Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Four Year Anniversary! (+Rodeo)

Wow, has it really been four years since I started this blog? Four, I don't even know what to say! I'm so happy I've stuck with this for so long, gaining more viewers and expanding my reach to cover Massachusetts RTAs as well (which has been a blast). I know I still have a bit more of the MBTA to finish, and that will most surely happen in 2017. Stick around, faithful readers! There's much more to come. And I want to thank each and every one of you for sticking with me for this long - I couldn't have gotten this far without your readership and support.

But of course such a momentous occasion needs a celebration, right?'s a little something. Stay tuned for the full video - things got very intense!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Winchester Center

An elevated Commuter Rail station? Oh wow, that's cool, I'm sure I'll love it! Oh wait, it's also falling apart? Shoot...well, we'll have a look at Winchester Center anyway.

One of the station parking lots.
The parking system in Winchester Center is a bit...weird. I mean, okay, it has 237 spaces contained in two lots (one on each side of the tracks), which is great, especially for a town center station like this one. But on the MBTA website, under "Parking Rate", it says "Town Permit". My guess is that parking is free, but it's for residents only. Oh well, I guess that's okay - nearby Wedgemere has spaces for everyone.

Underneath one of the ramps.
Access to this station is done by some very long winding ramps. On either side of the tracks near the parking lots, ramps snake up alongside the station, sheltered by wood with stone walls. The inbound side ramp has some bike spaces under it, and despite it being pretty dingy under there, they are at least sheltered.

The area around the station's bus stop.
It's most definitely a public road, but I can't help thinking of the street that runs alongside this station as a "busway". The 134 serves the stop in both directions, which seems pretty unnecessary, truth be told. I mean, it's not even like the stop offers much! What have we got here? Some bike spaces, a wastebasket, and a newspaper box. So how about, I don't know, a bench? Pshhh, guess we don't need that!

Ohhhhhh noooooo...
Winchester Center's platform is, well, decrepit. The whole thing is low-level, and though most of it is technically sheltered, that tiny wooden roof isn't gonna protect passengers from much. Oh, and be careful of the "STEEL PLATE"! Yeah, I have no idea why that's there, either.

Oh come on, this isn't helping!
The platform offers very little in terms of amenities, as well. One or two benches? Some wastebaskets? Great. Also, a bunch of ads. Like, there are more ads than anything else on this stupid platform. And's also really nice to wait up here. I mean, it's elevated! You get a super pleasant view of Winchester Center! That alone is super unique for the Commuter Rail, and it makes me like this stop at least a little bit.

No trains came by, so here's a shot of lovely Winchester Center...from above.
Station: Winchester Center

Ridership: Okay, the ridership here is less than average for the Lowell Line, but you have to remember that the Lowell line gets a lot of people. Also, Wedgemere is ridiculously close, which probably takes riders away from here as well. Despite all that, Winchester Center's ridership is still quite high for the Commuter Rail, with 789 inbound riders per weekday!

Pros: Winchester Center is most definitely a unique stop. I mean, it's an elevated Commuter Rail station in a town center! I gotta give it some credit, don't I? Other than that, there's a good amount of parking here, even if it's only for town residents.

Cons: Look, the place is decrepit. It's falling apart. It needs a facelift. Why did they feel the need to renovate nearby Wedgemere but not here? Also, Winchester Center has absolutely no excuse not to be accessible. You've already got the gigantic ramps leading up to the platform - put a mini-high up there already!

Nearby and Noteworthy: This station is right in Winchester Center, and it seems like a really nice downtown. It's got a variety of businesses, many housed in charming businesses, as well as a historic common. A classic New England downtown!

Final Verdict: 4/10
Alas, uniqueness can't save this station. Don't get me wrong, the idea of an elevated Commuter Rail station right smack in the middle of a downtown is awesome - but Winchester Center falls flat beyond its concept. It's in horrible shape, and needlessly inaccessible. You have these gigantic ramps, and they're the only way of getting up to the station, anyway - how about doing something with them?!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Great GATRA Deviation Game! (Video)

Here it is! This video covers all the GATRA Plymouth routes - we rode them all in one day, and it basically drove us to insanity. So much went wrong, but what do you expect? It's the GATRA...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

GATRA: SAIL (Marshfield - Duxbury - Kingston)

If one were to rely solely on the SAIL's schedule page, they wouldn't have any idea the route was even called the SAIL! It doesn't mention it anywhere! Yet that's the name GATRA uses when referring to the route elsewhere, and it's certainly a nice name. In fact, it's even an acronym! That's right, after some deep digging, it turns out the SAIL stands for "Seaside Area Intertown Line"! Ummmm...5/10.

