Tuesday, August 15, 2017

PVTA: B12 (Stonybrook Express)

Heyyyyy, let's hop on the Prison Express! No, I'm not joking, that's literally what the B12 is: a nonstop, highway-running express route...to a prison. Like, a gigantic, proper prison. Huh. Yeah, I'm just gonna go ahead and say that this is a strange route.

Here we go!
I mean, it was a hassle just to get on this thing! Granted, it's not often someone asks to take a route to a maximum security prison just to stay on and come back, so I can see how it would be a bit sketchy. The driver had to ask his supervisor, and they agreed that if I just did whatever the driver told me to do, it would be fine. I was in!

Some parking lot.
We went west down Main Street for a bit, going by Springfield's newspaper, the Republican, then we turned onto Congress Street. After passing lots of offices, we turned onto Dwight Street and immediately made our way onto a ramp to I-291. There wasn't much of a view, just formless office and industrial buildings, mostly. 

A formless apartment building? I guess that works too.
After a little while, though, it basically just became trees. Sure, there were houses and buildings fairly close to the highway, but the foliage blocked it, so we couldn't see much. We did eventually get to see some industrial buildings, for what it's worth.

Soon enough, though, it was back in the woods for us. We entered Chicopee and crossed over a river of the same name, then we went under I-90...and that was the end of 291. Now it was a local street called Burnett Road, and there were suburban businesses and industrial buildings everywhere. Eventually, it got more residential, but the B12 makes no stops, so we sailed past the houses.

A "business" and a motel.
There were a few more businesses and industries, then it became all houses. Once we entered Ludlow and the road became Holyoke Street, it was again industrial, including a huge solar farm. Next, we turned onto West Street, going by a trailer park and some more industrial buildings.

Very rustic!
Eventually we turned onto Randall Road, which went through pure woods. The street curved around through the trees until we entered a parking lot: we were now in the Hampshire County House of Corrections. We made our way to the visitor's lobby, where all the other passengers got out. Meanwhile, we had one more stop to make in the prison.

Here we go!
We looped around the parking lot and headed onto Texas Drive, going by a small lake-pond-something? There were random buildings along the way, then we pulled into the Pre-Release Center, where prisoners are allowed to spend the day outside of the prison with trackers around their ankles. The driver said that operators of the B12 are specially trained to report to the Sheriff if any of the pre-release passengers act up even a little bit. This is intense stuff! There was no one getting on there today, though, so we just headed back to Springfield with an empty bus.

Security is high...
PVTA Route: B12 (Stonybrook Express)

Ridership: This route has two classes of ridership: there are the pre-release prisoners, as I mentioned, and there are also visitors. My ride was entirely the latter class, with seven women going to see people in the prison. In 2016, the route averaged about 4 passengers per trip, which makes sense, considering the first inbound and last outbound are almost guaranteed to be empty.

Pros: It's, uh, a prison express? You know, it's a weird thought, but it definitely provides a really important service. Plus, the entire route is paid for by the Hampton County Sheriffs Department, so PVTA doesn't have to worry about a thing!

Cons: The schedule is really weird. Maybe it has something to do with how the prison works, but there are four trips from Springfield, weekdays and Saturdays: 1:48, 4:03, 6:03, and 7:48. Strange times...

Nearby and Noteworthy: Uhhhh...literally just the prison. That's it. Have fun!

Final Verdict: 7/10
This is sort of a hard route to review, but I think a 7 suits it pretty well. It definitely provides an important service for a very limited group of people, and it's fully subsidized, but...gosh, it's just weird! The fact that it makes no other stops is strange, and those schedule times (seemingly) make no sense. One thing's for sure, this was an interesting experience, and I'm really glad I was able to ride this crazy route!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, August 13, 2017

GUEST POST: Service Change: Roanoke Valley Metro System

Gary took a trip on the Roanoke Valley Metro System and wrote up an interesting overview of what he saw. Thanks, Gary!

The Valley Metro is a system in southwestern Virginia that comprises of thirty-one local and two express routes, special event shuttles, and the Starline Trolley.

Their paratransit system, called “S.T.A.R.” which stands for Specialized Transit-Arranged Rides, is operated by R.A.D.A.R.

