Thursday, February 1, 2018

WRTA: 33 (Union Station Hub - Spencer - Brookfield via Main Street and Route 9)

Welcome to one of the longest and most rural routes in my jurisdiction. The 33 is a sprawling bus heading straight west from Worcester, terminating at various points, but Nathan and I took it at its very longest: for two trips in each peak period, the route is extended all the way out to Brookfield. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but it's time to take this beast through five towns and a huge variety of sights and sounds to find out what it has to offer!

This is so exciting!
Nathan and I got on at City Hall, a few blocks away from the Commuter Rail station. Now on the bus, we turned onto Main Street, running through built-up downtown Worcester. As we got further, the buildings became less consistently tall, but there were still some apartments up to five stories high along here.

Oh no, it's that time of day where my camera starts to act up...
The tallish apartments eventually got replaced by single-story businesses, but there were still dense homes on the side streets. The scenery along Main Street itself eventually got more diverse too, with apartments and churches coming in between the businesses. And then, all of a sudden, Clark University made its appearance with its beautiful campus and historical buildings.

It just doesn't seem like a college kind of neighborhood!
It basically went back to the same kind of scenery once Clark was done, although residential buildings were more prominent than retail now. Eventually, though, we came into Webster Square, sure to be a huge hub of businesses! Or...it could just be two apartment buildings, some industrial stuff, and a suburban shopping plaza with nothing interesting in it. Oh well...

Letting some people off at the apartments in "Webster Square."
Soon after that, the 27 split off onto Stafford Street and it was just us and the 19 on Main. There was a brief stretch where it was a mix of houses and churches, but then we passed Webster Square Plaza, a generic shopping mall. It was primarily residential after that, although there was still the occasional business.

Houses on a side street.
The 19 left us for its weird industrial section on Goddard Memorial Drive, so we were finally on our independent section - and it would stay that way all the way to Brookfield. Funnily enough, it instantly started to get less urban when the 19 left, with the road curving past houses and some redeveloped factories. Indeed, the neighborhood eventually took on a weird industrial-residential vibe, not unlike something you might see on the MART.

Crossing Goddard Memorial Drive.
We entered Leicester, our second of five towns, and the point where fixed stops go away - the route uses a flag system outside of Worcester. The industrial buildings carried on for a little while longer, but eventually we were sailing by houses and...woods. Yes, already there were brief sections of forest along the road, and we were only about a quarter of the way out!

Yup...
But it would only get sparser: the tracts of forest got longer, and though they would usually occupy only one side of the road at a time, they were still substantial. The actual buildings along Main Street were all over the place, funnily enough: there were houses, churches, suburban businesses, and the Leicester Police Department. For a brief time we merged onto South Main Street, which was basically the faster version of Main Street but a tiny bit south.

Making the stop in Leicester Center.
We soon arrived at some form of civilization again: Leicester Center. Now, there really wasn't much here. Along Main Street (which we returned to after making the stop), it was just suburban businesses with parking lots mixed with maybe one or two historical "downtown" buildings. Even on the side streets, it was only slightly denser houses and an apartment development.

A bad picture, but it gives you an idea of Leicester Center's character. Maybe.
A huge portion of the bus got off at Leicester Center, then we continued down Main Street, which for a little while was lined with dense houses and suburban retail, with a historical cemetery mixed in there. We came pretty close to a pond, and beyond there it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere again. There were sizeable sections of woods once more, interspersed with houses, a few industrial buildings, and the Leicester Country Club.

There was even a bit of farmland!
Okay, we had been running along this almost rural road for a little while, and I was starting to get used to sailing by trees and fields. All of a sudden, though, we made a right turn...into a Walmart! That's right, amidst all this rural scenery, there was a Walmart deviation. I swear to you, I couldn't stop laughing for a solid two minutes. No one got on or off, for the record.

Awful picture, but I was laughing so hard!
And once we left the Walmart and returned to Main Street, it was the middle of nowhere again! In fact, it got even more rural, with large amounts of farmland along the road. There were a few other buildings in the mix, particularly a burst of industry when we entered Spencer, but it really was predominantly farmland. Also, I just realized amidst all this pretty scenery that we had been travelling on Route 9 this whole time. Route 9!

This is awesome! I still can't believe it's Route freakin' 9...
Eventually we did start to come back into a more developed area. We passed a few businesses, an apartment development, a small high school, and a park, then the street was mostly lined with houses. They were somewhat dense, too, which was a big change from before. This was also where we started to let more people off.

I'm pretty sure we made a stop here because the picture is so clear.
We started to descend a hill and Main Street got even denser than before. It culminated when we rounded a corner and entered Spencer Center, an actual downtown! There were historical buildings and businesses on either side, and sure, none of them looked particularly interesting (a large amount of them were permanently closed), but it was still nice to see. Too bad there was a big ugly shopping center in the middle of it all.

Not quite in the center, but you can see how dense it's getting.
It was mostly residential once we left the center, but the dwellings were still fairly dense along the road. Once we went by an apartment development, the area got industrial, with random offices and companies along the road. We also arrived at the first turning point for buses: the Spencer DPW Garage, where 33s terminate twice a day as a short-turn.

The road buses use to get to the garage and turn around.
After that, we passed the most exciting shopping center ever. Why was it so exciting? Because it had a Big Y in it. That's right, Big Y, the supermarket that western MA's PVTA is obsessed with. Yes, we had gone so far west that apparently we were in Big Y territory, and that's insane! Okay, apparently Big Y does have a few stores in the Greater Boston area, too, but still, it was crazy!

