Monday, January 30, 2017

Transit Tales: Last Bus Madness

The "last trip" system on the T is fantastic in theory, but it doesn't always work out in practice. To put it simply, the last trains downtown all have to wait for each other, then there are a bunch of bus routes that have to wait for those trains to get out to their respective stations. For a more detailed explanation, check out this post from the Amateur Planner - but to put it simply, despite the T shifting the last E's departure time earlier, the last trains, and thus the last buses, are almost always late.

And I had the pleasure of dealing with one.

It all started on the 73...
So I was coming back from my friend's house in West Cambridge rather late at night, and I had just missed the 12:27 inbound 71. (but it was using a diesel bus, so who cares, right?) That meant I would have to wait for the 12:46 73, which is the second-to-last one. My feeble mind believed that this trip would become an elusive 77A, getting me home in around 20 minutes, so you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered it wasn't going to do that. "Oh well," I thought, "I'll just get on a 77 at Harvard. Easy." Turns out nothing is easy when it's the last trip...

The bus stopped at University Road. I feel bad for that 71 behind it...
The first sign of trouble was when the bus stopped at University Road, just outside the Harvard Bus Tunnel. The driver said he was going to get some water and left the bus. The minutes dragged on, and eventually I went outside and started taking pictures. Buses were gathered in Bennett Alley waiting for the last train to arrive, and the drivers were all hanging out in their vehicles.

A 77 in the front, a 74 in the back, and an unsigned 96 on the right.
The driver of the 77 said I could wait on his bus - a much better arrangement than being out in the cold. Before I got on, though, the 73 driver came back out and gave me a cup of water, which was very nice! So now I was sitting on an empty 77 in Bennett Alley just waiting for the last train to get closer so we could drive into the tunnel.

A bus to myself!
Eventually we started to make our way into the tunnel. The 73 and 71 went first, presumably going to the Cambridge Common in order to loop back around to the Lower Busway. Next, our bus headed down, followed by the 96, and the 74 brought up the rear.

The empty busway.
At the 77 berth, there were four other people waiting, although the last train had yet to come. We were basically playing the same waiting game as before, only with different scenery. The driver was outside the bus doing some sort of stretch/dance singing "Waiting for the inspectorrrrrr!" It was now about 1:15 - the last 77 is supposed to depart at 1:00.

Looking out into the empty mezzanine.
This whole time the Red Line countdown clock was saying that the next train was arriving, but the minutes kept ticking by. Finally, at around 1:20, the train finally came in, although weirdly the clock switched to "2 minutes" at this point. There was a small trickle of people that came out from the fare gates, two of whom got on our bus, so I guess it was worth the wait. Finally, at 1:22 (22 minutes late), we left the tunnel and headed on our way!

Coming out of the tunnel.
I had told the driver that I was hoping to catch the last 83, assuming we would beat it. When we got to Porter Square, the driver asked if I had a tracker, and I said no. He suggested I run out and check for the bus, so I dashed over to the Somerville Ave side of the station and looked down the street - nothing. When I came back, the 77 had switched over to the left lane, and the driver was gesturing towards the next stop. Time to run again!

I wasn't expecting this many cars to be out this late at night!
When I got back on the bus, the driver said that the 83 had left. Thus, I stayed on the 77 up until North Cambridge Carhouse, which I had subtly noted was the most convenient stop for me. I didn't think he would actually let me off there (it's usually only served by 77As), but it was very nice! As the bus sped away taking its eight or so other passengers up to Arlington, I started walking home.

So how was the experience overall? Well, the last trip system really could use some work. Don't get me wrong, I love how passengers are guaranteed connections to the last bus routes and subway services, but they should really fix the scheduling. I guess there's no way of knowing how late a train will be, but buses shouldn't have to wait over 20 minutes past their scheduled departure to leave a station! Is there an easy solution to this problem? None that I know right now, but I'm sure some minor improvements could be made poking around in the schedules. With that said, it was definitely an adventurous night (or morning) made more friendly by some great drivers, although it's probably not something I would want to do again anytime soon...

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