Valley Metro is mostly comprised of Gillig buses, the newer buses being the low-floor “Advantages” and the older buses being the high-floor “Phantoms.” Their Starline Trolley is a trolley-body bus that is manufactured by Hometown Trolley. Their primary express service is called the “SmartWay” which utilizes MCI coach buses and operates two legs, a Blacksburg-Roanoke leg which serves the students of Virginia Tech, and a Roanoke-Lynchburg leg which connects to Amtrak Northeast Regional trains. With the Amtrak service coming to Roanoke proper this fall, I am not sure if the service will continue to operate.

The main terminal is Campbell Court, which is a parking garage that includes bus bays and berths for Greyhound, Megabus, and the Valley Metro, as well as a decent indoor passenger area with restrooms, vending machines, and ticket windows. The Amtrak station will operate on the other side of Salem Street from the main building.

The “SmartWay” bus is the only service that operates seven days per week and 365 days per year. It’s also the only service that runs past nine in the evening.

The local buses make up the bulk of the service, but are set up in the following manner:

  • Most routes operate a 30 minute weekday only peak frequency, with midday, Saturday and the remaining routes such as the 91 and 92 to Salem being strictly hourly. The FINAL run departs at 8:15 PM, NO EXCEPTIONS.
  • You can NOT purchase a day pass (called a “24 hour pass”) or any other pass on board the buses; you MUST do so at Campbell Court. Also at Campbell Court, purchases are CASH ONLY. That caused a mild degree of inconvenience as I had to go find an ATM once I got to Campbell Court.
  • Drivers are NOT required to use the shoulder strap for wheelchair passengers; the operator said the policy exists as most wheelchair-bound passengers stated that they preferred NOT to be strapped in.
  • The majority of the routes leave outbound from Campbell Court as one route, then interline at the other end of the route onto another route. This makes the routes look somewhat loopy, and it got confusing for me, as from the hotel we boarded a route 51 outbound but had to board an inbound 55 to return to the hotel on the same routing, if we were travelling to or from Tanglewood Mall.
  • The Starline Trolley is the only route that operates in fifteen minute intervals, WEEKDAYS ONLY from 7-7.

Valley Metro buses making their way through downtown Roanoke.
System: Roanoke, Virginia “Valley Metro”

Ridership: Ridership, as I have observed, varies from one route to another, with there being routes that are busier than others.

Pros: The buses are generally clean and on-time. They also serve a majority of the primary activity nodes people would want to get to. They also connect to Blacksburg Transit and Radford Transit (connections to Radford University).

1. You can NOT purchase a day pass on board.
2. There is NO Sunday service outside of the “SmartWay” route.
3. The frequency for a couple of routes could be improved.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Lots of stuff. Roanoke Convention center, two shopping malls, Virginia Western Community College, the Virginia Tech, several medical centers, a Veteran’s Administration hospital, Blue Ridge Mountains, downtown Roanoke, Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs (ice hockey), and OF COURSE, the real reason I went there in the first place: the Virginia Transportation Museum, Commonwealth Coach and Trolley Museum, and the Brain Injury Center of Southwestern Virginia.

Final Verdict: 8/10
It is a REALLY good system, and I would give them a 10 if it wasn’t for the issues involved with simply buying a day pass, as well as their lack of Sunday service, which I am sure is a hassle for the locals. The pleasantness of the operators, customer service staff, the cleanliness of their buses and the stunning views help, however.

More information on the Valley Metro can be found here.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

PVTA: B4 (Union Station/Plainfield Street)

Man, I wonder how the residents of Plainfield Street got around "b4" the B4 came around! HA! Ahem...

The bus at Union Station.
We left Union Station and headed down the wide Main Street. We were going away from downtown, though, so the scenery was boring - just offices and businesses with parking lots. After going under I-291, we merged onto Plainfield Street outside of two churches. This took us over I-91.

A view before the highway crossing.
Once over the bridge, we took a right onto...Plainfield Street. Okay, I guess the street decided to turn along with us. We were traveling along a field on one side and a housing development on the other, then we turned onto Clyde Street and entered the development. As we curved north, the street became Sanderson Street.