THERE IT IS!!!!!!!
After the most exciting shopping center ever, there was a brief section of forest before Main Street got lined with suburban businesses, a lot of which were farm-related. Right over the border of East Brookfield, we passed its courthouse, which is the second place where buses terminate. For most of the day, the 33 ends here...except on those four trips per day when it continues to Brookfield proper!

Uh...yup.
Funnily enough, it was after the courthouse that things started to get denser. There were houses again, and we passed a few other businesses along the way. Soon we got to East Brookfield Center - or more accurately, whizzed right through it - which seemed like an interesting place, with some restaurants in diverse house-like buildings. Its proximity to Lake Lashaway made it even more charming.

Looking across the lake!
There were a few final houses before it opened up into farmland again, although the other buildings never went away. Main Street still had plenty of homes along it, and there were even some industrial buildings and businesses. There was a section of pure forest as we entered Brookfield and the street name changed for the first time on the whole route: it was now called Maple Street.

These pictures are getting more and more abstract...
The open fields stuck around for a little longer, but Maple Street soon gained enough houses along it to not feel like the middle of nowhere...at least, not really. Outside of the Brookfield Elementary School, the street name changed again, this time to Post Road. This was Brookfield Center, but it was...well, it was sparse, to say the least.

Here we are...
We turned onto River Street, and finally, we looped onto Central Street, arriving at our final stop next to Brookfield Common. "Is this the last stop?" the final passenger mumbled groggily as he woke up and stumbled off the vehicle. Nathan and I stepped out with a bit more grace into the rain - we would have to find someplace to hide out for an hour until the next bus.

It's so weird seeing a WRTA bus way out here!
We tried Brookfield Town Hall first, but it was closed aside from its small-town community board outside. Thus, we wandered over to the next building, the Tip Top Country Store...and hit the jackpot. It was a tiny grocery store with a ton of charm, a really nice cashier, and the best tomatoes I've ever had in my life, presumably grown right down the street. We sat at a nice little table in the store and devoured our purchases. I even bought a weird little Alexander Hamilton ornament made from sheep's wool in Kyrgyzstan because...well, where else would I find something like that???

This is such a great store!
With a few minutes until the next bus was supposed to come, we came back to the common and waited there in the rain. Finally, our vehicle back to civilization came around the corner and opened the doors to its warm interior - there was no one on board. There was a short layover, then the driver...turned off the lights? Yes, for the entire ride back to Worcester, the bus's lights were completely off. We just sailed through the middle of nowhere in this dark, empty bus, and it was the most relaxing experience. Finally, we snapped back to reality when the lights turned on at the Central Hub, and we ran through the now-pouring rain into the station to get the train back home. What an awesome trip.

The only light was the warm orange glow of the interior sign.
WRTA Route: 33 (Union Station Hub - Spencer - Brookfield via Main Street and Route 9)

Ridership: The 33 has the highest ridership of the four WRTA "community routes," with an average of 567 riders per weekday. The thing is, though, that pure number doesn't tell the whole story. My ride got 18 people, and the vast majority of them got off at or before Leicester Center. There were maybe three people who disembarked in Spencer, and then it was no one until Brookfield - and the person who left there didn't seem to even know where he was.

Pros: Well, the 33 is certainly a lifeline route for a lot of communities west of Worcester, most notably Leicester and Spencer. It has a good schedule for its purpose, running every hour throughout the day. Though the route is weekdays only, the 19 runs out to Spencer on Saturdays and as far as the Leicester Walmart on Sundays, so the busiest portions of the 33 still get weekend service.

Cons: Okay, I say it's every hour, but for some reason from 7:40 to 11:00 AM, the route runs every 100 minutes. Come on, that's a pretty big difference! Luckily, it goes back to every hour after that. However, I think it's clear that the route does not need to go all the way out to Brookfield, even during rush hour. From what I saw, there was one half-conscious person on one evening rush trip and no one on the second trip. It doesn't seem like it would make too many people upset to cut the route back at East Brookfield Courthouse at all times.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Oh, the Tip Top County Store, obviously. That was such a cool local place, and if for whatever strange reason you end up in Brookfield, definitely pay it a visit. Also, on a completely random note, did you know that the 33 is the closest you can get to the PVTA from the Commuter Rail? That's right, the Ware Shuttle is just two towns and a 3 hour walk away! Of course, the 33 already serves a Big Y, and that's basically all the PVTA serves, am I right? Ha!

Final Verdict: 7/10
Despite its quirks, the 33 is a good community connector. It probably doesn't need to be as long as it is on those Brookfield trips, but even if it just terminates at the East Brookfield Courthouse (or the Spencer DPW Garage, which probably makes more sense), it's still serving some important towns with no other transit options. I will say, though, that the ride to Brookfield is incredibly scenic and relaxing, and the town (at least, its most notable store) is packed with middle-of-nowhere charm - this was the most unique transit trip I've done since the Rural Ride.

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

3 comments:

  1. The Fitchburg Line to Wachusett, then the MART shuttle to Gardner, followed by the GLink to Athol at one of the few remaining Hannaford's out there, then the FRTA 32 to Greenfield transferring to the 31 and the Northampton hub, though you can definitely connect to the PVTA in Sunderland or Deerfield. That's about 5 hours, 36 minutes.

    I think you've done a few of those routes. I might have another swing at it in a couple weeks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I doubt I'll ever do that whole trip, but I do have to review the GLink to Athol, plus MART's weird Athol minibus van...

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    2. College will make you do things, trust me.

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