Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bonus Review: 83 (Broadway @ Felton Street - Rindge Ave)

I know I should be working on my New York posts, but high school started last week so I've been pretty busy. I did want to write about this interesting bus, though. Normally I just walk to Harvard from the Rindge and Latin and take the train home, but I decided to take this special 83 once. It only runs once a day at 2:40 (there aren't any trips to the high school, for some reason), though the MBTA runs two buses along the route

That's a very good thing, because it was packed. Think of a school bus filled with really annoying kids, then make half of them stand. Add a driver that lets some kids in without paying but makes others do it, and it's pretty much a recipe for torture.

The bus started out at Broadway @ Felton Street, a short walk from the school. We soon turned on Quincy Street and then Cambridge Street, going through a tunnel. Instead of going into Harvard Square like other buses, however, we headed onto Mass Ave going north. No one got on or off the bus along this stretch, and it wasn't until we turned onto Rindge Ave that people started to hit the stop request button.

I was very happy when the ride ended. Though I had the benefit of a seat, it was still extremely uncomfortable and an awful ride. It wasn't as bad as that bus to the Toronto Zoo, but let's never mention that one again. For a more detailed look at the route along Mass Ave, I direct you to my 77 review. And here's the review of the 83 proper.

Route: 83 (Broadway @ Felton Street - Rindge Ave)

Ridership: Don't even get me started!

Pros: This is essentially a school bus for students who live along Rindge Ave and in that area. It definitely minimizes walking time, but...

Cons: Even with the walking the train is still faster. Plus it's not as crowded and the people are more civilized (though if the bus driver likes you, and he didn't seem to like me, you can get in for free). I find it interesting that the MBTA doesn't do a trip to the high school in the morning, Why not?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Nothing that hasn't been talked about before. See the 77 review, linked above.

Final Verdict: I'm not going to give this a numbered score, since I'm biased against it due to the ride itself and the driver making me pay while others didn't have to. It serves its function as a school bus well, but it would probably make sense to do an inbound trip in the morning, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Assembly - First Day!

I did an excursion to the first MBTA station to open in almost 30 years with my friend today, and I took quite a few pictures. I'm not going to do a proper review yet, since the station isn't fully completed (they're still working on a second entrance), but here are the pictures I took.

After this, I have some more New York Service Changes, since I went there over the three-day weekend. So look forward to that...

Two views of the train leaving.
This waiting area was useful when it started pouring.
Looking down the platform.
Nice view...
The platform again.
Another nice(ish) view.
Some more construction.
You probably can't see that very well, but it's about Ford vehicles. Okay...
I love these new fare gates!
The other side.
I love these so much.
An odd bench.
The bridge leading out.
The lobby.
Looking outside.
A new Commuter Rail locomotive going by...
...and over the bridge.
Same with an Orange Line train.
And finally, a plaque.

Friday, August 29, 2014

95 (West Medford - Sullivan Square Station via Mystic Ave)

I've made it clear that I really hate those neighborhoods with all those fast food restaurants and auto shops that all have really big parking lots out front. They usually come up for somewhat short periods in comparison with the rest of the route. But not the 95, though. From Medford Square all the way down to Sullivan this is purely that kind of neighborhood. So fasten your seatbelts (or not, our buses don't have the amenities that Montpelier's have) and let's take a ride on the 95.

It starts out at the intersection of Playstead Road and Winthrop Street, right where the 326 dropped me off. So we headed back down Playstead Road, going through the only nice residential area seen on the entire route. We went past West Medford Station and the businesses surrounding it, and after some more houses came into Medford Square.

This was all very nice, with cute small businesses without - and I can't stress this enough - overly large parking lots. But then we turned onto Main Street (Stop! You don't know what you're doing!), went over the Mystic River (Listen to me! Turn around!) and under Mystic Valley Parkway (Don't do it!), and merged onto Mystic Ave (Too late!).

