Monday, June 27, 2016

GATRA: Tri-Town Connector

The layout of the GATRA baffles me. The authority runs many different "systems" that are completely disconnected from each other, and many of them are seemingly unknown. For example, the Tri-Town Connector, which runs from Norfolk Station to a Big Y supermarket in Franklin (via Wrentham and Foxboro) has barely any signage, no advertising, and essentially no indication that it exists. Well...it exists!

The bus coming into "downtown" Norfolk.
My friends Harry and Zach and I just figured we would wait around to see where the bus would go, since we had no idea where the stop was. The bus was early, luckily, and we saw it go into the station lot located across Rockwood Road. We ran over and found it in the most awkward stop ever:

Oh, of course the weed-ridden industrial building was the stop! Duh!
What the heck kind of stop is this?! How is anyone supposed to know that the bus stops here? GATRA has this annoying habit of running decent routes with empty buses because no one knows they exist because there's no signage! Well, at least we made it onto the bus, and began the route.

This is such a weird stop...
Leaving the station, we headed around a rotary and went onto Main Street. This was a straight road with spaced-out houses and no side streets. We went by a church at one point, and a cemetery at another, but eventually we reached the main reason for this deviation: a...um...prison.

Um...that is a prison. We are serving a prison right now.
Yes, the route deviates specifically to serve a prison. Apparently on visiting days, there are a few people that actually use the bus to get here. It has to be said, too, that this is the only stop on the whole route that actually gets a sign. Why here? That's so random!

Look, they even have a nice little bench and a logo on the sign! THIS ROUTE HAS POTENTIAL, GATRA!
From the prison parking lot, we took a very tiny road out to get onto Main Street again. We headed back the way we came and deviated into the Norfolk Station lot once more just to see if anyone was waiting. There was no one there, so now we proceeded onto the actual route.

A bridge near the prison.
We headed onto North Street, which was very woodsy and lined with the occasional house. On occasion, there was even a side street! But once the road became Pond Street, it was full-on forest with nothing else. We soon passed the Pond Street Recreational Facility, though, which is considered a "major" stop. The driver said no one ever gets on there, though.

A clock in downtown Norfolk.
After more woods, we all of a sudden hit development. There was an industrial section before a few restaurants at the intersection with Route 1A. Here, the street became Pine Street, and after a bit more industry, it became residential once more.

Ew...
However, we eventually turned onto the dreaded Route 1, which seems to bring pittiness wherever it goes. It wasn't as bad as Saugus, but there were still some pretty ugly businesses and motels along here. As the street grew wider, we turned off to serve Patriot Place. Yes, we were at Gillette Stadium!

The mall, with the stadium in the background
I guess the concept of Patriot Place is that it's an outdoor mall, and I support that. Making a mall seem like an actual town is a good idea, and it's great that this route serves it. If only it had a proper sign or stop so people knew it existed! Well, anyway, we navigated through the mall and worked our way back around, passing the stadium on the way out.

This was actually my first time seeing Gillette, and it's a beauty!
Next, we had to serve another mall. This one was just a generic strip mall, and once again there was no signage whatsoever. From there, we had to go through some weird toll gates before heading back out onto Route 1. Normally the bus would make its way back onto Pine Street and then onto Dedham Street, but the driver decided to take a shortcut, so we used East Street instead.

A woodsy intersection.
East Street had a pretty rural feel overall, with random spurts of housing. They eventually became more consistent, and we even passed a small apartment development. Soon, we went by Wrentham Common on one side and pulled into a parking lot in Wrentham Center. This is where our driver left and a new one got on board, who was just as nice as the last one.

A restaurant in Wrentham.
From the parking lot, we turned onto South Street, which seemed to be the main drag of Wrentham. It had some nice business blocks on one side, with more parking-oriented retail on the other. Eventually we left the center, and the street was now lined with houses. We turned onto Creek Street, and then entered the Liberty Pines development, where we picked up...a passenger! Wow!

The apartment...thing.
We headed back onto Creek Street, which was mostly residential, aside from another apartment and a place meant for wedding functions. Eventually, we made it to Franklin Street, which continued to be residential. However, we soon passed an industrial complex, then a country club. There were houses for just a bit more after that, but soon we reached the Big Y, the terminus of the route (where one can also make a connection to the GATRA's Franklin Area Bus).

Some random office.
However, because these drivers were really nice, we got a direct ride to Franklin Station because that's where we were ultimately heading! Thus, we continued down Franklin Street, which had a quick residential section, then we entered Franklin Center. The driver let us out on Main Street, just outside the station, and then drove off to rejoin the regular route.

The Tri-Town Connector in downtown Franklin is a unique occurrence indeed.
GATRA Route: Tri-Town Connector

Ridership: The route is new enough so that the GATRA doesn't have ridership data on it yet. However, by the driver's estimate, it gets about 25 people per day. That's, um...quite very small. To be honest, I was surprised to see even one other person get on.

Pros: This route really serves a lot! It's the only consistent bus service in Norfolk, Wrentham, and Foxboro, and it's the only way of getting to attractions like Patriot Place or that prison by public transportation (hey, apparently people use it to get to the prison, so I'm calling it a ridership draw). The schedule is...inconsistent, but it's anywhere from every 70 minutes to every 120 minutes, Monday through Saturday. Most trips are timed with outbound trains from Boston, though, so that can be helpful.

Cons: On an MBTA route, I might be complaining about the schedule here, but honestly, the infrequency of the route is perfect since nobody uses it. Get some advertising at Norfolk and at the very least some signs, particularly at Patriot Place. That's by far the longest deviation on the route, and if no one is using the bus from there, then it's really a waste of time for other riders who are just passing through.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I think Patriot Place is the biggest attraction along the route, and it seems like a pretty decent mall. You can't use the route to get to football games, unfortunately, since it doesn't run to that area on game days (probably due to traffic), but you could still visit the stadium on a non-game day if you wanted to.

Final Verdict: 5/10
I really don't like this GATRA trend of running pretty decent routes, but not letting anyone know about their existence. According to the driver, no one used this route for the whole first year it was open! And even now, it still gets very low ridership. This would be a useful connection for residents of Norfolk and Wrentham...if only they knew about it.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

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