Thursday, December 21, 2017

RIPTA: 231 (South Aquidneck Flex)

Have you ever wanted to take a bus to the beach, but upon arrival at the beach, you find out that there's no way of getting back unless you had called in the previous business day? Yeah, I hate when that happens too. Screw the 231.

I like the color of the bus!
The 231 is considered a Flex service, meaning you can call it from anywhere in its "Flex Zone" - however, it also has a timetable and follows a fixed route, with certain stops where you can board without a reservation. As you'll soon see, it doesn't exactly work. Our little minibus made its way out from the Visitors Center to America's Cup Ave.

A parking lot...but you can see a boat in the background!
This wide boulevard ran along the harbor, and there were various businesses along it. Soon we turned onto Thames Street, a narrow, one-way road. There were many stores on either side and people walking around - too bad the 231, the one bus route along this main drag. doesn't actually make stops!

A narrow alleyway.
I was amazed to see just how long the street went along while still harboring charming buildings, unique businesses, and lots of pedestrian traffic. Just as it started to thin out and houses began to appear between the retail...there was a stop. Just...a stop. At Thames and Lee. I have no idea why they put it here and not, you know, where there are lots of people and stores. Also, it would seem the stop used to have an actual shelter, but now it's just a measly sign.

This architecture is so diverse!
Even when the narrow road got more residential with dense houses on both sides, there were still businesses mixed in with them. Finally, it succumbed to all dwellings when we merged onto the wider Carroll Ave. We weren't on it for too long, though, looping around a few side streets to arrive at another scheduled stop: Rose and Carroll. It had a shelter, and someone actually got on! It was an old lady going to a medical appointment.

A convenience store.
Because the schedule has to be padded to allow flex deviations to occur, we had to wait here, since we hadn't done any deviations. Mmmm, gotta love being early on a bus! We went back up to Carroll Ave, which curved into Morton Ave. We turned onto Spring Street next, a narrow road with dense historical houses on one side and the backs of the vast lawns of the Newport Mansions on the other. There was a timepoint stop at Lee Street with no one waiting.

There was a huge wall for most of the mansion section, so here's a street later on.
Once the mansions ended, it was just dense houses along Spring Street. We soon turned onto America's Cup Ave once more, returning us to the Visitors Center. Once again we were early, but the passenger had to get to her medical appointment soon, so the driver decided to leave the station five minutes ahead of schedule. Goodness, this flex route is so "flexy" that it completely ignored its schedule!

That is such a tiny park!
We went down Marlborough Street, a mixture of houses and parking lots, at least until we merged onto Broadway. Once on Broadway, there were businesses on one side and the big Newport City Hall building on the other. Once City Hall ended, there was retail for just a little longer before it became mostly residential.

A very...slanted view of City Hall.
Coming next to the Newport Hospital, we deviated inside to drop the lady off to her appointment. After that, we headed onto Powel Ave until it ended, where we turned onto Kay Street. This was residential, but it wasn't nearly as dense as it had been in the inner Newport core.

It's definitely more suburban now.
Kay Street eventually curved into Kay Boulevard, but it wasn't long before we made a few more twists and turns onto Green End Ave. We were in Middletown now, circling around the northern edge of a pond. The route would normally turn onto Valley Road, but we had a scheduled pick-up, so we stayed on Green End. It would be interesting to see how the "flex" capabilities of the Flex service worked.

The pond.
It was residential until we reached Aquidneck Ave, onto which we turned. It was mostly suburban businesses with parking lots here, but there was also a clinic for Southcoast Health - this is where we deviated. We pulled into its parking lot and waited for the person we were picking up. And waited. And waited. After five minutes, the driver said the guy cancelled, and so we just left to continue on the route as if nothing had ever happened. Alright then, cool, thanks for wasting my time!

Nice, a farm!
We continued down Aquidneck Ave, lined mostly with houses. As it curved southwest, we passed an elementary school, then we turned into the Aquidneck Corporate Park. Among the many office buildings with parking lots, we turned into one of them, Child and Family Services. Normally the route wouldn't deviate into it, but we had to in order to turn around (we were coming from the opposite direction of the "normal" route). This was a timepoint stop, but the actual sign was outside the facility on the main road!

