459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)

As I mentioned in my rant about MBTA line bias, my entire summer has been an overworked, underemployed blur in which I entered a heavy rut which distilled my riding to about six different routes/modes. I needed a ride to get me out of the rut of academic writing about stuff like economic embargoes (and stuff that matters like counseling to help families of children with disabilities and illnesses adapt to their new lives). Our proverbial slumpbuster in this case, a route I might not think about otherwise, is the 459, a route semi-unique among the North Shore routes which should be a model of sorts.

The 459 is one of two express routes stretching from Salem Depot into Boston, this one of the most part paralleling the 455 from its origin to Bell Circle in Revere going around Salem’s east side via Lafayette Street and Loring Avenue past the Salem State University campus into Swampscott. After reaching Vinnin Square, the heart of Swampscott’s business district, it transitions onto Essex Street which becomes Union Street in Lynn. Meeting the nuculus of North Shore routes at Central Square, it goes around Lynn Common and eventually passes by West Lynn garage. It is shortly after this I join in.

My ride began at the sole stop the 459 (and 450[W]/455) have in Saugus, the stop located at the corner of Western Turnpike/MA 107 and Ballard Street. Heading towards Lynn, it’s a typical stop but heading towards Revere/Boston riders get an old makeshift cinderblock shelter which a reader referred to as a “rape hut”. I know the nature of that area is very industrial and at that point MA 107 is a divided four-lane road but no shelter would’ve been better than that monstrosity because even on a bright sunny day it looks foreboding. Luckily a bus came right as I arrived, about 2/3 full which is par for the course for midday express runs from the North Shore.

Leaving that bleak shelter, the 459 eventually follows MA 107 to its end at Brown Circle, then MA 60 to its end at Bell Circle where it uses the center bypass lane to get on MA 1A and the route becomes dominated by a big box complex, Suffolk Downs, and a lot of services geared towards persons headed to/from Logan Airport largely that of the offsite parking nature. This sets the tone for one of two main discharge points for the 459, Logan’s Terminal C where about half the bus got off. After going through the Ted Williams Tunnel and a few stops on the Waterfront, the 459 ends with a stop near South Station and a couple of street stops before its end at Federal and Franklin streets alongside most of the 500-series express buses bound for points west and the limited rush hour service of the 448/449 from Marblehead which parallel the 459 from Bell Circle on south. The rest of the bus used either the South Station stop or the Downtown Crossing terminus.

With headways on average of every 70 minutes or so from AM rush to PM rush (a measure so that resources are limited) and a run time of around that length, on paper the 459 would seem to be like a throwaway to toss a bone for the North Shore crowd to get to Logan and to have an alternative to Haymarket. In fact, the route has a lot of potential, if not for itself for the whole 400-series as a whole.

  • Even with the North Shore express network pared down, there is a “Haymarket or Bust” mindset which puts one transfer point among others. The 459 shows a market for a North Shore to South Station connection, what harm would running the 426/450 down Atlantic Ave to terminate at the Dorchester Ave/Summer Street stand the 459 uses? With the Waterfront booming, this cuts a four-seat ride to two seats.
  • Running some 426/450 peak runs via the Ted Williams Tunnel could work as a relief valve for their regular crossings.
  • Soon enough the whole North Shore network is going to get semi-isolated on the weekends when Government Center closes to be rebuilt making the Blue Line an eunuch connecting to only one other line. Weekend 459 service would be a good alternate especially given how it hits all the key spots in the heart of Boston (then again, so would running the 426W to Malden or Wellington instead of Wonderland).

The 459 is a nice little route and some lessons could be learned from it, problem is does anyone want to learn those lessons especially as the North Shore enters a state of transit flux.

Route: 459 (Salem Depot-Downtown Crossing EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: As in the local portion headways are coordinated with the 459, there probably is a healthy amount of ridership between Salem/Lynn and points in-between. By the time I got on, there was a crowd which was 95% bound for Logan or Downtown with Brown Circle the other destination. As with any North Shore route, a good socioeconomic mix too and the Logan crowd was an even split between travelers and workers.