Do we really need so many auto shops? The "businesses" along Mystic Ave were, like, 50 percent auto shops. And the rest was just parking lots and fast food restaurants and parking lots and storage warehouses and parking lots and PARKING LOTS. This is the epitome of pit, people. And as I look on the map, there's a nice residential area less than a block away!

But I digress. There was a pseudo-reprieve with some projects, but then it went back know what, this time with an elevated highway on one side. Lovely. We made a stop somewhat close to Assembly Square and then the road went up to parallel the highway. We went without stops until Sullivan, though the outbound route takes a different street and makes stops. I assume that when the Orange Line station opens the 95 will be rerouted to serve it, but that may be pointless since it goes to Sullivan anyway. And speaking of Sullivan, the road we were on merged onto Maffa Way, where we then turned into the busway.

Back in West Medford, the bus manages to take a huge u-turn.
Route: 95 (West Medford - Sullivan Square Station via Mystic Ave)

Ridership: It was surprisingly decent; about 20 people rode the bus. They all seemed to feed on at various stops, and I don't think a single person got off before Sullivan.

Pros: I ranted about the road it travels along for this entire review, but this bus does serve a lot. There are residential areas tucked behind the awful auto shops, and this is the only non-rush hour bus to serve Playstead Road. The schedule's decent enough: it's every 20 minutes rush hours and every half hour weekdays and Saturdays. It has a good service span, too, with the first bus leaving Sullivan at 4:55 and the last at 1:05.

Cons: It's every hour during the night and every 65 minutes on Sundays. That Sunday schedule in particular is pretty bad.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Ha! Yeah, right.

Final Verdict: 7/10
I really hated that neighborhood. I hated it with a passion. But there's no denying that the bus itself is pretty good, and those residential areas behind the auto shops need to get served. The Sunday schedule drags the score down a bit, but overall this bus isn't bad at all.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
The MBTA is ordering new buses! They're all due to arrive by February 2015. Also, the MBTA is getting a new station on September 2nd when Assembly Square finally opens to the public.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Service Change: Montpelier - The 82 (Montpelier Hospital Hill)

Though our hotel was right near Burlington's 1 bus, we ended up taking a ride on one of Montpelier's buses. See, we were coming back from Burlington and decided to stop off at Vermont's capital to walk around. I picked up a bus schedule at the visitor's center, and we took a joyride on the 82! Now, keep in mind that I didn't have my camera, so these pictures were taken on my mother's iPhone. The quality is still surprisingly good, though, so don't worry about any pixelated blobs in this post.

The Montpelier bus system is operated by the Green Mountain Transit Agency, or GMTA. They also run services to nearby towns like Berlin, Barre, and Northfield. There are long distance buses to places like Stowe, St. Johnsbury, and even Burlington, but they seem to be run by other companies.

But we're focusing on the 82. This seems to be a shuttle for people getting from Montpelier to Berlin, and it's pretty quick between them. As you would expect from such a tiny bus company, the schedule is...lacking. It's every hour on Monday-Saturday, from 7:16 (8:16 for the latter) to 5:16. Keep in mind that the bus operates in a loop, so the last bus from Berlin leaves a little before 6 back to the capital.

The fares are only a dollar, but there is a discounted fare for students and seniors (which the driver failed to tell us about) of 50 cents. Interestingly, students and staff at colleges in the area can ride the buses for free. Also, you can flag down or get off GMTA buses between designated stops, of which there are few anyway. You can even call 24 hours in advance to deviate the bus from its route to pick you up! That's always a nice way of operating buses.

The 82 starts at "Lane Shops," a little north of downtown Montpelier. We got on the bus at Shaw's, which is the hub of the system. And I'm not kidding, they actually call the hub "Montpelier Shaw's." The hub in Berlin is also named after Shaw's and the one in Barre is called "NAPA Auto Parts." Well, a small system like this could certainly use the extra income from naming rights.