No sign? Great.
Okay, so the SAIL is...a beast. A one-way trip is almost an hour and a half, as the route snakes its way through three towns with a terminus just over the border of a fourth. This is gonna be a long one, guys. And it was all spent in a terrible minibus! Jiggly wheelchair lift? Absolutely.

The sun setting over the mall.
We started at the Kingston Collection, but good ol' GATRA still refers to it as the Independence Mall - the name changed three years ago, guys! Some weekday trips deviate to serve Kingston Station, but this was a Saturday, so we headed straight up Smiths Lane, which was residential. Next we turned onto Main Street, which was mostly suburban businesses, but there were some houses in there too.

Some buildings on Main Street.
We crossed over Route 3, and the street was lined with houses beyond there. After going over a river in a marsh, we went by Hillcrest Road, where some weekday trips deviate - it's a housing development. We passed the Kingston Public Library, then as we crossed the Kingston/Plymouth Line, we rolled through a "downtown" of sorts, though the retail was not at all interesting.

Front window shot!
There were houses again for a little while, but then we got those suburban businesses with parking lots again. We went past a shopping plaza, but didn't deviate to serve it. Don't worry - we deviated to serve the next plaza, which came up in about a minute! From that mall, we headed down Duxbury Way, though that became Tremont Street after we went over Route 3 again.

Suburban Massachusetts in a nutshell...
We entered Duxbury and encountered another deviation, this time to serve Island Creek, a modern housing development. After a few local medical offices, the street became lined with houses. Other points of interest included a pond and a small park. Eventually, we turned onto Chestnut Street, where the houses continued until we reached Duxbury Center.

Pulling out of Island Creek.
Duxbury Center was an interesting downtown, with a lot of roads awkwardly converging together into what seems like a really dangerous rotary. Businesses were laid out around the intersection of death. First we went up Depot Street in order to loop around the parking lot for a small shopping center, then we returned to the center and made our way onto Washington Street.

And now we get into the "dark and blurry" portion of the review...
There were lots of houses along Washington Street, but we did get a few businesses and a school as the street came up to a harbor. After some more houses, we went through a small marsh, the first of many moments on the trip that would have been super scenic if it had been daytime. Next, we turned onto Saint George Street, coming through the campus of the Duxbury High School and deviating to serve the...Duxbury Public Library? Okay, I'm sorry, but this one kinda baffles me.

Oh look...a marsh...I think...
Coming back to Saint George Street, we passed a small section with lots of local businesses, then we turned onto Tremont Street again. We passed "Millbrook Motors", an auto shop, which is apparently important enough to be considered a timepoint on the route. Entering Marshfield, we curved to the right to stay on Tremont Street, but it soon became Careswell Street, running through woods and marshland.

Oh boy, a blurry road!
Next, we turned onto Webster Street, making a rather long deviation to serve the Marshfield Senior Center. Coming back to Careswell Street, it became residential, with houses lining the road. Soon we merged onto Canal Street, which, after going through a marsh, curved up and became Bay Ave. This was a very narrow isthmus between marshland and the ocean, and it was lined with dense houses on either side.

The sign for the senior center.
We turned onto Beach Street, heading back inland, and returned to Careswell Street. It became Dyke Road as we went by a marina and went through another marsh. There were more businesses at the end of the street, where we turned onto Ocean Street, running right along the ocean.

Looking across a marsh at some seaside houses.
Aside from a church, the area was entirely filled with dense seaside houses, and I can definitely see why. The view would have been amazing in the daytime! Eventually, we started to curve inland, passing a few businesses along the way. We also deviated to serve Winslow Village, a pretty small housing complex. Unfortunately, neighboring Winslow Village II was out of luck - it didn't get a deviation.

Coming out of Winslow Village.
There were lots of houses around, as well as a police station, but after a short marsh, it became suburban businesses with parking lots. We had another deviation here to serve "Marshfield Center", a fake modern town center that was basically just a mall. After some more businesses, we merged onto Main Street.