Pros: It’s a North Shore route that doesn’t go to Haymarket! It’s one of the few non-Silver Line routes that serves Logan. What else is there?

Cons: Outside of the 426 and 450, the North Shore express routes are a bit of an afterthought and though this isn’t as bad as thrice-daily 428 or the once-daily 434, this could use a little more service. How it could be divided especially since other routes could use service to its terminus would be a big problem.

 Nearby and Noteworthy: Heading inbound, there’s one of the few standard format “Entering Boston” signs and leading into Logan you can actually see the top of Airport station (which at 9 already needs some new top windows). Not much else in terms of stuff and I need some reason to give the 455 a ride someday.

428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)

(Before I start: This review sat as a spare for months – the original ride was last December. Why trot it out now? Happy Birthday @BostonUrbEx who grew up near the 428 and challenged me for months to ride).

Living in Saugus and working in Burlington, my (wife and I’s) current commute involves lots of avoiding traffic on Route 128 by trying to get on as late into the route as possible. Our back way through Saugus and Wakefield involves driving past the 428 during its limited service, seeing buses of commuters varying in fullness heading to or from Haymarket.

The 428 is a variant of the 426 which runs three round trips a day heading inbound in the morning and outbound at night which runs alongside the 426 on Lynn St. Revere/Lincoln Ave. Saugus from roughly Lawrence Street in Revere to Winter Street in Saugus. In fact, years ago the 428’s runs were numbered 426 even though the two diverge pretty far from each other with the 428 ending at Wakefield High School contrary to the outbound terminal being still named “Oaklandvale” for the western Saugus neighborhood. To get the idea of this route, come along with me for the ride and brave the scads of high schoolers at Wakefield High.

Starting at Wakefield High with a terminal stop on the right side of the street, the 428 snakes through the school’s parking lot before heading down Farm Street. Though it gives parts of Wakefield an alternative to the Haverhill Line and 136/137 to Orange Line, there are only a couple of stops in Wakefield and often a bus running ahead of schedule will layover at the former Oaklandvale terminal right across the Wakefield/Saugus line. The scenery in this area is very not New England with erratic sidewalks but very wide shoulders which sort’ve fill the gap and still allow for stops to go in. Farm Street switches to Main Street and a bit into Saugus the surroundings turn more normal, the stops more regular, and the ridership more regular. From personal observations, by the time the 428 reaches Lynn Fells Parkway there can be a little as 10 riders to as much as 25 on any given day depending on run. Save for a couple of strip malls at that intersection, the 428 passes through solely residential areas.

After crossing Route 1, the 428 ends up taking Main Street to its end at the Saugus Center rotary where it then goes down Central Street for a brief period (paralleling the 430) until turning onto Winter Street where it passes by a cemetery and more houses until meeting Lincoln Ave. A little down the street from this was when I boarded. Last inbound run of the day, five people besides me already on. Nobody else boarded on the joint portion as the 428’s runs are smushed between a 426 and the inbound-only 426W runs. As opposed to said 426 which often has a full seated load and 426W which is usually ¾ full, the 428 in contrast was downright serene. Outside of Cliftondale Square and the Quarrystone apartments which straddle the Revere/Malden line, nobody else got on.

Right after the Quarrystone complex, the 428 does its second major diversion to serve the Granada Highlands complex in Malden which has four different stops shared with the 411 running to Malden Center and Wonderland. At these four stops, the 428 gained six other passengers while seven more passed it by. Though this may have been a byproduct of it being the last run of the day which is a close call for anyone needing to be at work by 9:00, it made me wonder about if the 428’s biggest problem may actually be its schedule. Coming out of Lawrence Street, the 428 rejoins the 426 for the rest of its route heading into Boston. The outbound route has some differences, namely the 428 staying on Route 1 until the Lynn Street exit and in turn not serving Linden Square as it does inbound.

