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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