM, but if you are, all of Harvard Square is at your fingertips with this route!

Final Verdict: 1/10
Cut it. Cut it. Cut it. Okay, I know there's probably some political reason that this route needs to exist, but why? The evening van can literally perform all of its functions more directly and more efficiently. That's right, I am actually calling a flex service more efficient than a fixed-route service. That's how bad this route is!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, October 16, 2017

PVTA: G1 (Chicopee/Sumner-Allen/Canon Circle)

The G1 is honestly the most legit-feeling bus route on the PVTA. Sure, the B7 is busier and more frequent, but the deviations along the route still make it feel like an RTA. The G1, meanwhile, could honestly pass for a T bus route in Boston, at least for most of it.

Okay, not this part.
Granted, the route does start with a double-deviation. Sam and I got on the bus (which was 10 minutes late, of all things) at the Big Y, but it deviates to serve Walmart before that. I would like to point out that I was originally going to take this route on a different day, but the only mention of the Walmart deviation being first is a tiny footnote at the bottom of the schedule with no asterisks leading down to it. Heck, the route's line map even shows Walmart as being the second stop! So yeah...needless to say, I didn't realize it serves Walmart first, and I missed the bus waiting there. Thanks, G1!

Coming onto Memorial Drive.
We turned onto Memorial Drive, a wide road with suburban businesses and parking lots on either side. They got a little sparser after we went under I-90, and in fact, it even got a little woodsy. There were a few more businesses, then we went over the Chicopee River, where there was an amazing view.

On the other side of the bridge.
After the river had been crossed, we turned onto Main Street, then Grove Street. There were businesses at first, but Grove Street added some apartments to the mix. We merged onto Front Street next, which was mostly retail, but there were a few random houses in there as well.

A residential side street.
We went by a park, then it started to get more urban, with lots of different buildings lining the road. There were dense houses, businesses, a library, a basilica, and a school, among other things! We soon entered Chicopee Center, where we turned onto Cabot Street, taking us through the really boring and run-down downtown.

Oh, gross!
We passed a post office and a small park, then we merged into Center Street. After a mix of auto shops and normal retail, the road grew really wide for an interchange with I-391 and we came up alongside the Connecticut River. It was woodsy for a little while, but it got industrial after we went under I-91.

Some random auto shop.
Soon we entered Springfield, and the street became Main Street. We went through part of the Baystate Medical Center complex, then we went under I-91 again. On the other side, there was a gas station, a post office, and some businesses later on. We also passed the PVTA garage; there are lots of short-turn "G1" trips that pull back here from other routes.

A side street.
From that point, Main Street was basically lined with businesses for quite a while. Eventually it grew really wide and we went under I-291 (so many highways to go under!) and past some office buildings. Finally, we came into Union Station, the midpoint of the route. There were a lot of people waiting to get on.

Union Station!
We returned to Main Street, going under the Union Station tracks and past lots of buildings and businesses. The buildings were tall for a while until eventually they lowered and it became just pure retail. There were also some apartments and churches mixed in there, too. Also, did I mention the bus was packed by this point?

This is getting a little ridiculous! Remember, this isn't the MBTA!
Eventually we merged onto Locust Street, then another merge onto Fort Pleasant Ave. This was a wide road lined almost entirely with dense houses. Next, we turned onto Sumner Ave, which was...basically the same. We passed a park, and there were lots of businesses when we went through The X, but it was back to houses after that.

There were a few bits of retail at certain points, but it was almost entirely residential by now. Also, at some point along here...we were passed by another G1. I'll repeat: we were passed by another G1. THIS IS AN RTA ROUTE WITH BUNCHING! HOW COOL IS THAT?? Okay, it was also kind of annoying, but still!

Houses, houses, houses...
We merged into Allen Street, which was one-way, and it continued to be the same kind of housing as before (aside from an apartment development at one point). Once the two one-way roads merged back together, there were suburban businesses with parking lots, mostly to the south. Allen Street eventually got narrower, and after a run through a semi-woodsy area, we turned onto Cooley Street.