Lotsa identical houses...
We were basically between two different apartment developments now. Meanwhile, the Connecticut River was only a block away, but the view was blocked by a wall. We curved around eastward, and outside of a clinic, we turned again onto Plainfield Street.

There's the wall!
Along Plainfield Street, it was mostly dense houses, while we also passed a few churches and an elementary school. Eventually, we left the neighborhood and turned onto Wason Ave, which went along an abandoned lot and some trees. Finally, we deviated into the Baystate Medical Offices, ending the very short trip.

The bus laying over.
PVTA Route: B4 (Union Station/Plainfield Street)

Ridership: Since it's such a short route, the B4 isn't going to do quite as well as something longer, but it still holds its own pretty well. In terms of daily ridership, it got 733 passengers on average in 2012, while it got about 10 people per trip in 2014. Most of the passengers on my ride got off in the apartment developments along Clyde and Sanderson Streets.

Pros: I have a soft spot for super short local routes, and the B4 is just that. It serves a very important, dense, and transit-using neighborhood, and since the route is so short, it can achieve decent frequency with only one bus. On weekdays, it's every 40 minutes, while it runs every 30 on Saturdays and every 60 on Sundays (interlined with the R14).

Cons: This is seemingly a minor thing, but it bothers me so much. Take a look at the schedule:
So...does it skip Plainfield and Wason on Saturdays? Looks pretty unavoidable on the map. I had to ask supervisors at Union Station just to be sure, and they all had no idea what it meant. Turns out it takes the exact same route, yet for some reason they make it look like it doesn't. This is awful.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Most of the B4 is residential, so I got nothin'.

Final Verdict: 6/10
Normally, I would give this a 7. You know, it's a short little route with decent ridership that performs adequately. But that schedule...I mean, come on, how stupid is that? Yes, that tiny little omission of a timepoint is worth a point in the score for me. It's confusing for new riders, and it just doesn't make any sense. Why is Plainfield and Wason even a timepoint in the first place? It's literally two minutes away from the terminus. They'd be much better off putting a timepoint at, say, Clyde and Sanderson, where most people are getting on the bus anyway.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

PVTA: B17 (Eastfield Mall via Worthington/Wilbraham Road)

Sometimes the madness of the B7 can be a bit much. I just wish there was an alternative way of getting from the Eastfield Mall to Springfield that's a little bit quieter. Wait...the B17 is quieter and faster? Wow, okay, cool! Just let me adjust to these 45-minute headways and I think we'll be good!

The bus at the mall.
Unfortunately, we left about 5-7 minutes late, and I was worried about making my connection in Springfield. Oh well - nothing to do but just ride it out. We left the Eastfield Mall and made our way to Boston Road through the gigantic parking lot. We rode along here with the B7 for a little bit, but soon we turned onto Parker Street, starting our independent section.

Some houses on a side street.
We left the suburban businesses of the wide Boston Road behind; we were now on a narrow street going right through a quiet residential neighborhood. The road went over the tiny North Branch Mill River, then later on we passed a cemetery. Other than that, it was just houses, houses, houses.

Like these ones!
We went by a residential development and a church, but the single houses still reigned supreme. Eventually, we reached Sixteen Acres Center, an intersection with lots of suburban businesses with parking lots...and somehow, we were early! Geez, PVTA, I'm glad you pad your routes, but do you really have to do it in the middle of them?

A gas station.
We made a nice right merge onto Wilbraham Road, which was...oh...more houses? Huh, alright. Eventually, though, the scenery did change - we went by a church, a gardening center, and Western New England University.

All that stuff was on the other side of the bus, though, so...enjoy these houses!
Next, we went by a housing development and a few shopping plazas at the intersection with Breckwood Boulevard. There was also a school, a church, and a small, dense cemetery. Soon after that, the road went on an isthmus through Lake Lookout, but it was short and trees blocked the view of the lake.

The little graveyard.
After Lake Lookout, the houses became a lot denser. We passed by the back of a gigantic MassMutual complex, then after a connection with the X92 at Roosevelt Ave, it became a mix of dense houses and the occasional business. We went by an elementary school and American International College, then we joined up with the B7 on State Street at "Mason Square," which wasn't much of a square at all.