Welcome to Shaw's...
A typical bus sign, almost identical to the ones in Burlington.
The GMTA runs its services with these cute little minibuses. I can see why they would use these, since there were only six other people who used this bus on our run. The fact that they had poles for standees was kind of funny, but maybe the vehicles get busier during rush hour. The seats even had seat belts! A nice precaution, I suppose.

No, it doesn't say "2." It's just a bit cut off.
It's blurry, but you can clearly see how small this thing is.
Looking towards the front.
As you would expect, there weren't any automatic announcements. They had a pull cord for stop requests, but most people would just notify the driver they were getting off, since they wouldn't be using a designated stop. We left Shaw's, heading away from the beautiful downtown area and over the Winooski River (which you can't help saying in a funny voice).

The river has a ridiculous name, but this is a lovely (albeit blurry) view.
We turned onto Berlin Street, which parallels the river. Running along with the 80 and 89, which both go to Barre, the street got residential pretty quickly. They continued to follow the river on River Street while we went up into the hills on Berlin Street, the unique portion of the 82. There was a lovely view of town coming back this way, and there were some fabulous mountain views the whole way.

Berlin Street turned into Paine Turnpike North as it got positively rural. We then turned onto Fisher Road and soon after pulled into the Central Vermont Medical Center, where two people were waiting. After navigating through a large parking lot, we then went onto Berlin Mall Road and picked up someone at the mall.

After that we turned onto Route 62 and, after going by the Berlin Elementary School, looped around the Berlin Shaw's. We went back up Route 62 then turned onto Airport Road, and then Hospitality Drive, picking someone up at Berlin Health and Rehab. The bus had to reverse to be able to pull out of there, and then it was back to Montpelier where our car was waiting.

I tried to capture the view...
The section by the river was very nice.
Looking the other way down the river.
That number's still cut off!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

326 (West Medford - Haymarket Station via Playstead Road, High Street, Medford, and I-93)

The Commuter Rail is always quicker than the bus, there's no doubt about that. But this is the first time the Commuter Rail is also cheaper than the bus. Yes, it costs $2.10 to get to West Medford on the Commuter Rail from North Station, a quick walk from Haymarket, and it costs $3.65 to take an express bus from the latter. How could this strange occurrence happen? By way of the 326, it would seem.

The bus approaching Haymarket.
The fact that it runs rush hour only is its downfall. Like the 352, there's pretty much guaranteed traffic on I-93 during these times, so this bus moves slowly. We got onto the highway ramp almost immediately after leaving Haymarket, and it was nice and speedy until we actually merged onto the highway. Then there was traffic all the way until Exit 32, where we got off.

It's identical to that 352 picture, except it's sunny, daytime, and less blurry.
We went around a big rotary and onto Salem Street. We then went past Medford City Hall and into Medford Square, where there were a lot of cute businesses. In the outskirts of the square, on High Street, there was a church and a library, and then houses. Winthrop Circle was just another rotary, with a small office building nearby.

We stayed on High Street here, but some trips turn onto Winthrop Street. High Street was residential all the way to West Medford Station. There were some small businesses here and it seemed like a nice neighborhood, but it went back to houses when we turned onto Playstead Road. We went by a large field, and then a larger graveyard. The driver dropped me off at the intersection with Winthrop Street which, for all intents and purposes, was the middle of nowhere (no offense to anyone who lives there).

The bus was "out of service" in West Medford, so here's another picture at Haymarket.
Route: 326 (West Medford - Haymarket Station via Playstead Road, High Street, Medford, and I-93)

Ridership: Brace yourself: a whole 11 people. It's more than the 5, but that's still not a lot by any means. Most of them seemed to be shoppers coming from downtown. They got off at various points along the route, but a fair amount got off at West Medford Station. I was the only one who went all the way to the end. Maybe it increases further into the evening rush; I took the 4:12 bus.

Pros: If you're looking for a fast (ish) ride to Medford Square - not West Medford - then the 326 is a reasonable choice. But only if it's rush hour.

