Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rural Ride (Trailer)

Nathan and I got up at 5 AM to take Amtrak to a rural place to ride a rural route. No, I'm not telling you what we tried to ride! Enjoy the trailer and stay tuned...


Monday, April 24, 2017

Harvard Shuttle: River Houses B (Harvard Square - Quad - Memorial Hall - Lamont)

During the day, getting to Mather House is pretty simple - all you do is board the Mather Express and it'll take you there. But once the clock strikes 4:30, things spiral out of control when the route gets replaced by the (awkwardly-titled) River Houses shuttles. These all serve Mather House, but they are very slightly different (although the A is literally the same as the Mather Express) and they run at different times of the evening. The B is the most elusive, with only four trips from 6:20 to 8:20 - let's see what it's like!

Woah, I wasn't expecting this picture to look as cool as it does!
The River Houses B runs up to the Quad, which is where Nathan and I boarded. From there, we turned onto Shepard Street, then Garden Street. It was residential for a bit before we came into the Harvard Square area, where there were apartments and a hotel. Next, we ran alongside Cambridge Common, with a church and some Harvard buildings on the other side.

Oh boy, this review is gonna have some fun pictures, eh?
Before we could enter the actual square, though, we circled the Harvard Bus Tunnel portal onto Mass Ave. We continued along the Common for a bit, then ran alongside the Harvard Law School. Across the street from some apartments, we turned onto Everett Street, then Oxford Street, which took us by some more Harvard buildings flanked by leafy parks.

Yup. That's something.
Oxford Street curved around to become Kirkland Street, and we came up alongside the beautiful Memorial Hall building. Our driver chose not to enter the busway, so we turned right onto Quincy Street, then Cambridge Street. Outside of the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, we turned onto Felton Street, then Broadway, then finally Quincy Street again.

Wow, you can tell what it is!
We went alongside Harvard Yard, then made our way onto the narrow and twisty Bow Street. This led us to DeWolfe Street, which had some apartments along it. After some traffic heading onto Memorial Drive, we turned onto Cowperthwaite Street, finally taking us to Mather House.

Over near Mather House.
Next, we turned onto the residential Banks Street, then made our way back onto Mass Ave by way of Mount Auburn Street. There were some tall buildings around, but as we returned to the Yard, businesses and Harvard buildings were once again abundant. We got off at the next stop, while the bus continued to run express back up to the Quad.

The bus at Harvard.
Harvard Shuttle Route: River Houses B (Harvard Square - Quad - Memorial Hall - Lamont)

Ridership: My trip got some good ridership heading between all stops. There were people going from the Quad to Memorial Hall, people from Memorial Hall to Harvard and Mather House, and people from Mather House to the Quad. So yeah...not bad!

Pros: There are definitely a lot of people who would use a direct link from Mather House to the Quad, it would seem, and this route fulfills that need. It doesn't sound like much, but the fact that it gets riders to all of its locations is pretty important.

Cons: The route only runs four times a day! What?! Okay, that's not too big of a problem, since its replacement, the River Houses C, does pretty much the same route...but why is the C every 20 minutes while the B is every 40? What's more, the B times horribly with the Quad Yard Express, which runs at the same time, but every 25 minutes. It would be great if they could put a second bus on the B and maybe give it some layover time to make it every 25 minutes too, to create consistent service to the Quad.

Nearby and Noteworthy: All that Harvard jazz, ya know...

Final Verdict: 5/10
This route definitely has serious problems, don't get me wrong. However, its basic concept is still good, and it makes for a decent placeholder before the River House C begins service...except the River House C is every 20 minutes versus every 40! Sorry, Mather House, but you get terrible service between 6:20 and 8:20...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ayer (feat. the Circus Train!)

This station sucks. Being stuck here for 4 and a half hours sucks. Sure, there was a nice reward in the end, as the title's parenthetical remark suggests, but...this station still sucks.

Wow, that's a lot of railfans!
Alright, let's start with the outbound platform. Actually, I'm just about done talking about the outbound platform, since there's nothing on it. Okay, okay, practically no one is going outbound from here, but it's still just so barebones! How about at least a bench? The inbound side must've been closed at some point, because there also appears to be a temporary concrete platform in the middle of the tracks.