A bounce house!!!!!
The wide State Street was an all-around mix of apartments, businesses, industrial buildings, and municipal buildings. We weren't on it for a particularly long time, though - soon we turned onto Saint James Ave, then made another quick turn onto Magazine Street. There was a park and dense houses along here, then they became apartments as we turned onto Worthington Street.

Making a turn.
We rounded a curve and headed down a hill. We gained a lot of riders at a stop outside of a homeless shelter, then there were lots of industrial buildings and abandoned property lots. And then...then it was time for "A Million Crazy Curves Frenzy!" Get ready for this...

A parking lot with some rather decrepit-looking buildings behind it.
Alright, we got this party started by turning onto Chestnut Street for a block, then Taylor Street for a block. Next, it was time for Dwight Street, which took us past brick buildings and parking lots - basically what we had been seeing this whole Frenzy. Eventually we reached Harrison Ave and turned onto that, then we finally made it onto Main Street. We took this through downtown Springfield, under the railroad tracks, and into Union Station.

The bus picking up for another trip.
PVTA Route: PVTA: B17 (Eastfield Mall via Worthington/Wilbraham Road)

Ridership: It's weird, I've ridden the B17 twice and seen it many times, and it's never had that many people on it. However, according to the PVTA, its ridership is pretty good: 815 daily riders in 2012 and 26 passengers per revenue hour in 2014, which is above the 20 PPRH threshold for a well-performing service. I guess I've just been unlucky on my trips?

Pros: The B17 serves a lot of suburban areas out in East Springfield, plus it offers a faster trip to the Eastfield Mall than the busy and slow B7. This is also the only route to serve that homeless shelter in Springfield, and that stop always has at least three to four people waiting for the bus in either direction from what I've seen. The route runs every 45 minutes weekdays and Saturdays only, which is a bit of a wonky headway, but I guess it equates to some good ridership numbers, if the counts are to be believed.

Cons: Again, this is only based on my experiences, but it seems like this route gets way more ridership in the dense inner section than the suburban outer section. I'm wondering if it would be worth it to short-turn some trips to improve frequency on that inner part. Also, this route suffers from the classic PVTA earliness problem - we left late, yet we still had to wait along the way. But honestly, the part of the B17 that really grinded my gears was that crazy turn frenzy in Springfield. At first, I thought it was just necessary because of one-way streets. That's not true. Then I thought maybe it was to serve downtown Springfield. But why would the outbound route bypass most of it? No, this just seems stupid to me...

Nearby and Noteworthy: The route is pretty darn gritty in downtown Springfield, while the outer portion is just houses. This is a slightly faster and less busy route to the Eastfield Mall, though, so if you have the option between the B17 and the B7, take this one.

Final Verdict: 6/10
This is a generally good route that can perform its functions, and it seems to get more ridership than I give it credit for, but I'm just not feeling greater than a 6 for this thing. The real culprit is, of course, the insane amount of turns within Springfield. I mean, the routing takes 6 minutes when it could be lowered to as little as 2 minutes:

This is hard to view properly within the blog, so I recommend hitting that full-screen button to open the map in a new tab. I have two alternative routes here: there's one that takes a direct routing via Chestnut Street (2 minutes), while another one uses Taylor Street to still serve downtown a bit (3 minutes). Remember, the current route is 6 minutes, so the time could be at least 50% faster. I rest my case.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

PVTA: B7 (Eastfield Mall via State/Boston Road)

Woah, hey, it's, like, an actual bus route! Yes, despite the fact that much of the PVTA does feel like a typical RTA, they also have a fair amount of routes that feel like legitimate city buses. The B7 is one such example, running northeast from Springfield up to the Eastfield Mall.

The bus at Springfield Union Station.
We already had a pretty crowded vehicle as we left Union Station, making our way down to Main Street. After going under the Amtrak tracks, we were in the heart of downtown Springfield, with fairly tall buildings housing businesses everywhere. Eventually, we came up alongside a little park that featured a fancy bus shelter.

Alongside the park.
Outside of the huge MassMutual Center, we turned onto State Street and passed a very tall apartment building and the Springfield Museums. The wide road went by a courthouse, then one side was occupied by the Springfield Armory while the other side had a high school and some businesses. The street gained a median, and we passed some office buildings and more retail.