The bus pulled onto the grass so cars could still go by. What a well-planned stop...
Despite having to make that deviation and wait five minutes, we were still early! I guess it was because of that early departure from Newport. Also, the driver said that in all his time driving this route, he had never had a soul get on or off here. Once we were able to leave, the next timepoint stop was very close - after cutting through some parking lots, we arrived at the YMCA, another stop the driver said that no one ever uses.

Wow, there's a lot going on here!
We went down Valley Road from there, which went along the water before getting some businesses alongside it when it merged with Aquidneck Ave. The road curved westward into Memorial Boulevard, passing more retail and some hotels, then we entered Newport on an isthmus with a pond on one side and Easton's Beach on the other. But there was something problematic about it...

Looking across the pond.
If a passenger wants to get to the beach, it's very simple: they board at the Visitors Center and tell the driver they wish to go to the beach. Easy. However, getting back is another story - Easton's Beach has no timepoint stop. That means that in order to take a bus trip to the beach, someone would have to call in on the previous business day to schedule a pickup at a certain time from the beach. ARE. YOU. SERIOUS??????

This bus route ought to go down a dead end and never come back!
As the beach ended, we passed the Cliff Walk, a very scenic path which you can take the 231 to, walk to the other end, and take the 67 back. Not the other way, though, unless you want to call in the previous business day. Mm-mm, lovely. Past the cliff walk, there was all manner of buildings along Memorial Boulevard, from houses to businesses to bed and breakfasts to schools.

Coming back into Newport proper.
The retail started to become more abundant and the houses denser. Once we curved north and the street became America's Cup Ave, there were businesses everywhere - we were back in downtown Newport. We stayed on here all the way up until the Visitors Center, where the trip finally ended. ARGH!

Get outta here!
RIPTA Route: 231 (South Aquidneck Flex)

Ridership: Awful. Awful. My trip only had one person, and on some days it can be even worse - the driver said that he gets lonely sometimes because he's just driving an empty bus around all day. He called the experience "maddening." Shoutout to the awesome driver of the 231, by the way!

Pros: I'm not gonna lie, it serves a lot. This is the only bus route to go anywhere near the dense businesses and houses of southwestern Newport, while Easton's Beach and the Cliff Walk are important tourist destinations.

Cons: Everything about the way this route is operated is nonsensical. There's the ridiculously padded schedule with 90 minute headways (weekdays and Saturdays) that's only like that because there's the possibility of someone making a flex deviation. There's the stupidly placed timepoint stops, including two locations that no one ever uses, while places like Easton's Beach are left with nothing. And there's the fact that because of those two huge problems, this is one of the stupidest bus routes I've ever had the misfortune of riding.

Nearby and Noteworthy: It's the one bus route that "serves" Thames Street, even though it just skips by everything, and the one bus route that "serves" Easton's Beach, even though the service is one-way. NICE.

Final Verdict: 1/10
Whenever someone asks me to give an example of an awful bus route, I always use this one. There is absolutely nothing about it that makes any sense. It honestly shouldn't even be a flex route - heck, it's practically a fixed route already, if you don't count the potential for deviations. Well...what if it was a fixed route?



So this is basically a version of the flex route...without flexes. I tried to accommodate as many useful deviations as possible, though, particularly with the Newport Hospital and Southcoast Health. Of course, the fixed routing would allow for more stops, which would come particularly in handy on the Newport segment, where simple stops could be established on Thames Street closer to the action.



And here's the schedule. Now, this is really not an optimal schedule - it doesn't have as much padding as I would like it to have, and one small slip-up can lead to a bus getting very late. I think the solution might be to cut out the Southcoast Health deviation and run the bus on a more direct route. Maybe even cut Newport Hospital, too - it would still pass very close to it on Broadway, and that would allow for a faster trip and thus more grace time in the schedule.

That being said, anything's better than the trash running right now.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

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