The inbound platform...can you find Jordan?
At least the inbound platform has some amenities, but they're still pretty lame. The modern green shelter is okay, with benches, a map, and a schedule underneath, as well as some wastebaskets and newspaper boxes nearby. Along the rest of the low-level, unaccessable platform, though, there are only a few benches and an ugly bus shelter.

Well, there's the bike rack!
Yeah, if you can't tell, this station is located in an industrial wasteland. It is such an unpleasant place to wait at, with no regard for safety at all - passengers can walk right into the abandoned mess of materials if they so wish. The station has no bike parking, and only thirty parking spaces for cars that double as municipal parking! Good luck finding a space!

A pair of CSX engines coming through.
Being stuck at Ayer for hours means you get a lot of train pictures...
And of course, I have to talk about the Circus Train, the whole reason me and a whole bunch of other people came up here in the first place! The train carries around "The Greatest Show on Earth," but the show is soon to end - the train is on its last legs. Pulling the diverse group of cars carrying passengers, vehicles, and animals were some beautiful FP9 locomotives from the 1950s!

Wow!
Old meets new, kinda... 
The train has started to move!

There were four locomotives pulling the train.
A few of the many passenger cars.
That's a lotta vehicles!
The end of the long train.
Goodbye!
Station: Ayer

Ridership: For the Fitchburg Line, Ayer's ridership is actually pretty good, with 435 inbound riders per weekday. The Fitchburg Line is one of the T's best examples of why stations should be located in downtowns - this station has barely any parking, but it still gets a good amount of people!

Pros: Well, I rather like that modern green shelter on the inbound side. Also, it's nice that the station is located right next to downtown Ayer, not that there's much there. Oh, and I have to admit, it's pretty cool that you can get from here alllllllll the way to Wachusett for only $2.75. What a steal!

Cons: Basically everything else. The station isn't accessible, first of all, and it's also a really unpleasant place to wait at. Everything to the south of it is industrial wasteland, there are no bike racks, and the rest of the amenities are abysmal!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Downtown Ayer is BORING. Trust me, I was here for four and a half hours!

Final Verdict: 3/10
I had my mind set on a 3 even before I was stuck here, so don't think that influenced the score. Yeah, the circus train was really cool, but why couldn't it have picked a more interesting station to run by? Oh well, at least we didn't have to wait at Hastings!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Thursday, April 13, 2017

MART: Gardner - Wachusett Commuter Shuttle

Poor ol' Gardner is a really isolated city for transit, and there's no easy way of getting from there to Boston...well, until Wachusett Station opened, that is! And sure, that station still uses the "drive and park" mindset that all modern Commuter Rail stations have, but the MART decided to give people an alternate way of getting there. The Gardner - Wachusett Commuter Shuttle times with trains and is a super quick trip...it's just too bad that nobody uses it.

The bus at the "Gardner ITC."
After a rather late departure from the ITC, we turned onto Main Street, going by mostly industrial buildings. Eventually we merged into what can only be described as a gigantic rotary with a Hannaford in the middle. Main Street curved northward at the rotary, but we soon turned off of it, onto Willow Street.

Hello, Hannaford!
Next, we turned onto the residential Connors Street, which took us up to the Gardner City Hall shelter. We picked up one passenger, then turned onto City Hall Ave for a block before coming back onto Main Street. The businesses of downtown Gardner stuck around for a bit, but things got a lot more parking lot-heavy as we continued south.

The view from City Hall.
We got to that Hannaford rotary again, this time going down Timpany Boulevard. We went under some train tracks, then reached another rotary, merging around to an exit ramp that took us onto Route 2. Time for the express section!

Some random businesses.
We were just sailing through the woods for a while with, uh, not much scenery to really talk about. At one point in Westminster, there were a few huge office parks in view, so that's something? Things got more interesting once the Intercity/MWCC route joined us near a huge pond.