Cons: Like I said, it's rush hour only. And it's not that fast, given the traffic on I-93, but it's better than local alternatives. But if you're going anywhere near West Medford, this bus becomes completely useless because, as I said at the beginning, the Commuter Rail is both faster and cheaper. And it runs during the day! And on weekends! Sure, it's every two hours during the latter, but that's better than what the 326 provides: nothing.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Both Medford Square and West Medford seemed nice neighborhoods, but I don't know any specific businesses.

Final Verdict: 4/10
It's all right if you're going to Medford Square, but if you're heading towards the West Medford area, this isn't the bus for you. Just take the Commuter Rail! It's faster, cheaper, and runs during the day and on weekends. And it's not like you're usually going to have the option, since the 326 is rush hours only...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
It's been a day since the last post! However, I am going up to Burlington, Vermont for the next two days. I don't know if I'll take a unique bus route up there, but here's my previous post about the bus system in Burlington.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

9 (City Point - Copley Square via Broadway Station)

I'm going to be such a hypocrite in this review. I gave the 5 a really lousy score in part because there were only seven people that rode that bus. The 9 also had seven riders, but buses going back towards City Point would be packed, so its higher score will be justified. Just wanted to clear that up...

The 9 where I boarded it.
I picked up the empty bus at its second stop (not including the "bus terminal"), P Street @ E 2nd Street. We continued down P Street in a residential area, then turned onto E 4th Street. There were some businesses as we came onto East Broadway, then we turned onto West Broadway, leaving the 10. West Broadway had many small businesses, then we turned onto A Street just shy of Broadway Station.

On the right is the last set of 1960's-era 01400 trains on the MBTA. They're used as work cars now.
At this point the 9 takes an interesting routing that I'm pretty sure the street map on the MBTA website gets wrong (it doesn't matter too much to the rider - it just seems to show the bus looping the wrong way). Turning onto Dorchester Ave, we made the stop at Broadway, then went onto Gillette Park and then Foundry Street. After going right next to the Red Line's Cabot Yard, we turned onto Greenbaum Street, then Dorchester Ave, and then onto West 4th Street and its bridge. There weren't any stops on this loop, so it's a bit annoying how complicated it has to be. Heading towards City Point is much more straightforward, omitting the loop entirely.

What a view!
We then went over the 4th Street Bridge (where the picture above was taken) and under I-93. From Broadway to Copley the 9 operates in a loop, with the inbound services going via East Berkeley Street (and outbound going via Herald Street). It was a weird, almost industrial neighborhood, but after going by some projects we entered into the beautiful South End and its old-fashioned brownstones.

Crossing over I-90, we went by the Old John Hancock Building and a building reminiscent of the Flatiron in New York. We then turned onto St James Ave, going by the Hancock Building itself and through Copley Square. I actually stayed on the bus as it went onto Huntington Ave, Ring Road, and Boylston Street, coming back on the other side of the Square where I got off.

The bus at Copley.
Route: 9 (City Point - Copley Square via Broadway Station)

Ridership: Like I said at the disclaimer at the beginning, there were only seven people who rode on my trip. But again, the buses going the other way would be extremely crowded. Presumably I was going in the wrong direction for ridership.

Pros: The 10 also goes from City Point to Copley, but the 9 is quicker, more direct, and runs much more often. In fact, it's every five minutes during rush hour! During the day it's every 15-25 minutes, every 25 minutes during the night (with the last trip departing Copley just shy of 1 in the morning), every 20-25 minutes Saturdays, and every half hour Sundays. Overall, that's a pretty good schedule for a non-key route.

Cons: The only thing I don't like about this route is that loop at Broadway. Maybe there's some traffic law I don't know about, but it seems like the route illustrated in this map would be easier - it cuts the trip in half!

Nearby and Noteworthy: This bus goes right by the Medieval Manor, which is apparently a very fun medieval-themed restaurant (I've never been myself).