More, more, more houses.
After some regular residential areas, we turned onto Canon Circle, which was home to Spring Meadow Apartments. We looped around the development, then made our way back up Cooley Street. This time, we bypassed Allen Street in order to deviate to both Stop & Shop and Five Town Plaza. Yeah, the G1 feels like a legitimate bus route except at both of its termini...

More people! Poor bus!
Two G1's going in opposite directions - the one on the left was our bunch.
PVTA Route: G1 (Chicopee/Sumner-Allen/Canon Circle)

Ridership: This is the third-busiest route on the PVTA, so...yeah, it gets great ridership. It averages about 33 passengers per trip, but my late bus got absolutely packed, as you could see! The buncher behind us wasn't that busy...

Pros: The G1 provides frequent service to lots of dense parts of Springfield and Chicopee. By "frequent," I mean every 20 minutes on weekdays, every half hour on Saturdays, and every 45 minutes on Sundays. This is an important route!

Cons: Wow, as it would turn out, I have a lot of problems with this route. First of all, the G1 is decidedly busier than the P20 (not by much, but still), yet the P20 is far more frequent on weekends. Also, the whole Walmart thing with the G1 bothers me - it needs to be way more obvious in the schedule that the route serves Walmart first. Finally, there's the fact that this is a huge beast of a route that clearly gets late a lot. It seems like it would be better to split it into two - are there really that many people going from one side to the other, anyway? If it was two routes, I'm sure the on-time performance would be much better.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Meh, I didn't see much of note along here. The malls and stuff that it serves are probably the most interesting places, since downtown Springfield and Chicopee Center are not.

Final Verdict: 6/10
Huh...okay, well, turns out I dislike the G1 more than I thought I would. It's an important route, but in that vein, it feels like it should be more frequent on weekends. As for the Walmart bit, I think I wouldn't care if I hadn't experienced it the hard way, but I did, so now I'm a big advocate for making the footnote on the schedule way more obvious! And then there's the lateness...this seems to be the one PVTA route that normally gets late (from my experience, at least), and I think a good way of fixing this would be to split the G1 at Union Station. That way, late buses would get some layover time and they wouldn't have to stay late all the way to the other side of the route.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Last Route (Video)

Well, this is long overdue! Here's a video review of the last bus route on the T...but that's easier said than done. Enjoy!

Monday, October 9, 2017

PVTA: G3 (Springfield Plaza via Liberty/King-Westford)

The G3 is the least "trunky" of the three routes that run from one end of the system to the other via Union Station. I mean, more than half of the northern G3 parallels the X90 (although I would love for that to change), while the southern section ends on really tiny cute residential streets! This is an interesting route.

Oh look, its tongue is sticking out!
The G3 starts at Springfield Plaza, and since it was a Saturday, we could get right to the route - on weekdays, it has to make an extra deviation to the Springfield RMV after the plaza. We went onto Liberty Street, and after a brief bit of woods, there were houses on both sides. As we got far enough south, businesses finally started to appear along the road.

Liberty Street runs at an angle to other streets.
Eventually we reached a big rotary around an interchange with I-291. At this point, the X90 left to go onto Armory Street, and so we were finally alone on Liberty. There were dense houses on one side and industrial buildings on the other, but eventually the latter moved to both sides.

We made a brief deviation down Franklin Street to serve Saab Court, which had a few sizeable apartment buildings. Coming back to Liberty Street, it turned out we were pretty close to Union Station - we pulled in there after a few blocks. After a brief wait, we were off again.

At Saab Court.
We went down Main Street, which went under the Union Station train tracks and into downtown Springfield. Next, we turned onto Harrison Ave, Dwight Street, and State Street, passing various urban buildings. State Street went by the Springfield Museums, the US District Court, and the Springfield Armory.

A side street.
There were lots of businesses along here, as well as Springfield Technical Community College. All of a sudden, we entered our unique section by turning onto the narrower Hancock Street. There was retail for a little while, but once we turned onto King Street, it was all houses.

This is so pleasant!
There was a big cathedral eventually, and soon after that we saw some athletic facilities for Springfield College. We turned onto Westford Ave next, then Westford Circle, which had a nice leafy median. After that, we turned onto Middlesex Street, which was the start of the bus's loop to turn around - I got off along here.

