MBTA Express buses fall into one of three camps:
– The 300 series which run mostly via I-93 to Medford, Woburn and Burlington (plus the 351 reverse peak route to Burlington/Bedford)
– The 400 series which serve the North Shore which includes such rare runs as the 3-times-daily 428 to western Saugus and Wakefield High School and the once- daily 434 to Peabody, going via either US 1 or MA 1A.
– The 500 series which run via the Mass Pike to Newton, Watertown, and Waltham.
Most of these routes run in lieu of commuter rail or subway service. One of these, the 504 running between downtown and Watertown Yard, has a bit of an interesting heritage and could be seen as a rail killer. Being created two years prior to the abandonment of the A branch of the Green Line, I wonder how much rush hour ridership this route (then the 304) siphoned from the trolley before its demise. The one-seat ride is quicker than an old PCC could’ve done and how current run of the 57 to the Green Line can do today.
My ride on the 504 began one uneventful Thursday at Copley Square, waiting for a bus that was half-full and five minutes late. Immediately I notice the bus number, 0552, and realize, “it’s THAT bus”. I was lucky enough to pass 0552 on I-90 somewhere in Northeast Ohio when it was en route from Neoplan’s Colorado plant to Boston back in 2005. It wasn’t the first time I came across MBTA buses en route to delivery, but it was the most random by far. Now, I’d finally get a chance to ride it.
Immediately getting on the Pike from Copley, 0552 zoomed by a bunch of local sights. Fenway Park and its anti-gun ads, the Comm Ave bridge (and BU West station), the to-
be-closed CSX rail yard, the side-by-side headquarters of New Balance and WGBH. Exiting before reaching the tiny Newton stations of the Worcester Line and the Star Market
overpass, it reached Newton Corner and a very awkward loop before going on its way into Watertown. Seeing such sights as a UNO, I wonder “it was THIS that had Newton in a snit
which killed the A Line?” Leaving Newton Corner, our luck of lights and lack of stops had us at Watertown Yard a good 20 minutes after we left Copley. I then take the quick walk across the Charles to reach a 71 to continue my journey knowing I had one of the more unique rides in the system.
Route: 504 (Watertown Yard/Newton Corner EXPRESS via Turnpike)
Rating (1-10): 8
Ridership: For a run on the cusp of PM rush, a mix of people heading from days in town, people possibly heading back from interviews, and people taking an early day off.
Bus was about half-full and everyone either got off at Newton Corner or Watertown Yard.
Pros: It’s the only express route to run into Boston on the weekends (well, Saturday at least) and is a good alternative to the 57-Green Line and 71-Red Line combos. It’s also FAST and its speed is worth every penny of its $3.50.
Cons: Analyzing this on its merit of an express route, none. I would say that this could use better frequency but considering that this route isn’t that long and there are two backup routes it’d split a small pie. Besides, the remaining express 400’s could use more service as they have no local alternatives.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Get off at Watertown Yard and just observe your surroundings. See the wire that may never be used again (at least until the next round of trackless trollies if there ever is one). See tracks which will never be used again. And think of what might’ve been. Thank you Governor Weld…