The best highway picture I could get, offering a "view" of Gardner.
There was a road that ran right alongside Route 2 for a bit, playing host to a housing development and some random businesses. Pretty soon after that, we left the highway at Exit 28, which took us to Princeton Road. After crossing Route 2 on a bridge, we made our way into the Wachusett Station parking lot, ending the route at a nice shelter.

Two shots of the bus at Wachusett.
MART Route: Gardner - Wachusett Commuter Shuttle

Ridership: Oh man, it's so bad...one other person going in towards Wachusett, and no one waiting to go back - and going back was the peak direction! I mean, okay, the trip going back was timed with the 3:30 train from North Station, so maybe the route gets more people later in the evening rush? It's so new that there isn't actual ridership data yet.

Pros: I love this route so much. This is just the perfect way of getting from Boston to Gardner - it's actually somewhat comparable to driving, taking only a few minutes longer when rush hour traffic is accounted for. Every trip on this route times perfectly with a train, and it nabs a decent amount of them, even getting a few midday trains! The route itself is also really fast, getting passengers from downtown Gardner to Wachusett in 15 minutes!

Cons: Why, oh why does nobody use it? Maybe my trip was a fluke? Maybe more people use it later in the rush? Please tell me people use this! I love it so much!

Nearby and Noteworthy: If you want to get to Gardner, this is your bus. Why would you want to go to Gardner? I dunno...

Final Verdict: 4/10 (but the route itself is a 9)
Please leave a comment if my trip was a fluke and this thing actually gets decent ridership! I really really like this route, and it's absolutely perfect for Gardner commuters. If it does indeed get no one, then I think there's a good solution to get people: put the route on the Fitchburg Line timetable. I'm not sure if the T would want to do this or not, but I'm sure if they showed that there's a bus directly to Gardner, and they showed when it leaves, ridership would increase both for this route and for Wachusett Station! Just sayin'...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

MART: MART ITC Gardner

"ITC" stands for "Intermodal Transit Center," right? I mean, what the heck else could it stand for? The "MART ITC Gardner" has to be the central bus hub for all of the system's Gardner routes! That's gotta be it, right? It's...it's gonna be good, right? It's gonna be...open to the public, right? Oh dear...

Look how nice this is!
The outside of the building certainly makes it seem like it's some sort of hub! This thing is beautiful! Surrounded by mostly industrial buildings, the modern structure stands out with its MART logo and sleek clock along a grey tower. It seemed like a fitting hub building to Nathan and I as we walked up to it...

That's a lotta minibuses.
Alongside the building, passerby can get a view of the MART yard. Unfortunately, their fleet in Gardner consists of about four full-sized buses (three of which were out and about) and FIFTY THOUSAND MILLION MINIBUSES! Seriously, this place had minibuses driving everywhere, mostly for use on MART's Dial-a-Ride service.

Hmm...
Once we went up to the door, though, it seemed like something was wrong - that piece of paper above wasn't too promising. Undeterred, we stepped through the door. Inside, there were some employees hanging out, and it was at this point that it was clear the place wasn't open to the public. We still decided to ask the dispatcher where we could wait.

Hoo boy.
"Where do we get the Wachusett Shuttle?" Nathan asked. The dispatcher was cold. "Ya gotta wait outside by the stahp sign," he said in a classic Boston accent. But come on, it was cold and raining out! Besides, there were two stop signs outside! Thus, we decided to improvise.

10/10 for comfort!
We waited in the vestibule! Now, let me tell you, there were so many amenities in here! For example, look at the outlet in the wall - perfect for charging your mobile devices! There was also some ice salt...just in case, you know. Plus, check out that thermostat, offering personal temperature control. If this isn't luxury, I don't know what is! Sure, there were no benches, but it was a minor setback to this amazing room.

Two stop signs! I see two stop signs!
MART Station: MART ITC Gardner

Ridership: Uhhh...probably zero? I can't really see anyone boarding from here, considering that it's not open to the public

Pros: Well, the building is pretty nice. And the employees passing through the vestibule were very kind!

Cons: We don't really need deep analysis here...the place just isn't open to the public (unless you come here to buy passes). Also, the dispatcher inside was rather rude and the vestibule was...not an optimal place to wait.