See ya!
PVTA Route: G3 (Springfield Plaza via Liberty/King-Westford)

Ridership: It may not get the highest ridership in the world, but it's above the threshold of 20 passengers per trip - about 23 people. It adds up over the course of the day, too; this is the 10th-busiest route on the system, which is pretty good!

Pros: The G3 is sort of a nook-and-crannie route, covering little parts of Springfield that other routes don't serve. It does this with relatively good frequency, at least on weekends: every half hour on Saturdays and every hour on Sundays (when ridership is less).

Cons: More than I realized, honestly. First of all, there's that stupid weekday RMV deviation the PVTA added recently...WHY IS THAT A THING? For one thing, the route already serves one down near Union Station, and for another, the deviation made the weekday schedule really weird - it has 30-minute gaps, 40-minute gaps, 45-minute gaps...it's just a complete mess. Also, the nature of the route requires it to spend a lot of time paralleling other ones. It's not so bad with the State Street corridor in the southern section, since it basically has to use that, but in the north, so much of the route is with the X90. It's even worse on Sundays, when for some stupid reason, the route is extended to Chicopee Falls. WHY? All it does is parallel the X90 more, and they're not even coordinated - they run about 10-15 minutes apart. The route could go way more frequently if it was cut back to Springfield Plaza! Sigh...

Nearby and Noteworthy: I gotta say, the southern end of this route is really pleasant. It's quiet, peaceful, and right by a calm river!

Final Verdict: 6/10
Wow, that's too bad. This route has so much potential! If the X90 were to go onto Saint James Ave like I proposed, two of the G3's problems would be solved: it wouldn't have to parallel the X90, and it wouldn't have to serve the RMV, meaning it could go back to normal half-hour frequency on weekdays. As for the Sunday extension to Chicopee Falls...yeah, just get rid of that already. I don't know why it even exists in the first place.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, October 8, 2017

PVTA: X90 (Inner Crosstown)

The X90 has a split personality, both literally and figuratively. The literal part is that it's split into two branches, the X90A and X90B. The figurative part is that the southern half of the route is fine, while the northern part of the route is so horrible. We'll start on the southern end.

We're not quite at the first stop, unfortunately.
I didn't get to ride the bus from the very first stop, since I was walking from my G2 trip on its other branch that doesn't run with the X90. Still, it's not like I missed much - just a deviation to Stop & Shop and a deviation to the East Longmeadow Big Y. I boarded at one of the first street stops after that, and we headed down North Main Street.

Some houses on a side street.
There were pretty ugly businesses for a bit, but as soon as we entered Springfield, it was residential and the road was now White Street. We broke off from the G2 when it turned onto Belmont Ave, and there were bits of retail both at that intersection and at the one with Sumner Ave. There were more dense houses from there, as well as an elementary school.

That's a nice median there!
We merged onto Allen Street, which made some twists and turns and went over a small river. There were some abandoned-looking factories here, then the street became Walnut Street and we passed some businesses. After that, there were a lot of dense houses and apartments, but businesses showed up in there too.

Some of the factories on Allen Street.
As we crossed State Street, we passed some businesses, as well as the buildings of Springfield Technical Community College. Next, we turned onto Lincoln Street, then Magazine Street, which became Armory Street. It was kinda weird and industrial around here.

Some scraps and what looks to be a church.
We went over some train tracks, then we crossed I-291 on a weirdly-shaped rotary thing and merged onto Liberty Street. We were now joined by the G3, and we would be running with that route for a while. Along here, there were businesses, auto shops, churches, and dense houses on the side streets.

An auto shop with houses behind.
Eventually everything but the houses left, and they started to get more spread out. There was a brief section of woods, then all of a sudden, the huge expanse of Springfield Plaza came into view. Of course, we deviated into it, and...oh God, did I mention this route has some of the worst PVTA Syndrome on the system? We were 9 minutes early. And this wouldn't be the last time we would have to stop and wait at a timepoint!