Final Verdict: 8/10
I would give it a 9, but the fact that there's a simple solution to the inbound Broadway route lowers the score. Does the MBTA not want two Broadway stops (the current one is shared with the 11 and 47)? If you know why the routing's so weird, please drop me a comment below.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
Real-time tracking is coming to the Green Line! I hope it gets countdown clocks, too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

5 (City Point - McCormack Housing via Andrew Station)

Back in Boston! What kind of crazy bus have I got in mind? Maybe an I-90 express bus? How about a really long route going way out into the suburbs? Or perhaps a crazy route with tons of twists and turns? Nope. Today we'll be looking at... the 5. This is a very short route, so this review will be comparatively small. Don't worry: longer stuff will come.

The bus only serves JFK/UMASS on its outbound route for some reason - I'm not sure if it would gain much ridership from people looking to take a one-way trip to City Point. There were quite a few people at the station, which surprised me (the 5 has a very limited schedule). However, a 41 came along and everyone got on that. The driver on that bus looked at me like I was crazy before she drove off.

So then I got a bit nervous - what if the 5 wasn't coming? But finally, I saw it coming down Old Colony Ave. This driver also gave me a funny look as I boarded the bus, occupied by three old ladies. We went up Old Colony with a park on one side and projects on the other...presumably McCormack Housing. We went around a rotary and turned off onto Preble Street, which was residential.

The bus looks completely empty in this picture.
We pulled into the Andrew Station busway with no one getting on or off, and then headed down Dorchester Street, playing Leapfrog with a 10. In fact, the rest of the route is shared with the 10, so this is previously charted territory. Dorchester Street was a good mixture of residences and businesses (with apartments on top of them). We turned onto East Broadway, which was made up of beautiful apartments, and I got off the bus at Farragut Road, right near the beach.

The bus making the turn onto Farragut Road. I was the last one to get off.
There's one last thing to note about this bus. I decided to walk back to P Street to catch a 9 heading back to Boston (I'll be doing a review of the 9 next). The 5 ended up coming back this way with the same driver, to boot! You can never have enough pictures, but when I took one here the driver opened the doors. "You can't take pictures of the buses!" She yelled. I was about to say something, but she cut me off, "No, you can't!" and drove away. It's times like these when I really consider printing out the MBTA photo policy just to flash it at the drivers to prove them wrong. Oh, well...

If you look closely you can see the driver yelling at me.
Route: 5 (City Point - McCormack Housing via Andrew Station)

Ridership: There were only seven people that rode, with one of them riding for fun (me, obviously) and three that got on during the Leapfrog game. That's terrible ridership, I'm sorry, but that is terrible. Terrible!

Pros: Frankly, I'm hard-pressed to find any pros here.

Cons: First of all, this bus doesn't really serve anything. It's meant for residents at McCormack Housing to get to City Point - I guess - but you could also just do the 8 minute walk to Andrew and take the 9 or 10. You could even grab a 16 to Andrew if you really wanted to and transfer! And the 16 runs a lot more often than the 5, which brings me to my second point. This route is clearly meant for shopping, as it runs from 9 AM to 3 PM on weekdays and 10 AM to 3 PM on Saturdays (no service on Sundays). It's every hour, though, while the 9 is every 10 minutes on weekdays! Again, walking to Andrew seems like it would be less of a hassle.

Nearby and Noteworthy: The beach, I guess. I've never found the area around JFK/UMASS to be especially appealing. I'm sure there are some nice restaurants somewhere in City Point.

Final Verdict: 2/10
I feel like I'm being really harsh. I've got a voice in the back of my head going "No, don't do it!" But I really can't see why this bus wouldn't get a 2. Perhaps there's more ridership on Saturdays? Well, it's a 2 for now.

Latest MBTA News: Adham Fisher got into the Guinness Book of World Records for doing the New York Subway in record time! Sadly, Boston probably won't get an entry in the Guinness Book.
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