Welcome to Marshfield Center!
After going by the Marshfield fairgrounds, the street became mostly woods with a few houses dotted here and there. We turned onto Furnace Street next, offering basically the same scenery. As we passed the Marshfield Middle/High School complex, we entered the parking lot of a Roche Brothers. We completed that deviation, then headed down Plain Street.

A Christmas tree ad? Yeah, I rode this route a while ago...
There were suburban businesses on one side and houses on the other, then just all businesses. As we crossed under Route 3, the street became Church Street and we entered Pembroke. This meant we were almost at our terminus, the unassuming North River Plaza shopping center. What a boring terminus to such a long ride...and little did Sam and I know how long we were gonna be stuck out here. Want to know what happened? Stay tuned for the video review tomorrow!

Wait, don't leave us here!!!
GATRA Route: SAIL (Marshfield - Duxbury - Kingston)

Ridership: Okay, in terms of overall ridership, the route isn't bad for GATRA - 142 riders per weekday and 77 on Saturdays. But then when you factor in how long the route is, that's only a little over 4 passengers per hour! Not so great anymore, is it? My trip was empty, for the record.

Pros: Well, uh, it definitely serves a lot. When a route is 25 miles long, it's definitely gonna...serve a lot. And it runs as frequently as you would expect it to - every hour on weekdays and every hour and a half on Saturdays.

Cons: It''s 25 miles long! In order to run that 60 minute service on weekdays, it takes three buses! Doesn't that seem a little ridiculous? And the fact that it gets very little ridership is even worse. Wanna know how much it costs GATRA to run? $17.39 per passenger on weekdays and $19.03 per passenger on Saturdays. Man, I'm so happy I found their subsidy data...

Nearby and Noteworthy: Certainly lots of malls. Also, some rather scenic views if you ride during the daytime!

Final Verdict: 3/10
Okay, the SAIL doesn't not get people, but its problem is that it's too long to be at all efficient. The later trips don't seem to get anyone, if ours is to be judged, and it requires a lot of buses to run. GATRA actually has plans to split the route into two, which I think would definitely be beneficial. Are they actually gonna do it? I guess we'll just have to find out...

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Monday, January 9, 2017

GATRA: Freedom/Liberty Links

The Freedom and Liberty Links form a loop in the northern section of Plymouth, but I can't ever remember which one goes which way! Just to set it straight, the Freedom Link is counterclockwise and the Liberty Link is clockwise. GATRA, these route names are lovely and all, but it would be really nice if it was more obvious which direction they went...

Now this is quite a beast!
Okay, the minibus used on the Freedom Link was a really curious one. For one thing, it was one of the ugliest buses I've ever seen...but for another, it was low-floor. A low-floor minibus? You know what that means! That's right, no jiggly wheelchair lift! Sure, the bus had terrible suspension and the back window was coming off, but the fact that it was low-floor was awesome.

And what a strange seating arrangement!
We were doing the Freedom Link, so this was a counterclockwise trip. Thus, we headed north on Court Street, then turned onto South Park Ave. This led to a rotary, where we made our way onto Water Street, which ran close to the - you guessed it! - water. The ocean side of the street was occupied by parking, and there were lots of seafood restaurants everywhere.

A blurry view of the harbor.
We left downtown Plymouth, and the buildings got less dense. We passed a small healthcare center, then near a beach, the street curved left and became Nelson Street. It was residential as we headed inland, then we turned onto Court Street again.

Making the turn onto Court Street.
We passed a field, and later on we got some dense businesses along the street. It almost felt like another downtown! It ended pretty soon after, though, with a few car dealerships and more suburban businesses. Right up near a pond, we made the first deviation of many, and it was a strange one...

A Liberty Link from earlier in the day. Gosh, how I'd love to be in that MiDi instead...
So the deviation was to serve Cordage Park, which is some sort of office park. I'm not sure how occupied it is, but on the Saturday we were here, the dilapidated parking lot was empty. The bus curved around the office park and made a very strange loop around the parking lot. Was there signage for the stop? Nah, of course not.

Running alongside the Commuter Rail tracks.
Now we were going next to the Commuter Rail, serving Plymouth Station (not that that's gonna be of much use to anyone). After that, we ran through the parking lot of an abandoned Walmart and returned to Court Street. It was mostly residential with a few businesses here and there, then we merged onto Crescent Street, which was lined with houses.