Nearby and Noteworthy: There's a Price Chopper across the street that the main Gardner routes, the 1 and the 2, deviate to serve. Hey, why not just make that the hub?

Final Verdict: 1/10
Yeah, okay, this whole review is kind of stupid, but this hub is kind of stupid. Why even make this a timepoint on the schedules? Or maybe they could just change the name to...well, anything but INTERMODAL TRANSIT CENTER? The page for the Intercity/MWCC Shuttle refers to the stop as the "MART Maintenance Facility," which has the right idea, but it doesn't seem to appear anywhere else on the website. Hey, you know what's great? Consistency. Learn how to use it!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, April 10, 2017

MART: Winchendon Link

Alright, everyone, raise your hands if you've ever heard of Winchendon, Massachusetts! Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, neither had I until I rode this strange little shuttle. Who the heck thought that a link from Gardner to Winchendon would actually get a few people?

The bus coming towards Gardner City Hall.
We left City Hall and headed down Connors Street. There were buildings and businesses all around, but as we made our way onto West Street, we started to leave downtown Gardner. The surroundings were now mostly dense houses, with the occasional auto shop coming up.

These were not easy windows to take pictures out of...
The houses got more spread-out pretty darn quickly, and soon there were large sections of trees between them, Eventually it became just woods, broken only by the Gardner Landfill and a cemetery. Later on there was a preschool and another cemetery, then the houses came back when the street became State Road and we entered Templeton. Bet you haven't heard of that town, either!

A section of woods.
We climbed up a slight hill, and near a church, we arrived at our first timepoint: Otter River. It didn't feel like anything special, with mostly just more houses all around. After the road curved under a train track and became Central Street, thought, we did come to an important area. This was Baldwinville Village, and it featured some businesses, a town common, and a post office!

A gas station in Baldwinville Village.
We turned onto Elm Street, whose houses got less dense as we got further from the village. We crossed over the track from before, then the street became Winchendon Road. After going by a campground, it was just pure middle-of-nowhere woods for a while.

I'm kinda surprised at how decent this photo turned out to be!
The trees were unbroken for quite a while, aside from the very occasional house or some telephone wires. At some point along this stretch, we entered Winchendon. We arrived at our next timepoint soon, "Lake Dennison Picnic and Swim Area." It consisted of a road leading to Lake Dennison and a Chinese restaurant. Woooo...

What a strange place for a car dealership...
The street was called Baldwinville State Road from there, and we started to see some relatively consistent houses! Eventually the name changed to Main Street and we curved east, passing an ice cream shop and a strange-looking closed car dealership in the middle of a field. There was even some proper civilization in the form of Waterville Plaza! Yes, it was a terrible tiny place with really boring businesses, but it was something.

Civilization!
The road became River Street as we passed two abandoned factories, then we reentered the woods again for a bit. There were some houses after we crossed over the Millers River and a nice forest view as we paralleled said river. The road started to climb up a hill, going way above the river down below as it flowed into a reservoir, offering an awesome view.

Too bad I couldn't really capture it...
We curved around onto Front Street, then we turned onto Central Street. This was downtown Winchendon, and it wasn't much, but it was something! We passed a little shopping plaza, then some more traditional "downtown" businesses. Everything was kinda run-down, but I can't say I was expecting Winchendon to have an actual town center.

A side street downtown.
We went by a post office, a YMCA, and a few more businesses, but eventually we more or less left downtown. There were still lots of fairly dense houses along Central Street, though, and they continued as we turned onto Jackson Avenue. That street curved down to become Lincoln Avenue, where there were some industrial buildings.

Some houses in Winchendon.
Next, we turned onto Grove Street, which was mostly residential aside from a rather large church. We turned onto Pleasant Street after that, taking us past more houses a block away from the main drag. Finally, outside of a lovely library and park, we reached the final stop on the route...and it actually had a sign!!

Would ya look at that...a bus in Winchendon, Massachusetts. Who woulda thought?
MART Route: Winchendon Link

Ridership: Well, first of all, I just want to say how surprised I was to see that this route actually gets anyone, let alone about 35 people per day! Yeah, okay, that's absolutely terrible for most bus routes, but it was surprising to see here. Our ride on the last trip of the day had four other people heading up to Winchendon, and even one person coming back!