Some businesses before an intersection.
From there, it was a dynamic mix of basically everything: there were apartments, businesses, parking lots, community buildings, religious buildings, and abandoned property lots. The bus kept filling up, too. After Mason Square (which wasn't much of a square, just a skinny park between two streets), State Street lost its median.

Davis Square? Harvard Square? Nahhh, Mason Square is where it's at!
We went by American International College on one side of the street (while parking lots occupied the other side), then we got some industrial buildings and businesses. After going over Roosevelt Ave on a bridge, we passed a huge MassMutual office building and turned onto Blunt Park Road. This was a deviation that took us past a school and a hospital; its real purpose, though, was to serve Independence House, an apartment building.

Well, I do believe this is the entrance to Independence House!
We came back to State Street, where it was once again a mix of businesses and industrial buildings. Soon, we merged onto Boston Road, taking us past a cemetery and...well, basically the exact same scenery as before. Other points of interest included a big abandoned lot and a small church.

Going by a park.
We passed through a short "forest," then we went by a shopping center where buses that don't serve Independence House deviate. It was more businesses and parking lots after that, including some more shopping plazas. Finally, we came to one deemed worth deviating for; it had a Walmart in it.

After that deviation, it was...more businesses with parking lots. The road got really wide for the intersection with Parker Street, and after a few more shopping plazas, we pulled into the biggest one around: the Eastfield Mall. We made our way through the gigantic parking lot to the main bus stop at the back of the mall, where the remaining passengers got out and the bus headed off to lay over.

Here it is after its layover getting ready to go back to Springfield.
PVTA Route: B7 (Eastfield Mall via State/Boston Road)

Ridership: This is the busiest route on the PVTA, with 5,475 riders per day. Believe it or not, that's almost as much as the MBTA's 71, which gets 5,548 riders! Clearly, we are dealing with a legitimately busy route there, and my ride was no exception, with a total of around 45 riders and points where people had to stand. Not only were there trips from Union out, but people also used the route for local rides between smaller stops.

Pros: The B7 serves a very important and busy corridor to the northeast of Springfield, and it's clear from the ridership that many people rely on this. Thankfully, it also has the frequency to support the ridership: the route runs every 15 minutes on weekdays, every 20 minutes on Saturdays (with additional express trips every hour to the Eastfield Mall), and every half hour at night and on Sundays.

Cons: The only real problem I have with this route is that it can be slow, particularly with red lights. If signal priority was given to buses, travel time could be decreased, and they could also get rid of those strange redundant Saturday express trips that never seem to get many people.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Eastfield Mall is probably the biggest attraction on the route. Having explored it a bit, I can say that I found about 4-5 unique smaller businesses, which is kind of a lot for your typical mall, I guess.

Final Verdict: 9/10
The B7 is a very important route, and the busiest on the whole PVTA. It's frequent, with good ridership turnover, and its only real problem is the speed. All it really needs is a bit of signal priority, and...huh? The PVTA is planning on conducting a BRT study for this corridor? Huh! Alright, well, if that gets implemented, we could have a 10/10 on our hands!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Sunday, August 6, 2017

PVTA: P20E (Holyoke Mall/Union Station I-91 Express)

After the monster review of the R29, it'll be kinda nice to do something and short - and the P20E is perfect for that. This is an express route from the Holyoke Mall to Springfield Union Station, and it's truly an express route. Making literally ONLY those two stops, this is a tiny trip!

The bus at the mall.
We left the Holyoke Mall after a long trip through its gigantic parking lot. Running up the wide Holyoke Street, the surroundings consisted entirely of suburban businesses with parking lots. Next, we turned onto Lower Westfield Road, got onto I-91, and...wow, that was quick. Time for the express section!

Heading onto Lower Westfield Road.
We went by a few office buildings, while the mall occupied one side of the interstate for a little while (it's a big mall). Next, the scenery was mostly just woods as we entered West Springfield and crossed over I-90. There were some suburban businesses in view as we went over Riverdale Street, then we got a lovely view as we crossed the Connecticut River.

We were now in Chicopee, and we made our way through an interchange with I-391. As we entered Springfield, dense buildings started to show up behind a layer of trees. Just before the highway went up onto an elevated viaduct past downtown Springfield, we took an exit and travelled under the bridge on Columbus Ave. Finally, we turned onto Liberty Ave, which led us to Springfield Union Station.