The very limited service nature of the 428 means that it often is a target of service cuts and its limited daily ridership almost guarantees itself a place on any Doomsday cuts list though I think the route needs some TLC to help it improve greatly. Readjusting the times so most ridership isn’t funneled into one run would help a ton for a quick fix while another may be to refocus the routes. I propose three alternatives, both of which would break up the 428 as currently is.

  • Proposal 1: Extend the outbound terminal to Wakefield Station via North Ave/Nahant Rd. Take Route 1 from Main Street to Lynn Street, then serve Granada Highlands, then to current route. 2-3 426 runs a day could be detoured via Winter, Central, and Hamilton Streets to serve Saugus Center.
  • Proposal 2: The current 428 transitions terminates at Square One Mall and runs via Saugus Center. The Saugus-Wakefield service is turned into a new route running from Wakefield Station to Square One to Melrose to Malden Station with instant transfers during rush hour. This would allow for off-peak service on the Wakefield-Saugus portion.
  • Proposal 3: Proposal 1 sans Granada Highlands service with no stops between Haymarket and Square One.

Someday I’ll do a series on how to fix the mess of bus service in Saugus/Wakefield/Melrose. Someday.

Route: 428 (Oaklandvale-Haymarket EXPRESS)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Regular and dedicated, most of the time. Given the alternatives of an often arduous trip via the 430 or park-and-riding it from Wakefield or Melrose Highlands, this route has a core who don’t want to deal with higher MBCR fares, potential parking shortages at Wakefield, or a bizarre parking situation period in Melrose.

Pros: It’s the main transit link for most of north/western Saugus and it provides a one-seat ride to Boston otherwise unavailable. That and at least it isn’t like the 170 or the 434 which have “blink-and-you-miss-it” qualities.

Cons: Three round trips a day isn’t enough which might hinder ridership. Putting even a couple of midday runs and another rush hour round-trip would stimulate ridership a ton and this a route which is good enough to be turned into something great.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Suggesting anything along the 428-exclusive portion is going to be rough given that one would either need to find the 429/430 to get home or call a cab to Oak Grove. That said, the only J. Pace and Son outside of Boston is along the 428-only portion and comes with a small diner attached and soon a banquet hall in the back. Otherwise, Fatfingers inside a strip mall at Lynn Fells Parkway. That extension into Wakefield looks mighty good about now…

Some Quick Easy Fixes

Well, it looks like the doomsday threats are coming back, and this time on top of the threats of killing weekend commuter rail are the threats of ending all bus service after 11:00 PM and cutting 30 bus routes. Here are some simple fixes that the MBTA should consider.

1: MassDOT merged everyone together into a bickering blended family. They should own up to their Big Dig debt.
As much as the crowd outside of 495 will claim that they should not pay for the debt of the Big Dig because it’s solely inside Boston, truth is that it is a utility for the entire Commonwealth and beyond. The Big Dig benefits just as much benefits those from Salisbury to Sheffield to Sandwich as it does for those in Southie and Somerville with improved vehicular capacity through town, improved access to Logan, and more.  When the Commonwealth merged everyone under the MassDOT umbrella, they should have demerged the Big Dig debt which the Cellucci Administration forced upon the MBTA for something they really did not contribute to. One umbrella, one debt.

2: Merge some lesser bus routes into singular routes.
Several years back when the Port Authority in Pittsburgh had their own Doomsday cuts, they ended up merging several routes which shared a common terminal into singular routes to help boost efficiency and maintain as much service as possible. I was going to suggest these in a proposal post but here are a few which could be done.

