Saturday, January 10, 2015

Service Change: MVRTA - Route 41 (Lawrence - Lowell) and the Buckley Transportation Center

Yes, I actually went on another non-MBTA transportation authority while in Lowell. This is the MVRTA (Merrimack Valley Regional Transportation Authority), which covers a large area around its hub in Lawrence, going as far as Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. The 41 route goes between the Kennedy Center in Lowell and the Buckley Transportation Center in Lawrence. It runs every half hour on weekdays, which is really good for a non-MBTA system. Every hour on weekends isn't great, but unlike the LRTA, the MVRTA runs on Sundays.

"Why are you taking pictures of the bus?" asked the driver. "Because I like taking pictures of buses," I replied. "Fair enough," he said, and questioned no more.
The bus was pretty nice inside. The seats all had "MVRTA" written on them, which was an interesting design choice, but they were fairly comfortable. If you want to get off, though, you have to push the - ugh - tape. MVRTA buses do use a flag-down system, though, so you can get on and off whenever you want.

The inside.
Looking toward the front.
The - blech - tape.
There was a screen up at the front of the bus, but it seemed to only display "ROUTE 41 TO BUCKLEY TRANSPORTATION CENTER" and the date on a continuous loop. The bus was pretty crowded when we left Lowell. In fact, in total there would be over 25 riders, which is a lot for a route on a non-MBTA system.

Weirdly, about half the route, from Lowell out to the border of Methuen, is designated as a "no stop zone." That means that no one can get on or off the bus along that part of the route. I guess it's because the bus runs on a pseudo highway during that time, but it's a highway through Methuen, too.

The view of the Concord River. This was actually taken from the LRTA 2, but I forgot to put it in that post.
We started out heading down Appleton Street, following the route of the LRTA 2. We crossed over the Concord River, and even followed the 2 on its route up to the Saints Memorial Hospital. We didn't pull in or stop (no stop zone, remember), and left the 2 by crossing over the Merrimack River on Route 38.

The view of the Merrimack River.
We then merged onto Route 110, or the VFW Highway, which parallels the river. We passed some sort of sewage treatment plant, but the highway was mostly separated from other roads and buildings. I could see a few houses through the trees, though. Soon we entered Dracut and the road became Merrimack Ave.

Eventually, we went through a residential area. But the people in those houses can't use the 41 because of the no stop zone, which just seems ridiculous. There are places along the road here for buses to pull over, but no can do for the MVRTA. It became woodsey after that, with a few houses and industrial buildings along the road.

We entered Methuen, the stopping ban was lifted, and the street became Lowell Boulevard. No one got on or off until much later, though. We soon passed a church and a National Guard facility, then it became mostly residential again. Eventually, we left the river and passed under I-93 on a rotary.

We made a slight turn onto Haverhill Street, but it was still Route 110. When we approached the Merrimack Plaza (the only other place on the route besides Lowell where people got on), a dinging noise suddenly played over the bus's speakers. "Merrimack Plaza," said the best-sounding automatic announcer this side of the "Stand clear of the closing doors" guy in New York. So it turns out there are automatic announcements at major stops.

Seems like I can never get a decent screen picture without stuff getting in the way.
We continued down Haverhill Street, with the houses much closer together now. Eventually we entered Lawrence, and the occasional business would show up along the road. We crossed over some abandoned railroad tracks, and it was pure urban grit on the other side.

Not the nicest neighborhood, is it? This is just before the railroad tracks.
We turned onto Broadway, which was mostly businesses, some of which had apartments on top. Then we turned onto Common Street, passing a few small residential towers. We went by mostly parking lots and apartments, then pulled into the Buckley Transportation Center, the hub of the MVRTA.

The bus at the Buckley Transportation Center.
I have to say, I did not like the Buckley Transportation Center. It was basically just a dark, dingy parking lot where all the buses stop. There were some benches and wastebaskets, as well as glass (albeit dirty) windows on one side, but it just wasn't nice at all. At least it's sheltered, though.

My camera doesn't really capture the dinginess of the bus station.
A pretty beaten-up map of the station.
Looking out the dirty windows.
There was also a small waiting room on one side of the bus area. It felt pretty cramped, but it had benches, an information booth, and a few vending machines. The place was crowded, so there was nowhere to sit, which can probably be a problem during rush hours. The transportation center also offers parking, but I couldn't find any information about it online.

The waiting room.
Looking from the outside.
This whole time, I was assuming that the Lawrence Commuter Rail station was part of the Buckley Transportation Center. With my train home coming in about 50 minutes, I figured I could explore the station and then read my book for the rest of the time. Easy, right? Wrong.

After circling the Buckley Center, I realized that this was not the Commuter Rail station. I walked around the area for a bit but couldn't find any signage for the station. Eventually I saw the Lawrence Public Library, and figured they'd know where the station was. They gave me directions, and it turned out the Commuter Rail is over a mile away from the library! Not to mention about a mile away from Buckley! With no street signage whatsoever! The Commuter Rail is an important destination, people!

Sigh...more about the station in the next post...

Although most of the MVRTA is flag-down, there are a few fixed stops downtown like this one.
A bus shelter.
The North Canal, as seen on my walk.
And the Merrimack River.

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