Oooh, it's just barely a water view!
We turned onto Smiths Lane, which continued to be residential. The street widened as we went through an interchange with Route 3. Some buses deviate to serve Kingston Station at this point to vaguely time with trains, but our trip wasn't one of them. We ran alongside the Kingston Collection, a huge mall, and turned into it later on. After a small loop, we returned to Kingston Collection Way with some new passengers on board.

Heading past the mall.
We ran through forest for a bit, then it became industrial. Fittingly, we soon turned onto Industrial Park Road, going under Route 44 and passing various suburban offices (as well as the GATRA bus yard). Eventually we turned onto Christa McAuliffe Boulevard, which became Colony Place - we were serving another mall!

Looks like even more stuff is under construction.
After that mall-serving session, we made our way onto the wide Commerce Way, which was lined with businesses and parking lots. Pretty soon, we reached some sort of developing mall, and deviated to serve the one building that was currently there: Market Basket. We headed down Carver Road from there, which became a mixture of houses and woods.

What a nice curve.
The road became Samoset Street, but the scenery stayed the same for a while. It became those classic businesses with parking lots once again soon enough, though. We didn't deviate to serve any of them, but we did run down Algonquin Terrace to loop around a housing development, Algonquin Heights. Close enough!

The housing development.
And then, weirdly, we headed back down the road a bit and deviated to serve a Shaw's. Next, we made our way onto Summer Street, which crossed over Route 3 and ran past a cemetery on the other side. After that, it became lined with some pretty dense houses.

Back downtown!
We passed an apartment complex, then some historical-looking buildings. As we passed a nice park, we made our way onto Main Street, running through downtown Plymouth. We headed out onto Water Street for a bit, going by the ocean in order to get down Memorial Drive to return to the main hub. Here, the bus had a bit of a layover before its next circuit.

The MiDi again. What can I say, that low-floor minibus is ugly!
GATRA Routes: Freedom/Liberty Links

Ridership: I'm just going to count these as one route, know, they basically are. The Freedom/Liberty Links are thus the busiest routes on the Plymouth Area Link system, with a combined 255 riders per weekday and 165 per Saturday. These are also the most productive routes in Plymouth, carrying between 10-15 people per hour each. Okay, it doesn't sound like a lot, but you have to remember that this is GATRA we're talking about.

Pros: The routes serve a pretty big chunk of the urbanized section of Plymouth. The malls they serve make them popular with shoppers, and I think that's the biggest contribution to their high ridership. Most of the deviations got at least one person, which is always nice to see. The route frequencies themselves are what you would expect - every hour for both routes. However, I still have a problem with them...

Cons: Why do both buses leave downtown Plymouth at the same time? I know they're trying to get a "pulse" thing going on, but with essentially only two routes, it doesn't have much of a point. I think it would be better if one loop left on the hour and one left on the half hour - that way if someone missed a bus, it wouldn't be too long of a wait for another one going the other way around the loop. Also, there are a few bothersome deviations: Cordage Park definitely doesn't need to be served on Saturdays, and the Kingston Station trips are very loosely timed with trains, to the point where it's not even worth it to deviate.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well, these routes offer the only connection between the Commuter Rail and proper downtown Plymouth, so I would say downtown! It's a real pain to get to by public transportation, but this is a very historic area with some great sights to see.

Final Verdict: 7/10
Yeah, the routes definitely aren't without their problems. I suppose the two relatively pointless deviations are to be expected with any GATRA route, and all the other ones get people, but I can't let go of that scheduling thing. It seems ridiculous to have the routes leave at the same time - alternating them on the hour and half hour would allow for more "frequent" service and more balanced ridership. Still, the routes serve a lot and get a good amount of people, and for GATRA...they're not bad.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Saturday, January 7, 2017

GATRA: Manomet/Cedarville Deviated Link

You know those bus routes that just shouldn't exist? Yeah...let's take a look at one of those today. Although weirdly, despite "deviated" being right in the name, one positive about the "Manomet/Cedarville Deviated Link" is that it doesn't have any scheduled deviations! It's all downhill from there, though...

