Sunday, September 24, 2017

PVTA: NE (Nashawannuck Express Flex/Van Service)

Oho, you can tell from that title that we're in for a good one today, folks! Oh man, it's good to be back in the world of deviatory minibus semi-flex services. Dear viewers, let's see what the Nash-a-wan-nuck Express has to offer. That's hard to pronounce...

Nooooooo...
Right, first we'll talk about how this route works. It has a ridiculous four-tier stop system: first, you can get on the bus at the normal timepoints, which are color-coded by location for no discernable reason; next, there are "on-demand bus stops," which can be requested by phone for the next available bus to stop at; after that, you have trip scheduling, because this route also has a gigantic flex zone into which you can deviate the bus if you call a day in advance - a few days in advance "for best results" (that is actually what they say); finally, you can "place a standing order," which allows you to deviate the bus to your location regularly. Alright, got all that? There's a test later.

The inside of the minibus.
Gosh, it's a good thing Sam and I had day passes already! The fare box on this minibus was prehistoric. Also, surprise surprise, we were the only ones on board. The driver shut the doors and we left the Academy of Music stop, turning onto the steep and narrow Crafts Ave. Next, we turned onto Old South Street, which led us to normal South Street, taking us out of downtown Northampton. It's funny that this mess doesn't serve Salvo House like so many other Northampton routes, but there were plenty more deviations to come.

Coming off of Crafts Ave.
South Street was just lined with houses for a while, at least until a few industrial buildings as we crossed over the Mill River. The street became Easthampton Road on the other side of the river, and we were now zooming through the woods, passing the occasional industrial building. At some point it became Northampton Street, marking our entrance into Easthampton.

Ooooh!
The road became this strange mix of open fields, industrial buildings, and housing developments, but those fields did offer some nice views! Eventually there were some shopping plazas and other businesses, then it got residential. After crossing the Manhan River, we made our way around a common and entered downtown Easthampton. It consisted of one nice block of businesses and...not much else of note.

The common.
We turned onto High Street. "Council on Aging!" the driver shouted out as he pulled over. Now he turned to us. "Where are you going?" he asked. I did my spiel about how I write a blog, and we were just hoping to ride around, but he interrupted me. "Ohhhhhh, no," he said, "that's the number one rule of public transportation! You can't ride around!" He continued to lecture us about how "they" have him on camera and "they" could get him in trouble, but eventually we negotiated a deal where we get out at the last stop and get back on after the layover as if we had done some shopping. Perfect!

Hey, guess what the Council on Aging has...its own bus! Glad we deviated!
Now we turned onto Campus Lane, going around a Big E's Supermarket. I guess the driver thought we were tourists or something, because now he decided to give us an in-depth tour of Easthampton by means of the Nashawannuck Express. "We are now on Pleasant Street," the driver announced as we made our way around the common again and went down that street.

A woodsy parking lot.
We went by some huge old factories while the driver was telling us about how the houses on the other side were built by the factories for their employees. "We are now turning onto Ferry Street," he announced as we passed another factory and a pond. There was some dense housing as we went down Parsons Street, and it continued onto Everett Street.

I'm sure the driver had something to say about that tower, but I can't remember it.
We had to make an annoying deviation to serve an elderly home that, of course, got no passengers. "This is the first of three cemeteries on the route," the driver said just before we turned onto Franklin Street. It was still residential, and there were more houses as we turned onto Clark Street. We were really close to Easthampton's secondary "downtown" that the R41 goes through, but we didn't serve it, going south on Holyoke Street instead.

A residential side street.
The street was mostly residential, but there were a few businesses on street corners, too. The houses were getting less and less dense, and just before the R41's amazing mountain section, we turned off onto Hendrick Street. "That's Mount Tom," the driver said, pointing out the humongous mountain in the background.

Yup, there's Mount Tom!
The road was mostly woods, but there were some houses mixed in there too. We made our way onto Plain Street next, featuring houses endowed with very large front yards. We turned onto Strong Street, which was more of the same. Strangely, the intersection of Hendrick and Plain is considered a "request stop" at night, while Strong and Plain is not. They're both intersections that the bus passes through. What is there to request anyway?

The intersection with Strong Street.
We merged onto Park Street, and soon enough it was time for another deviation. This one was to serve Treehouse Circle, a housing development, and no one got on. We were also supposed to deviate to serve the White Brook Middle School, but luckily we didn't (it was summer). There were more houses back on Park Street, and they continued on Garfield Ave, as well as Williston Ave (where we went by the route's second cemetery, said the driver).

Inside Treehouse Circle.
We came up alongside the lovely Nashawannuck Pond and made our way up Union Street, passing a repurposed factory and Easthampton City Hall. There were businesses with parking lots along here, but they got denser and we went through a nice block of interesting ones. Soon enough, we were back in downtown Easthampton, and we looped around that same common again.

The pond!
Now we went south down Main Street, which was mostly houses, but we also passed the third and final cemetery of the route! There was some retail at the intersection with South Street, and a little more further down the road. Finally, we entered Southampton and arrived at the Southampton Big Y...time to get out and wait for the departure.

What a nice view!
After a 20-minute wait, the bus came back, and it was time to go back to Northampton. I was so ready for the trip back, mainly because of the timepoints: "CVS" and "Easthampton Post Office." Were we seriously gonna deviate to serve such pointless things as those? No. No, we didn't, it was just a straight shot back. Okay, but then why are there trips that shade out the timepoints like the bus is bypassing deviations?! They're not deviations, you just go straight by them on the main road! What???
The bus back at Big Y.
PVTA Route: NE (Nashawannuck Express Flex/Van Service)

Ridership: Well, I can't find any information about the route's ridership online, so I'll just have to base it off of my experience: no one. The end! No, actually that's not quite true - this route has one trip that I've seen get people, and that's the 4:45 one. That always seems to get 5-6 commuters from Northampton, which is at least something.

Pros: Parts of this route feel like they could be useful, such as the section serving dense housing east of downtown Easthampton. Aside from that, though, there's really only one other pro I can give: the driver. Man, he should be a tour guide! He somehow managed to make a town as boring as Easthampton sound interesting with his neat facts and enthusiastic announcing. He made this ride great!

Cons: Everything else. This route is actually very deceiving: it doesn't deviate that much, making you think you're actually going somewhere, but you're NOT. It's just this big stupid loop that forces anyone trying to get to Northampton to wait at the freaking BIG Y for 20 minutes! The stop system makes no sense, the route's timepoints make no sense, and even the map makes no sense - there's literally an arrow that points in the opposite direction of where the NE actually goes. And then there's the schedule: every hour and a half for a route like this makes sense in theory, but honestly, it could just run two rush hour trips per day, and it would probably get the same amount of ridership. And why the heck is there a 9 PM trip on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays? Are people really taking the Nashawannuck Express to Northampton to party until 9 PM? Yeah, wishful thinking. I'm sure that trip is empty, just like almost every single other one.

Nearby and Noteworthy: All of the interesting parts of Easthampton are also served by the R41, which would allow you to A) ride a nice, full-sized bus, and B) not have to travel around a gigantic loop to get where you're going.

Final Verdict: 2/10
As a minibus shuttle, the Nashawannuck Express is at least a little more tolerable because the bus itself travels quickly and there are some nice views...but this is still just such a bad route. Forcing people to board on a one-way loop only to have to wait at the Big Y is just cruel. Why can't the bus just have its layover at Northampton? Or better yet, why can't the bus only run at rush hour? That seems to be the only time anyone actually uses it!

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