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…

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136/137 (Reading Depot-Malden Center)

Your intrepid blogger is about to re-enter the workforce and with it comes the leverage to get a place for myself, the wife, and the cats. The latter two, added with jobs and family, make the Bostons and Brooklines a no-go so to the Northern suburbs we went. Both of us wanted to look at a couple of places in Melrose and to scout the area I decided to parlay it into a trip on both the 136 and 137 which means two reviews for the price of one!

As a whole, the 136 and 137 provide local service on the stretch of the Haverhill Line Commuter Rail between Reading and Malden Center and at the far northern end of the line in Reading and from Wakefield Square on they run together and are coordinated routewide most of the day weekdays and Saturdays. The two routes split mainly to service opposite sides of Lake Quannapowitt, the 136 the north/east sides and the 137 the west/south sides.This split makes each route unique as the 136’s solo portion is almost exclusively residential while the 137’s serves the Walkers Brook Road retail strip in Reading and North Ave in Wakefield. Night service is slanted towards the 137 side (mainly due to the retail strip) and Sunday service operates as a loop from Wakefield Square north with service on the 136 outbound and the 137 inbound. Oddly this isn’t referred to as the “136/137” a la the 24/27, 62/76, 426/439, and the late 37/38.

Getting dropped off in Wakefield, I go check my MBTA app of choice and find the 136 is next. I make my way down Main Street and eventually meet the 136 at Salem Street where only a few passengers were on board just after rush hour. Working through Wakefield, passengers boarded at a regular rate until I got off a half-full bus at Lynn Fells Parkway/Franklin Square. Through the next few hours, I observed traffic and noticed that buses were up to a full seated load with some voluntary standees.

Inevitably, I had to head back. Getting on a 137 at the north end of Melrose’s downtown strip, I find a bus that was 2/3 full and grew slightly as it wound its way down Main Street. Then as soon as the bus arrived at Oak Grove, there was a mass exodus as 80% of the passengers got off, bound for the Orange Line. Those staying on get to be subject to a somewhat pointless loop as both buses use Banks Street (Melrose) both into and out of Oak Grove. About ten minutes later, both buses arrive at Malden Center and do the reverse back to Reading.

As a combined route, the 136 and 137 are a great suburban route with good ridership, decent service for the most part (136 solo portion aside), and provides a relief valve for the Haverhill Line with the farthest walk from a station being around five minutes. It could use some work but it is a great resource that also provides a great savings compared to its in-house purple competitor.

Routes: 136/137 (Reading Depot-Malden Center)
Rating (1-10): 7

Ridership: Heavily middle class and heavily slanted towards Oak Grove with some local travel on the Reading/Wakefield and Wakefield/Melrose tracks. The 137 gets more ridership in part due to its heavy retail.

Pros: It’s a good suburban connection and it links together several quintessentially New England towns (even with Wakefield being a little rough around the edges) and provides a good alternative to commuter rail. Had I not narrowly missed one once, it’d have been a good timesaver when the Haverhill Line was zonked due to heat.

Cons: Some of the headways could stand be simplified: 70 minutes per route middays? 100 minutes Saturdays? Coordinated or not, at least 60/90 might be a more standard divide. Short of adding service to make these routes be on the level of the 77, this could be a good start. If the routes weren’t coordinated, I’d be for a headway increase.

Nearby and Noteworthy: For both routes, downtown Melrose is quaint in itself and is worth a trip either via bus or commuter rail. In some regards, it reminds me of a smaller version of Arlington without its stereotype of being “Cambridge North”. The 137 solo portion has the flagship for Jordan’s Furniture which includes a Richardson’s Ice Cream stand, a Fuddruckers, a candy store, and a water show. Be warned: it’s a walk up a hill so stay safe!