Sunday, May 28, 2017

RIPTA: 204 (Westerly Flex)

After seeing the insane Fridays-only 301, it's time to take a look at Westerly's "primary" bus "route"...although it's still incredibly barebones. The 204 is a flex service, which is why "route" is in quotation marks: you can call in to request the route to take you anywhere within the "Flex Zone," which covers most of urbanized Westerly. Three times a day, however, the route breaks free of its zone and runs out to Narragansett to serve Salt Pond Plaza and connect with other RIPTA routes. This should be an interesting review...

The bus at Westerly Station.
Confusingly enough, there are certain times of the day you can get on the Westerly Flex without having to call in - certain "Flex stops" at certain times of the day allow you to just get on and go wherever you want. Nathan and I got on at Westerly Station for the 2:00 PM "trip," which operates almost as a fixed-route to Narragansett.

The inside of the bus.
After some passengers boarded, we left the Westerly Station drop-off area and headed down Railroad Ave. As the name suggests, we were paralleling the Northeast Corridor on one side, while on the other side there were businesses and the "Westerly Armory," which looked awesome! The road became Oak Street, and it was industrial for a few blocks before becoming residential.

I'm not sure what this is a lot for, but that boat is intriguing.
It got industrial again after a bit, but then we unexpectedly entered...a highway interchange? Yes, I guess we were going onto an express section! We ran down Route 78, which is a short circumferential expressway around Westerly, but an expressway regardless. The driver pumped on the gas as we proceeded through the woods before the highway ended at an intersection with Route 1.

Well, this was unexpected!
We turned onto Route 1, otherwise known as Post Road, and after some suburban businesses with big parking lots, it got more residential. We passed Westerly State Airport and a few random inns interspersed between the houses, then it became businesses once again. At this point, we deviated to serve Walmart, the next "Flex stop" on the route.

Howdy, Walmart.
We continued down Post Road from there, and it was mostly woods, but there were a few random houses mixed in at various points. As we entered Charlestown, there was a section where the houses got slightly denser, and there were even a few businesses mixed in...including a minigolf course! We passed a surprisingly large amount of motels, as well.

Nice view!
There was a long section of woods that lasted until we got to the more developed part of Charlestown. However, we didn't serve any of it, barrelling through on Route 1 - some businesses were visible from the road, though. As we entered South Kingstown, it became Commodore Perry Highway...and the scenery got a lot more boring.

*yawn*
For what seemed like hours, the bus was just running through endless forest, with only a few random buildings breaking it up on occasion. While there certainly is charm in woods and farms, the speed and warmth of the bus led Nathan to fall asleep and rendered me barely awake...I just robotically took pictures whenever it seemed fit. Thank goodness it eventually got interesting again.

Here we go!
Route 1 went up onto a bridge and crossed over Silver Spring Cove, offering a view of the boats parked at the marina of the same name. The gigantic South County Hospital was visible to the north, then a lot of development surrounded the road but trees mostly blocked the view. We headed up the highway for a while before deviating to serve the Stedman Center, some sort of government office.

This place gets a Flex stop?
For the record, I asked the driver if this place ever gets any people, and he said no...so yeah, how about not serving it? That would be efficient! We returned down the highway for a bit, but this time we got off at Old Tower Hill Road. This took us past the Wakefield Mall (although the Flex doesn't stop there) and a bunch of other suburban businesses with parking lots.

The Wakefield Mall.
Okay, this next bit was kinda weird. We turned onto Cherry Lane, a residential street behind a shopping plaza, and waited outside of a house for a while. "Someone always gets on here," the driver said, "let's try calling him." Okay...I was under the impression, based on the schedule, that this area was out of the "Flex Zone," so I'm not sure how someone could have flexed here once, let alone "always." I guess it was nice that the driver tried to call, but there was no answer, so we continued along our merry way.

A residential street.
The road became Robinson Street and curved westward, crossing over a bike path that eventually leads to Kingston Station. Next, we turned onto Woodruff Ave, which was entirely lined with houses. It stayed residential until a small office park, then we crossed over Route 1. Right after that, we turned into Salt Pond Plaza, where Nathan and I got off to catch another bus back to Providence...and civilization.

The bus at the mall.
RIPTA Route: 204 (Westerly Flex)

Ridership: It's hard to judge the ridership of the 204, since the RIPTA doesn't have any public information on it, so I'll have to base it off of our trip. Overall, there were five other passengers in total - they all got on at Westerly Station, a scheduled Flex stop, and got off either at Walmart or Salt Pond Plaza (both scheduled Flex stops). Sensing a pattern? Yeah, something tells me people prefer getting a scheduled route without any hassle instead of having to call RIPTA at least a day in advance...

Pros: I believe that Westerly is a substantial enough town that it needs public transportation, and as limited as the Flex is, at least it's something. So yes, that's my pro: it's a bus route in Westerly.

Cons: The thing is, it doesn't seem like too many people use the Flex for its, you know, flexing. Everyone got on or off at the scheduled stops, which I think shows that Westerly needs a fixed-route service instead of this barebones Flex route. You could run it with this same minibus, since I'm sure ridership would be only slightly higher, but a fixed-route is so much easier for passengers than the annoying "call on the day before" mentality that "flexing" the Flex requires.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I've said it before, I'll say it again: Westerly is a great town. The central area is thriving and really interesting, with a bunch of diverse businesses. Amtrak is definitely the fastest way of getting here from Massachusetts, but the town could still use a bus route within itself...

Final Verdict: 3/10
It's good that Westerly at least has one (weekdays-only) bus route, but from what I've gathered, people really only use this during the rare times that it actually has scheduled stops...and those times are indeed rare. It boards at Westerly Station and Walmart four times per day, and travels out to Salt Pond Plaza three times per day. Why not serve it all at consistent intervals by making this a fixed-route? Like this:





Yes, it's every 2 hours...but unlike the current Flex route, this one has a consistent schedule, so it will allow people to actually rely on the bus coming. I have it serve Charlestown as well, since the route currently just blazes by there, and I got rid of Stedman Center service since it seems that not many people use it. Plus, the fact that the route is still using just one minibus means that it costs about the same amount of money to run as the current service. Yay!!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

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