  • Merging the 62 and 76 full-time as the current 62/76 operates on Saturdays.
  • Combining either the 70 or 70A with the 91, running straight through Central between Waltham and Sullivan.
  • At least on middays and weekends, merging the 108 with the local portion of the 426 (which would help West Lynn, East Saugus, and northeastern Revere as the Blue Line will  soon be an eunuch).
  • The 354 is extended over the local portion of the 352 after rush hours. As much as it’d be bad for Burlington commuters outside of 95/128, making this the core route would not be  bad thing.
  • Merge the 131 and the northern/eastern portion of the 430 while terminating the 430 at Square One Mall. This would not only add an elusive bus connection between Saugus and Melrose, but would also redirect the 430’s resources where it’s needed.

(Everyone, join in and leave your suggestions in the comments!)

3: Make pass prices resemble something resembling reality.
Right now a weekly pass ($18) is only 1.6 times the cost of a one-day pass ($11) and is equal to nine rail rides paid via CharlieCard. I understand the one-day pass is a bit of a tourist tax but seriously the weekly pass could be raised to around $24 and still be seen as a bargain. Similarly, $70 for a monthly pass is still quite low compared to the MBTA’s peer agencies and could be hiked beyond $80 and still be seen as a bargain.

4: Charge for CharlieCards (and maybe CharlieTickets too)
When I was living in and around DC,the initial cost for a SmarTrip was (as is now) $5. In contrast, the CharlieCard is free. I’m not saying to emulate WMATA – nobody ever should – but even if the MBTA charged as little as $2 for a CharlieCard it’d make some money. Imagine how much they could’ve made over the last eight years off of CharlieCards for a nominal fee.
Similarly, the MTA in New York is now charging $1 for a new MetroCard. I think even a 50 cent surcharge on getting a new CharlieTicket would raise some extra funds and would show those that use them that getting a CharlieCard would be a good move to make.

5: One More Quarter
Compared to peer agencies, even with last year’s fare increases CharlieCard fares are still cheap at $1.50 for bus and $2.00 for rail. Hiking these by a quarter while leaving the $2.00/$2.50 cash fare as-is would still have the MBTA on the low end of their peer agencies. Ideally, going to one united fare would be good but the insistence of having bus be cheaper than rail would need to be put on the back burner.

6: Peak hour MBCR surcharges
Being from the New York area, I’m used to the concept of a peak-hour surcharge on both Metro North and the LIRR, charging a higher fare going into Penn/Grand Central in the morning and out in the evening. I know the MBCR lines don’t have the intensive levels of service that their New York counterparts have, but a surcharge of a couple of dollars for trains during rush hour would help raise some extra money from suburbanites. There are some problems with this, namely if the Zone 1A and Fairmount Line stations should be made exempt or not, but it’s worth the thought.

7: Take one for the team, Local 589
With service cuts come the inevitable complaints about unionized labor and all the negative stereotypes of unions and the “typical” unionized employee. While Local 589 doesn’t have the overtime abuse problems of TWU 100 and the other MTA unions or the mass corruption at ATU 689 at WMATA, I think that it might be a good PR move for Local 589 to make some concessions to help protect their jobs. Given the choice between voluntarily taking a pay rollback of a couple of percent and having jobs flat-out eliminated, I’d be willing to take that most Local 589 members would seriously consider the former. Such a move would be a sign of solidarity and would send a good message to a union-cynical public in a time when unions need the good PR.

I have one other bigger idea I’ll share in another post, but these would be better than getting rid of all weekend Commuter Rail service or ending bus service a good two hours before subway service. Then again, doomsday is doomsday and often doomsday never comes.

 

 

426 (Central Square-Haymarket via Cliftondale…and friends!)

If you’ve ever been to Haymarket, you may know quite well the huge walled shelter with a “North Shore Buses” sign on top facing the inner busway, away from the ruckus known as the 111. A weekday-only visitor, they have their audience of people commuting in with some people headed for points north who are bound for Lynn or Salem and don’t want to pay high Commuter Rail fares. I’d be willing to bet that there have been scores of tourists or locals who wondered “What goes on on those routes?”