I guess that means more time to admire this...uh...parking lot...
We finally left and returned to Liberty Street, which quickly became Broadway Street when we entered Chicopee. It was residential for a while, but there were some businesses at the intersection with Saint James Ave. For the first time, the two branches of the X90 split: the X90B went onto Grove Street, while I was on an X90A, so we just stayed on Broadway.

A parking lot for somethin' or other.
The street was pretty diverse, with a park at first, then some dense houses, retail, a cemetery, and an apartment development, in that order. We rejoined the X90B (that was quick!) and headed onto the Deady Memorial Bridge over the Chicopee River. On the other side, we headed onto the wide Memorial Drive and zoomed past lots of trees.

What a view!
After going under I-90, we were absolutely surrounded by suburban businesses with parking lots. Time to deviate into some of them! First we served Chicopee Walmart, as well as Chicopee Marketplace. Next, we went over to the other side of Memorial Drive, ran around Chicopee Big Y, and finally arrived at the stop for it. Luckily we weren't early, and we could just keep going.

The Big Y stop was right next to a hotel.
We travelled down a weird unnamed entrance road that took us all the way over to Montgomery Street. We quickly merged onto Granby Road from there, which featured a trailer park and an apartment development, then suburban houses for a bit. However, when we came back to Memorial Drive, all those businesses with parking lots came back.

Memorial Drive was really just those kinds of businesses for a long time. Sure, there was the occasional apartment development or shopping plaza to spice it up a bit, but it was still really really boring. We went around a rotary, then we passed houses for at least a little bit. Finally, we waited forever at a light to make a left turn onto Britton Street.

At least it's kind of a change...
We turned onto Montcalm Street, which was residential, and we arrived at the Montcalm Heights Apartments stop, a major timepoint. After that, we turned back onto Memorial Drive, and...oh, that whole thing was a deviation? Now we have to take it all the way back to that second rotary? Oh...okay, then.

The backs of some houses.
Back at the rotary, we turned onto James Street, which was mostly just residential. We were joined by the X90B at Montcalm Street, and we both headed together down James. Eventually it got woodsy, then it became Syrek Street, with houses on one side and the Connecticut River on the other. There wasn't a view, though.

Now there's a view!
We entered South Hadley and the street became Main Street, but it didn't last long. We curved around past a park, then we turned onto Bridge Street, taking us over the Connecticut River into Holyoke. The street went over a canal, then we turned onto (surprise) Canal Street. Here, we split from the X90B again - the B stays on Canal Street, while we turned onto Lyman Street, which was lined with various apartments.
Welcome to Holyoke!
We turned onto Race Street, and right next to the Holyoke Amtrak station, we turned onto Dwight Street. After two more canals and the Volleyball Hall of Fame, we made our way around to the Holyoke Transportation Center. Finally! That was a long ride. So that's it, right? I don't have to do the X90B, do I...?

OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!
The X90B takes a different route out of Holyoke, travelling down the main drag of the city. Well, we were one block over from the main drag on Maple Street, so it was less "main draggy," but it was close enough. At the Holyoke Public Library, we turned onto Cabot Street, which became industrial after some apartments and a canal crossing.

The window was open, so these pictures came out great!
After a second canal crossing, Cabot Street had some businesses along it. Eventually we got really close to the bridge that would take us to the next part of the route if the X90B was planned with any kind of sense. But guess what? It's not. Instead we turned onto Canal Street, which was literally just a stretch of abandoned factories. Good thing they deviated the bus to serve all this!

Eventually we rejoined the X90A and headed onto Bridge Street together. We stayed with the A on Main Street, Syrek Street, and James Street for a bit before turning off onto a unique section again. This was Montcalm Street, but it quickly became Prospect Street, and it was residential.

Getting a little more urban.
We passed an electric substation and merged onto Buckley Boulevard a little past there. This was woodsy, at least until we arrived at Chicopee Street - right across the Connecticut River from that bridge that we could've taken ten minutes ago! Sigh...well, we turned onto Chicopee Street, and it was everything from businesses to apartments to houses to old factories.