Pros: I can't believe I'm saying this, but Winchendon actually seems like it might kind of need a bus route. I mean, it had over 10,000 people in the 2010 census, plus you've got another 8,000 from Templeton. Yeah, okay, both towns are pretty spread out (although Winchendon's downtown is dense), but our trip did have four whole people! That's not bad, right?

Cons: Oh wait, this route costs $31.47 per passenger for MART to run - that's one of the worst passenger subsidies I've ever seen! Also, it seems that the only trips on this route that actually get riders are the rush hour ones...and even if that wasn't the case, this schedule would still be weeeeeeird. The frequencies range from half an hour to three hours in seemingly random parts of the day! Why are there trips at 11:30 and 12:30, then a three hour gap until 3:30, the last trip of the day? And why doesn't it run a few hours later to better cater to commuters?

Nearby and Noteworthy: Heck, the ride itself is cool enough to be noteworthy! Downtown Winchendon has a few restaurants and businesses, but there is nothing there that is worth the trek...trust me.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Gosh, I kinda have a soft spot for the ol' Winchendon Link. Yeah, the route is terrible and it costs so much money to run and the schedule is ridiculous and inefficient...but it's just such a cool route! Who's ever heard of Winchendon? I was so excited to ride this thing, and it honestly blew my expectations away with its four other passengers. It goes against my better judgement, but I'm going to give this thing a higher score than it probably deserves...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, April 7, 2017

MART: Intercity/MWCC

A route from Fitchburg to Gardner sounds really useful! After all, Gardner is pretty skimpy in the transit department, so something connecting it to a bigger city is a good idea, and one that seems like it would result in good ridership. Is the awkwardly-titled Intercity/MWCC route up to the task? No, no it isn't.

Oh no, what is this??
Oh great, it's one of these schedules. Why are there so many route variations? There's something wrong when no two trips take the exact same routing. Just so that there's no confusion about where the heck we went, Nathan and I took the 2:21 trip, the first outbound of the afternoon. It skips out on the Leominster deviations that the morning runs take, but it still serves Westminster and runs to downtown Gardner (the next trip appears to terminate at Mount Wachusett Community College, for some reason).

Why, hello there!
I gotta say, with a schedule like that, we were fully convinced that the route would be running a minibus. However, buried in the far corner of the Fitchburg Intermodal Center was the full-sized bus that would be taking us on our trip! It was a surprise to see, but definitely a good surprise - who the heck wants to ride a minibus, ever?

The inside.
I think it's worth talking about the inside, since it was a pretty unique bus. The seats were nice and cushioned, and there were cords running along the windows to request a stop - all pretty standard. But interestingly, there was no rear door! It was almost like a coach bus in that sense!

Crossing the Commuter Rail.
We set out from the Intermodal Center and headed down Main Street for a bit, then turned onto Water Street. This took us over the Commuter Rail tracks and away from downtown Fitchburg, past a few businesses and over the Nashua River. After that, we went up a hill and went by a mixture of dense residential, retail, and industrial buildings.

Eww...
There wasn't much of note along here for a while, especially since I've already talked about it twice. It stayed with that building mixture for a while, even as we entered Leominster and the street became North Main Street. As we neared Route 2, though, the businesses started to become more abundant, and the parking lots were growing.

At least this one has some snowy hills in the background!
Things got a little weird when we randomly pulled into the lot for a Days Inn and stayed there for a few minutes. I guess the bus was just early, as we were soon back on the road after a layover. However, we left that road very soon, taking an exit ramp onto Route 2. That's right, we were going express!

That's a view, I guess.
The highway made its way up a hill and into the woods. Route 2 does kind of skew the definition of a highway sometimes, though - for example, there was just a level intersection with a tiny side street with no traffic light or anything! We got a view of the huge Twin City Plaza ("huge" mostly because of its parking lot), and then it was back into the hilly middle of nowhere.

