When I set out to do this review, I actually set out to get a ride on the 86; crosstown routes that have multiple rail connections are among my favorites as they’re great timesavers and have a lot of turnover of passengers. The plan was to get the 86 at Sullivan Square, get off at Harvard, then get some content for future station reviews, then work my way back to the Orange Line. Problem was that the Orange Line decided to be nuts and made getting the next 86 at Sullivan impossible for my limited schedule. On the platform at North Station, I noticed that the 91 would do what I wanted: a clean connection between Red and Orange without backtracking. Call this review one of fate, or at least irony.
Unlike the 86 which is an important east-west route going from the wealth of Chestnut Hill to the industrial grit of Charlestown (with tons of college students in-between!), the 91 is a simple neighborhood connector from Central Square in Cambridge to Sullivan via Inman Square in Cambridge and Union Square in Somerville. The route is also relatively short in terms of distance (2.2 miles) and time (average run time: 14 minutes), however having two densely-developed areas with no rail access means that the route gets a decent amount of ridership. It also has some idiocrincies that make it a bit interesting.
- Usually when I ride a route end-to-end, I stick out like a sore thumb being “that guy”. Of about 10 people who boarded at Central with me, most of them got off with me at Sullivan. Granted it was a late-morning run where a lot of Inman Square and Union Square are at work, but it’s still interesting.
- The route is FAST! It’s scheduled for 14 minutes. On a half-full bus that made a fair amount of stops, my ride took around 10 minutes and 30 seconds. Getting off at Sullivan, I wondered if all this was real for a route to be that early even with stops.
The speed, especially at Central, makes this route a driver’s dream with a ton of layover time. What was my bus was laying over at Central even before the 91 before mine left.
- The 91 has some interesting ridership patterns, a probable byproduct of Central being urbanized while Sullivan is industrial. Even considering the 91’s running with the 64 from Union Square on East, ridership heading west is a lot more than that going east.
- New England loves their Dunkin’ Donuts and America allegedly runs on it even if the west coast disagrees. The 91 must really love it as within its 2.2 miles there are five locations including one with road signs to it in Union Square to one inside a Tedeschi in Somerville.
Did I mention that for getting from Sullivan to the Red Line in midday, the 91 has better headways in midday than the 86 (25 minutes vs. 40)? A chronically on-time-to-early bus with decent ridership that connects dense areas together is always a win-win route.
Route: 91 (Central-Sullivan via Washington Street). Rating (1-10): 8
Ridership: Easily sorted into four buckets: Central to Sullivan, Central to Inman Square, Inman Square to Union Square, and Union Square to Sullivan. The bus arrived at Sullivan about 2/3 full and 90% of the riders during the entire run got on or off at any of these four general stops. Not that there’s that
Pros: Fast, short, and a bridge between rail routes. And there’s a Whole Foods along the way not far from the west end of the route.
Cons: Though somewhat convenient, the overall headways could use some improvement especially considering running time. Those 25 minutes are also the rush hour headway. Though there is some interlining of the 91 with other routes, the run times on the 91 on nights and weekends could be a little better.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Union Square is the birthplace of Marshmallow Fluff and without it Massachusetts wouldn’t have its state sandwich of the Fluffernutter. This is serious business and each year a Fluff Festival is held in Union Square. As for Inman Square, there are more than enough places to go for a bite to eat and I recommend All Star Sandwich Bar a block from the 91. Any place that serves poutine is worth the trip!