Currently, I live in a corner of Saugus that’s a teeny bit isolated from transit. The closest route to my house, the 426, is one of “those routes” whisking people between Lynn, Saugus, and Revere to Haymarket during the week and to Wonderland (as the 426W) on weekends and major holidays. Heading inbound from Central Square-Lynn station, it goes around Lynn Common and makes its way into the Austin Square neighborhood before crossing into Saugus and working its way through the heart of Saugus’s eastern half including Cliftondale Square and Linden Square on the Revere/Malden line. After the rotary where Squire Road/MA 60 meets US 1, it has a FAST express run into Boston via the Tobin Bridge where buses can reach the speed limit easily. The express run alone is worth the $2.80 as if this being the “quickest way” to Boston wasn’t enough. Along the way, the 426 is coordinated most of the time to transfer with the 430 at Cliftondale Square and with the 108 and 429 at Linden Square, however that isn’t all.

The 426 is a route that suffers from whatever the bus version of multiple personality disorder is. What is described above is the “base” service that runs weekdays, but there are THREE variants of the routes that run and some other odd mediocrities. Pay attention, there may be a quiz after this:

  • Route 426W provides weekend service to Wonderland instead of Haymarket and also has three inbound (but no outbound) trips in AM rush plus a late-night inbound trip. If the Doomsday cuts are to pass, the 426W would become base service.
  • Route 426/439 are three interlined PM rush trips that continue on from Lynn to Nahant. During these times.
  • Route 426/455 is a combination of the 426 and 455 to Salem that has a few runs in PM rush and also provides weekday evening service via the Callahan and Sumner tunnels.

On top of this, there is some unnecessary complicating in exactly where the buses terminate. Central Square, the Commuter Rail Busway (Central Square plus a loop), and the Lynn MBTA Garage are all listed in the schedule and the weekday 426W has a different stop than the weekend 426W. Any newcomer to the area could find this confusing; I know I did and nearly once paid for it by missing a commuter rail train and another time by having to go from one end of Wonderland to the other.

My own experiences on this route vary based on time of day (but what route doesn’t!). Go on this bus during or near rush hour dressed up and it’ll be easy to blend in given the number of people who use the 426 to head to work. Do the same during midday when ridership is more local and you may stick out like a sore thumb. My first ever ride on the 426 was exactly this, complete with the confusion of where it’d end and the fact that I learned the hard way that you can’t get CharlieCard fare you loaded online activated on a bus. North Shore buses are worth the ride if you can get to one!

Line: 426 (Haymarket-Central Square via Cliftondale) Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Rush hour ridership runs the gamut of all demographic groups with each run having bunches of regulars; on the 426/439 runs it’s similar to being a “Commuter Club” among the Nahant commuters and the regular 426 runs have their run of regulars as my regular rides to and from work have the same 10-15 people on both. Also during these times the number of people getting off on the local portion of the route is very small. Middays and weekends are another story as there’s decent local ridership.

Pros: As the base 426, it links many areas in northern Revere, southern Malden, and Saugus to downtown. As the 426W, at least it’ll get you to Wonderland. The fast ride on Route 1 is more than worth the fare and even the Wonderland runs go through too many rotaries. Though I haven’t (yet) ridden the 439 portion, I know the ride out to Nahant is very scenic.

Cons: If the MBTA could afford it, midday service could be beefed up a little outside hourly. Trying to fill time due to missing a bus is never fun even in a walkable city like Boston. Adding in some extra service for locals, either with 426W’s alternating with 426’s or with a 108/426 combo from Malden Center, would help stimulate ridership on the “local” portions.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Kane’s Donuts. If you haven’t been there already, go! Especially if you like huge donuts, unique varieties (Peanut Butter & Jelly, Maple Bacon, and more!) and coffee rolls the size of your head.