That was quick!
PVTA Route: P20E (Holyoke Mall/Union Station I-91 Express)

Ridership: This route is even newer than the R29, and I can't find any ridership information about it. I guess I'll have to use my ride as an example, then: one other person. No, but that's not fair at all - I was doing an inbound trip right after the mall opened, so of course no one was heading to Springfield. I've seen this bus fairly busy later in the day.

Pros: The P20E is scheduled to take about 18-20 minutes to get to the mall, but it honestly takes more like 12-14. That is ridiculously convenient compared to the normal P20, which takes about half an hour to get to the Holyoke Mall on its local route. That's less than half the time! How can you beat that?

Cons: Every 40 minutes is a bit of a wonky headway, I have to say. Honestly, they could probably finagle this thing to be every half hour if they cut some of the padding, but that might be too frequent.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The Holyoke Mall is kinda the only thing this route serves, so I guess that!

Final Verdict: 8/10
This is a great express alternative to the normal P20. The PVTA is actually cutting weekday service on the route, so it will only run on Saturdays - however, this makes sense, since most shopping would probably be done on Saturdays. It is kinda funny to imagine a Saturday-only express route, but it totally works in the P20E's case.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, August 5, 2017

PVTA: R29 (Amherst/Holyoke Mall via Route 116 and Holyoke Transportation Center)

The R29 is a beast. Running from UMass all the way down to the Holyoke Mall, it passes colleges, cities, woods, suburbia, mountains, and everything in between. A one-way trip takes an hour and a half! Let's get right into this!

My stalker shot is ruined by the fact that the back sign wasn't working!
We started at UMass Haigis Mall, then travelled down the length of the mall before turning onto Massachusetts Ave. The street had a gigantic median for a bit, but it went away once it curved into North Pleasant Street, taking us past some fringe buildings of UMass. We merged around a park (taking a slight detour because of construction), which took us into Amherst Center, where retail was everywhere.

Amherst Center.
The street became South Pleasant Street as we left the center, running past Amherst Common and Amherst College. South of that, we got a marvelous view of open fields and rolling hills, as well as less marvelous views of typical houses. After crossing over the tiny Fort River, the road became West Street, and it continued to be residential.

Some businesses in view at an intersection.
There was some boring suburban retail at the intersection with Pomeroy Lane. It was houses once again after that, but eventually we got some scenic fields. It was around this point that we turned into Hampshire College on a windy road with the strange speed limit of 17 miles per hour.

Some paths within the college.
We made our way around to the university library, then headed back around and further into the campus. This was a much smaller campus than UMass, and we got through it pretty quickly. Other points of interest were the Yiddish Book Center and the Eric Carle Museum. After all that, we used Bay Road to get us back down to West Street.

That foggy mountain in the back is beautiful! The industrial building...not so much.
There were a few more houses, then we entered the pure, mountainous woods. The road winded its way past oceans of trees, weaving its way up and down hills, and it was really nice. Eventually, we entered Granby and the road became Amherst Road. After some more forest, we passed an apartment development, then we entered South Hadley and houses lined the street.

It was residential for a little while, then there was a nice break with woods and fields. We got more houses soon enough, though, then the road made a few curves and became Woodbridge Street. This took us to South Hadley Center, which offered a variety of attractions such as a fire station, a post office, two churches, a bunch of businesses, a common, and Mount Holyoke College.

Coming into the center.
The street became College Street, which was a good name, because it went along Mount Holyoke College for quite a while. Eventually, we paralleled the Mill River, then crossed it; there were a few industrial buildings here. We started travelling down Newton Street, which was lined with houses, businesses, and industrial buildings.

A residential side street.
We went by a large shopping plaza with a Big Y in it (as it turns out, western MA has a lot of Big Y's), then there was once again a mix of houses, businesses, and industrial buildings. We passed Hadley High School and some accompanying fields, after which there were more houses and another fire station. After going through an interchange with Route 202, it was that same triple-threat mix again - residential, retail, industrial.