We thought this was the Cedarville Link. Long story...
Okay, so why is this called a "deviated" link, then? Well, it turns out that on this route, you can request the bus to "flex" up to 3/4 of a mile away from the main line. This seems like a good thing for seniors, and they give the bus a lot of time to get from end to end, so I don't think any requested deviations could slow it down too much. Alright, fine, that's another pass for this route.

What a great place to start!
Leaving the start of the route at Stop & Shop, we turned onto State Road, which initially had businesses and parking lots alongside it. However, they ended quickly, and we were soon driving past lots and lots of houses. At one point we came up along a lake briefly, and there was a small business a little past there.

Thanks, rear window!
Eventually we passed an elementary school, which is apparently a major timepoint on the route. That said, it's not like there was much else of note! We did go by a brook and a church, plus some sort of residential development, but it was really just a lot of houses and woods.

The brook crossing is in the background there.
We got some full-on forest for a bit, but according to Google Maps, there were houses hidden on dead-end streets coming from other roads. And...yeah, it was basically a mix between forest and residences for a while, and the occasional farm or marsh or something. Another major timepoint was Ellisville Harbor State Park, but we just whizzed by.

Finally, we arrived at some businesses...all with parking lots, of course. At this point, the driver turned and asked Sam and I where we wanted to go. We said we were just going to ride back, so the driver said "Alright, is Tedeschi's okay?" So with that, we pulled into the parking lot of a Tedeschi's, and the driver went in to do some shopping during the layover...taking a random pair of underwear with him. Don't ask.

This was a very loud minibus. The jiggly wheelchair lift didn't help.
GATRA Route: Manomet/Cedarville Deviated Link

Ridership: Okay, the ridership on this thing is so ridiculously low it's not even funny: 28 riders per weekday, and 23 per Saturday. That means that the route gets an incredible 1.4 passengers per weekday trip and 1.15 passengers per Saturday trip. BETTER NOT RIDE THIS ROUTE IF YOU HATE CROWDS, 'CAUSE IT'S A REAL BUSY ONE! THE 111? THE 28? HA! SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS COMPARED TO THE FREAKING MANOMET/CEDARVILLE DEVIATED LINK!

Pros: Um, gee, I dunno, uh, it runs every hour. There's something.

Cons: BUT IT SHOULDN'T BE RUNNING AT ALL! Okay, what does this route serve? A bunch of spaced-out houses and some random highway businesses near the end? Yeah, those places totally need a bus! A bus, might I add, that costs GATRA $18.68 per person to run! Sounds like money well-spent to me! Okay, also, there's the ridiculous transfer between this route and the Mayflower Link. They're actually the exact same bus, and to continue onto either one, you would just stay on at Stop & Shop. Does GATRA tell you this? Nope! This led to a very frustrating experience that I won't get into now...but stay tuned for the video review!

Nearby and Noteworthy: Uhh...Tedeschi's? Look, guys, I got nothin'. The few businesses at the terminus of this route are really boring.

Final Verdict: 1/10
Cut it. Cut it. Cut it. Cut it. Cut it. Oh, for goodness sake, cut it. This route barely serves anything, it gets no one, and it's ridiculously expensive to run. It's weird, I was actually rather positive about this route when I first rode it, and it has to be said that the ride itself is enjoyable. It's also one that shouldn't exist. I'll say it one more time: cut it!!!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

Friday, January 6, 2017

The 73 is back, baby!

I finally got to ride on the 73 since its long-awaited return to trackless trolleys last Saturday! Turns out I got it right in a sweet spot, too - earlier in the afternoon no trolleys were running because of work, while later in the evening there was a wire problem that prevented trolley operation! But yes, the 73 is finally back, and man, it was so great to see trackless trolleys running up and down the route. I ended up walking back to Aberdeen Ave to snap lots of pictures of the route. Here are the best ones...

There hadn't been a 73 in a while, so this one got really crowded.
Mine came right after, and it was empty, so...ha!
My bus at Waverley.
Oh boy, check out the triple bunch!
The bus in front had already passed, so here's a double.
A bus dropping someone off.
That same bus coming 'round the bend.
Goin' up the hill.
Oh dear, the sign appears to be broken on the front vehicle...

My favorite part of the 73! Gosh, I love this view.
Trying to do a fancy motion shot...
A bus disappearing into the night.
And finally, a vehicle back at Harvard!
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