If donuts aren’t your calling, I recommend Spuds on the Lynn-Saugus line. Very good seafood and offbeat dishes that I swear came up in a chef’s dream such as Buffalo Chicken Alfredo. If not that, too many sub/roast beef shops along the route; I recommend Mike’s Place for sentimental reasons. Just don’t play 20 Questions when ordering there.

430 – Saugus Center-Malden Center via Square One Mall

Right now, over fifty MBTA bus routes are facing possible extinction in the face of the pending “doomsday” cuts of service cuts and fare increases. A good chunk of these routes connect suburbs to subway stations and if eliminated would cut people, businesses, and attractions from the MBTA system. Being a current resident of Saugus (who stands to lose 3 of its 4 routes), I’ve decided that the first bus route to be reviewed will be one that’s at risk. Today, I’ll take a little ride on the 430.

The 430 connects Saugus Center to Malden Center mainly via local roads with some stretches on Routes 1 and 99. Along the way, it hits the Cliftondale Square neighborhood of Saugus, Square One Mall, and the Granada Highlands neighborhood of Malden. Though the route’s ridership north of Square One Mall can be a bit spotty, no doubt to doing a figure-8 through the heart of Saugus, ridership is more often than not strong even with a somewhat scant level of service. To understand what eliminating this route will mean, grab your CharlieCard and meet me at the rotary in Saugus Circle and let’s look at what will get lost.

  • Saugus Center itself would lose all bus service as the only other route (the rush-hour only 428) that serves it is also facing elimination. The nearest bus route of any sort is the 426 1 ¼ miles east on Lincoln Street.
  • Two stops into the route is the Saugus Iron Works historical site. Though the number of people using the 430 to get there is probably microscopic, cutting the route would cut some access to the site no matter how little it may be.
  • With the pending elimination of the 429 to Northgate Shopping Center and Lynn, Square One Mall would lose all MBTA service. As with any shopping mall, a fair amount of mall workers and customers would be shut out with transit cuts especially in the former category with workers unable to reach their jobs.
  • Besides Square One, other large businesses along the route such as the Stop & Shop near Square One and the Lowe’s right after the 1/99 split would also be effected.

The cuts don’t just stop at the Saugus line. The three routes that run alongside the 430 from Linden Square to Malden Center, the 106, 108 and 411, are also on the chopping block. Save for those near Malden Center and those near Cliftondale Square and Granada Highlands, all riders on this route would lose all MBTA service with no alternatives.

Think of all this and what may be seen as three anonymous numbers has a lot more worth then it may seem. Places like Saugus and similar town/route combos – Walpole and the 34E, Bedford with the 62 and 76, et. Al – should not take it on the chin and fade into transit oblivion. The 430 deserves its chance to shine.

Route: 430 (Saugus Center-Malden Center via Square One Mall)      Rating (1-10): 6

Ridership: Between Saugus Center and Square One, light as the loops really extend travel time; the trip between two by car is around 5 minutes, the 430 is triple that. The route picks up steam past Square One heading into Malden and by the end of the route the bus had standees. One caveat: my ride was during the mid-morning after rush hour ended but before Square One opened.

Pros: It links a good sized mall and adjacent retail district and some residential areas with choice riders to the Orange Line. More routes like this should exist on the North Shore especially with the “Express to Haymarket weekdays, Wonderland weekends” mentality on the North Shore.

Cons: The loops through Saugus. The loop around the Iron Works sees very little use outside of rush hour and eliminating it would have not that much of an effect on ridership. Though with a bit more purpose, the diversion to Cliftondale does add a few minutes though there is some attempt to coordinate transfers between the 430 and the 426.

(Also) Nearby and Noteworthy: Kowloon. If you’re from Greater Boston, this place probably doesn’t need explanation. For those that aren’t, imagine a Chinese place that serves all sorts of Asian food, is a good remnant of tiki culture, and has a banquet hall/comedy club attached. If you can, try the Crab Rangoon and Saugus Wings. You can thank me (and my wife) later!