Okay, this is purely industrial.
The road got the interesting name of Lamb Street, but we soon turned off of it onto Bridge Street. This took us past mostly dense houses and some apartments, as well as a police station. There were a few businesses at the intersection with Main Street, then we went onto a magnificent bridge over the Connecticut River with a gigantic dam in view!

On the other side of the bridge, we were now in Holyoke, and there were factories everywhere. We crossed over a canal, then turned onto the aptly-named Canal Street, which curved around until we turned onto Lyman Street. This took us past gritty old factories and dense apartments.

The view across a canal.
Underneath a railroad bridge for freight and Amtrak trains, we turned again onto Canal Street, which merged into Race Street. We were going right along a canal, and the surroundings were still mostly old factories. Next, we turned onto Dwight Street, going over two canals and passing more industrial buildings.

Another canal.
Now on the Holyoke "mainland," we passed the Children's Museum and Volleyball Hall of Fame (housed in the same building) and soon turned onto High Street. This was lined with nondescript brick buildings with businesses ranging from boring to downright sketchy - Holyoke is a strange place. Next, we turned onto Hampden Street, then we pulled into the Holyoke Transportation Center.

An intersection in Holyoke.
We were about ten minutes early here, and you know what that means: time to wait! Granted, the PVTA's trademark earliness makes at least a little sense here since it's a major terminal, but it was still pretty annoying. The wait was long enough that I took out a book and read for a bit before we finally took off.

Running along Veterans' Memorial Park.
We made our way back onto Dwight Street and went back the way we came for a bit. After crossing the two canals again, we turned onto Main Street, right outside of Holyoke's Amtrak station. It got industrial to the point of feeling like a wasteland, but eventually we got some businesses in the mix too.

Unfortunately, those didn't last long - it was back to just abandoned factories in no time. We went under I-391, and then at least some of the factories seemed to be active. Eventually, we came up alongside a park, while the other side of the street became occupied with dense houses and apartments.

Finally, a somewhat normal street!
Sigh...all good things must come to an end, right? It went back to being industrial after only a short time next to the park. Eventually, we went past (and under) a high school as well as a park, then the houses came back! As we merged with another road, Main Street got a heck of a lot wider and gained a divider.

In the midst of the merger.
We deviated up a hill to serve the Providence Hospital, then we came back down to Main Street. It continued to be lined with industrial buildings, and we actually entered West Springfield for a bit. Next, we turned onto the residential Highland Ave, then merged onto Whitney Ave. This took us back into Holyoke and the mall of the same name - after navigating its gigantic parking lot, we reached our terminus.

The bus went out of service at the mall, so here's a different R29 at Holyoke later in the day.
PVTA Route: R29 (Amherst/Holyoke Mall via Route 116 and Holyoke Transportation Center)

Ridership: Wow, I had no idea that the R29 is a practically brand-new route - it was created in fall 2014! As such, there isn't as much data for it, but I have found out that it only gets about 16 riders per trip, which is pretty on par for my ride. Considering that it's such a long route, it's unlikely to ever have more than about five people on board at a time.

Pros: Being the monster that it is, the R29 serves a heck of a lot of stuff, and the one-seat ride from UMass to Holyoke (particularly the mall) is really convenient. I'm not gonna say that the schedule (every two hours) is convenient or frequent or anything, but at the very least, it, uh, caters to the ridership, if you know what I'm saying.

Cons: That being said, every two hours is still really bad for a typical rider. Also, what's the deal with the extra night trip on weekends? Normally the last one is 5:30, but on weekends there's another trip at 7:30 that gets back to Holyoke at 10. It just seems kinda weird and pointless! I saw that trip in Amherst Center once and it was completely empty.

Nearby and Noteworthy: For UMass students, the Holyoke Mall has a lot more to offer than the Hampshire Mall, which is closer to the university. This bus is the only convenient way of getting there.

Final Verdict: 6/10
The R29 serves its purpose and speeds up trips for the people who use it. Sure, that number is pretty small, especially considering the route's length, but it's still important to keep it around. The PVTA is actually cutting this thing down to only two trips per day - one in the morning, one in the evening - which seems like a bad move to me. It may not get that much ridership, but it serves an important purpose. Plus, it will prohibit direct mall travel for UMass students. Maybe I should just lower that 6 down to a 3 or 4...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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