A mostly residential side street.
We went under I-391, turned onto Meadow Street and Grattan Street, and went over I-391! We were unique from other routes now, and it was mostly just a lot of suburban houses. There were some businesses at the intersection with Dale Street, and they continued intermittently from there. We went under I-90, and after a stretch of mostly houses, we reunited with the X90A at its bridge over the Chicopee River. We would be able to cross the river, right? Right?

NOPE. SO IT TURNS OUT THE X90B HAS TO DEVIATE TO SERVE THE CHICOPEE BIG Y AND WALMART! Now keep in mind, it's not too hard for the X90A to do it, since all that stuff is on the way of that route. The X90B, meanwhile, has to actually travel way up there just to serve it and come back. Come on!!!!

That stupid hotel again...
We had to go up Montgomery Street to get there, which was mostly houses. We went under I-90, then turned onto that entry road to get to the Big Y. Arriving at the stop at 2:41, I assumed we would be able to just keep on going. Then I checked the departure time: 2:55. 14 minutes early? 14 MINUTES EARLY???? OH, OKAY, COOL, LET'S JUST WAIT HERE FOR A QUARTER OF AN HOUR.

Well, finally!
After that mess, we served Walmart and returned the way we came on Memorial Drive. We went over the bridge with the X90A, but there was one more split before we would be truly reunited. We turned onto Main Street, then Grove Street, along with the G1. Except...not quite. Whereas the G1 just stays on Grove, the X90B makes a one-block jog via Court Street and Church Street...then it just rejoins the G1! What could the route possibly be serving that's worth a one-block deviation from the main road? Finally, we returned to the X90A on Broadway Street, and the nightmare was finally over when I got off at Springfield Plaza.

A northbound bus, with mine in the background. Both were early.
PVTA Route: X90 (Inner Crosstown)

Ridership: Honestly, having taken this route maybe three or four times, I have yet to ride it where there were more than seven people on the bus at once. The overall numbers match that observation, too - the route only gets about 19 people per trip. Sure, it's only one below the threshold for a well-performing route, but when you consider how long the X90 is, it becomes apparent that this thing doesn't get all that much ridership.

Pros: The route is fairly useful as a crosstown, connecting lots of dense areas to each other without the need to go via Union Station. It's also pretty frequent, with service every half hour on weekdays and Saturdays (every hour on each branch), and every hour on Sundays. They recently cut Sunday service back to the Chicopee Big Y, which seems like a good decision based on the route's ridership. It also means that on Sundays, the route goes from Big Y to Big Y, which is the most PVTA thing ever!

Cons: BOTH of the X90's branches are problematic in their own ways. The X90A is annoying because it has that long deviation to the Montcalm Heights Apartments. The X90B, although it moves quickly enough that you feel like you're going somewhere, is just a circuitous mess, and for no good reason. Also, on a more radical note, does the route really have to travel down Liberty Street? It's just paralleling the G3, and it seems redundant to have the routes go alongside each other for so long.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Take your pick: Chicopee Big Y, or East Longmeadow Big Y! Okay, there are some other shopping plazas along here, as well as local businesses, but come on, it's the PVTA - Big Y is all that matters!

Final Verdict: 5/10
This is a good route in theory, but gosh, are the branches bad! Between the two, though, the X90B is far worse because it just doesn't serve anything - all it does is loop around itself on roads with either spaced-out houses or abandoned factories, not to mention it has that stupid one-block deviation from the G1. Honestly, if they cut the B and just ran the A, I don't think too many people would be upset. As for paralleling the G3 on Liberty Street, I found a different route the X90 could take: Saint James Ave.

There are multiple advantages to this routing. Firstly, there are practically no neighborhoods that lose service; it's only where there's a single black line on the map, and most of that is industrial. Secondly, the Saint James Ave route passes the Springfield RMV, meaning the G3 could eliminate its new deviation there, which caused that route to lose frequency (we'll be covering the G3 soon). Third, this route is slightly longer than the current one, so the schedule padding at Springfield Plaza would be at least a little smaller. Finally, it serves a pretty sizeable neighborhood of dense homes with no access to bus service! Seems like a win-win-win-win to me, but there's probably some reason why it can't happen. Oh well...it looks good on paper!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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