Saturday, March 1, 2014

501 (EXPRESS BUS Brighton Center - Downtown via Oak Square and Mass Turnpike)

The 501 had one of those drivers that hates when you take pictures of them. He said that I needed to have his permission to take pictures of the bus. I wasn't really sure what to say, so I just said "Okay, sorry," and went to the back. Neither of us mentioned it again.

Was it even worth getting yelled at for? This picture is terrible! Look what strange effect the rain had on it.
The 501 is a typical I-90 express bus. It started, like all the other ones, at Federal and Franklin Streets, and then headed over to Otis and Summer Streets. We made our way to Surface Road, heading past the Chinatown Gate, then headed onto I-90. The John Hancock Building and Fenway Park were both visible, then we headed up onto the bridge over Storrow Drive (with a great view of the Charles River). We went through the special bus and truck lane at the tolls, and it got more suburban heading from there.

The traffic started just before the Newton Corner exit. Luckily we got off there and didn't have to deal with it for very long. We did a crazy loop around Newton Corner before heading down Tremont Street, along with the 57 and the 503 (exactly the same as the 501, except it starts at Copley - that should be an interesting review).

This was a nice little residential area, and like when I rode the 57, it was hard to imagine that the Green Line once went down here. At Oak Square, Tremont Street merged into Washington Street. There were a lot of businesses around here, and everyone but me and another woman got off. There were mostly apartments on the section following Oak Square, but we soon got to Brighton Center.

The back of the 501. It could be a half-decent picture if it were the FRONT.
I personally love Brighton Center, if only because the brick architecture on most of the buildings is simply amazing. There were actually a few stops announced as "Brighton Center," and the remaining woman on the bus got off at the second. But I stayed on assuming there was more, as the driver didn't open both doors and kneel the bus like they always do at the last stop.

And there was more. We turned off of Washington Street onto Winship Street at the Saint Elizabeth's Hospital. There was a short stretch through a residential area, and then we reached a little patch of grass apparently called Jackson Square. We made a tight loop around Jackson Square, then headed back up Winship Street. I didn't want to go back downtown, so I got off at one of the Brighton Center stops. The driver must've thought I was crazy: first I take pictures of the bus, then I go around the loop for no reason. Sorry, driver.

A few days later, I was back downtown and saw the 501 at Federal and Franklin. It had the exact same driver in it, and I don't think he noticed me sneak a better picture. Ha ha!
Route: 501 (EXPRESS BUS Brighton Center - Downtown via Oak Square and Mass Turnpike)

Ridership: There were only about 10-15 people on the bus, if I remember right. Everyone used this bus for the express service; there was no one who got on for the local portion. This is probably because a) the local portion's pretty short, and b) the local portion is mostly just supplementing the 57 (except for the short stretch on Winship Street, which is in walking distance from the 57 anyway), and most people want to go to Kenmore.

Pros: As I learn more about this bus, I see less and less pros, but here's one: although it only runs during rush hours, it's every 12 minutes, which is a very good frequency for an I-90 express bus.

Cons: Of course, it's rush hour only. I didn't see much ridership, but perhaps that's because it was 3:00 when I rode. Unfortunately, the route the bus takes isn't very direct, as it essentially doubles back on itself at Newton Corner. The MBTA seems to have realized this, as some trips exit off of I-90 much earlier, right after the bridge over Storrow Drive, and take a more direct route down Cambridge Street. This routing is apparently 10 minutes shorter than the normal routing. It's a bit weird, though, that ALL outbound buses in the morning use it, and some inbound buses in the evening use it. I feel they should just alternate them, pretty much like how they do it in the evening. But the worst thing about this route is that the 57 from Kenmore is actually FASTER to Brighton Center. I suppose you'd have to take the Green Line to Kenmore first if you're heading from downtown, but I can't believe the local bus is faster than the express. But I suppose if you want a less...crowded experience, you can take the 501, but the choice is only available during rush hour.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I said above how much I love Brighton Center. There's the architecture, like I mentioned, but also the fact that it's almost all small businesses. Sure, there are a few bank chains and a Dunkin' Donuts, but for the most part you'll only find small businesses in Brighton Center. And I LOVE that!

Final Verdict: 3/10
You can tell I don't like this bus just by looking at the sheer length of the cons section. But really, the schedule's bad, the route's pretty bad (although I like the "alternating routes" idea), and the local bus is faster than the express to Brighton Center. If you're going to Oak Square, though, keep in mind that the 501 is scheduled to be a whole minute faster than the 57. But of course, you only get the choice during rush hour...

Latest MBTA News: You may remember how the MBTA sent out a request for naming rights proposals a few months ago. Well, only one company showed interest: Jet Blue wanted to rename the Blue Line, which is actually pretty brilliant, but their bid was less than the minimum bidding price. So don't expect to see any new station or line names anytime soon. Also, the MBTA is increasing service on the Framingham/Worcester Commuter Rail line. See the new schedule (which is effective March 10) here. Finally, check out this cool video - it's a simulation of the Green Line extension to West Medford.

4 comments:

  1. The reason the 501 runs the way it does is because it was created as a replacement for the A branch of the Green Line for people to go downtown. As were the 502, 503 and 504. So it has run down the portions the A used to run for as long as it has existed instead of Cambridge Street, which is more industrial, never had the A and has less ridership. These Mass Pike buses actually get VERY heavy ridership in the later portions of rush hour, but are generally light during the day, including the ones that run all day, like the Watertown ones and some of the 550 series buses. And while the 57 makes better time from Kenmore to Brighton Square, it makes sense for people downtown to take the express bus over the 57 because that way they do not have to deal with the Green Line, which is far too often more trouble than its worth. Several express buses have low ridership and have either already been cut (500) or are often talked about being cut (325) but the 501 is not one of them. And as for the driver, he is not allowed to tell you if you can or cannot take a picture of the bus. If a driver tells you that and you don't mind waiting for the next bus, remind them of MBTA policy regarding pictures. Drivers on power trips are the worst.

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    1. Oh, I see! So the 501-504 are all meant as replacements for the A! I never actually knew that. Also, do you know where I can find this MBTA picture policy? I'd like to see what it entails.

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    2. Technically, the 57 is the replacement for the A. The 501-504 are more to compliment the 57, to enable people who are willing to pay a little extra for the one seat ride to go directly downtown, maintaining, for at least part of the day, the one seat ride between Watertown/Newton Corner/Brighton Square and Downtown that existed when the A ran. As for the MBTA photo policy, it can be found here
      http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/About_the_T/Police/Photo%20Policy%202012.pdf

      As you can see, it enables very broad picture taking. No MBTA employee has the right to tell you not to take a picture of a bus, subway train or station as long as it isn't a restricted area, which a bus on a public road most certainly is NOT. Often times my fellow MBTA employees are ignorant on actual T policy and make up their own rules until someone calls them out.

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  2. The 501 is AMAZING. While it's only a commuter bus (you need the 504 on the weekends), it's one of the few buses that gets me places faster than going on my bike. The only legitimate con for this route is that the T doesn't have a dedicated "buses only" lane on I90 so it still gets bogged down in traffic.

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