Oh boy, another mall!
It was starting to get foggy, too. The view out the bus window was mostly a bunch of ghostly trees, while up front the visibility was low - I'm impressed by our driver for managing to navigate this full-sized bus at high speeds down a foggy highway. At one point, the road ran alongside a lake, and the view was just gorgeous.

Wow...
It felt like we had been going for a while, but as we passed Exit 28, we realized that we had only made it as far as Wachusett Station. It had felt so middle-of-nowhere, too! In the industrial area west of Wachusett, we got a view of maybe one building, then later on we saw a few businesses alongside a road paralleling the highway.

A house in the woods.
Alongside another beautiful pond, we left the highway, taking Exit 25 and making our way onto Main Street. We were in Westminster now, and the street was lined with houses for a little while. However, that all changed once we entered downtown Westminster. There were skyscrapers everywhere! People scrambling all over the place! Truly, this was the center of civilization!

Oh...
No, actually the houses just got a bit denser and we saw a few businesses. The biggest sign of "civilization" was a small shopping plaza called Village Square. How exciting! We continued down Main Street, now residential, and passed the Westminster Senior Center, then another interchange with Route 2.

Wow, that is a misty marsh...
Beyond that interchange, the road got really wide, and we were back in the ol' woods again. There wasn't much of note along here - we were just speeding along, entering Gardner in the process. After a while, we all of a sudden turned onto Matthews Street, a narrower road that twisted by a few houses.

These woods are scary!
Next, we made our way onto an entry road for Mount Wachusett Community College. We came into the parking lot, but we had to snake around because of these huge patches of snow everywhere. "This school makes so much money," the driver ranted. "Why can't they afford to clean up their snow?" There was a shelter way in the back of the lot, but we couldn't get to it, so we had to come around to a gazebo instead.

Oh dear...sorry, shelter!
We headed out to Green Street from there, just outside of a golf course. We passed some wind turbines, then a hospital. After that, the street was lined with dense-ish houses, then we reached an oddly-shaped rotary and merged onto Central Street.

A shot of downtown Gardner from after we had left the bus.
There were more houses for a bit, but then we passed a park and entered downtown Gardner. It was surprisingly built-up, with multi-story buildings lining the street, housing businesses on their ground floors and (presumably) apartments up top. We merged onto Pleasant Street, taking us up to City Hall, which is where Nathan and I got off in order to catch another bus. The route does continue a little further to the "MART ITC Gardner," but we'll be discussing that in another post.

The bus at City Hall.
MART Route: Intercity/MWCC

Ridership: The ridership on this route is pretty lame - in 2014, it got an average of 77 riders per weekday, which is quite skimpy. My ride was really bad, with only one person going outbound and three people waiting to do the inbound trip.

Pros: This is a useful route in two ways: for one thing, it connects Fitchburg to Gardner, as I said; for another, though, it also connects Mount Wachusett Community College and Fitchburg. I don't know anything about its students and where they live, but I'll bet a good amount of people commute there from Fitchburg! That could also explain why this route only runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Finally, the ride was very scenic - maybe it was just the fog, but there was some absolutely beautiful scenery along here!

Cons: Oh, but don't think this is a good route. Nooooo, it certainly isn't. First of all, we just have to talk about that schedule again. I definitely understand why it's rush hour only, given the commuting nature of the route, but I just don't see why it has to be so darn complicated! For example, why does it deviate to Monument Square in Leominster in the morning only, and exclusively on outbound trips? Does that deviation really get the riders to justify it? Also, it seems like they could really cut Westminster service all together and run express straight through like some trips do already - at least on my ride, not a soul got on or off there.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Yeah, so like I said, downtown Westminster is just the most bustling place in the world! I'd put in on a Midtown Manhattan level - it's just crazy. No, actually, this route doesn't really serve anywhere interesting...downtown Gardner is okay, but it's kind of run-down.

Final Verdict: 4/10
Man, I really can't stand that schedule. That's honestly the biggest problem with this bus, but it's just such a huge issue! This is a route that means well, but is executed terribly. If the schedule was simplified and the headways were made more even, if possible, you might be able to attract more riders to this thing.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates
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