Tuesday, April 24, 2018

GUEST POST: GATRA: South Bellingham Commuter Shuttle

Of all the guest posts I would've thought to receive, the GATRA South Bellingham Commuter Shuttle was very low on that list! Let's see what Jules has to say about this rare commuter route, run by everyone's favorite RTA, GATRA!

This is the ugly duckling route of GATRA’s so-called Northwest division that supposedly covers so much more ground than the North Bellingham Commuter Shuttle. It runs two pairs of trips a day to and from the Forge Park/495 Commuter Rail stop on the edge of Franklin. And if the name didn’t make it obvious, those trips are peak hours only.

So, take a look at how the route’s supposed to go. This bore no resemblance to the outbound trip I took… and that may be a good thing.

I hopped on the 5:50ish bus — I’m sorry, Dial-a-Ride minibus operated by the Bellingham Council on Aging — which had two other passengers, from the train station’s parking lot. By the time we left, we were well and truly stuck in the exodus jam with my fellow former riders and it took about 5 minutes to turn onto West Central Street or Route 140. But instead of turning right as we were supposed to, we hung a left for a short jog whiffing past a commercial subdivision, then hit a right onto Grove Street.

Woods.
From there, we were trimming across woods, business parks, woods, a spare house or two, woods, the Franklin State Forest (woods) and woods. The street eventually ended, thank goodness, but a left onto Washington Street didn’t reveal much beyond houses and more, though less impressive woodsiness. Let me make it clear: we went through a bunch of woods.

At some point, we crossed the Bellingham line and the road was now Pulaski Boulevard. Not that it mattered much to us because we whipped left onto the first major intersection we could with Lake Street. St. Johns Cemetery crept in between some of the houses I saw, but I really got to see more of it as we pulled a right onto Wrentham Road. We went over what I remember to be a culvert for Bungay Brook before we actually crossed a small bridge for the Peters River that fed it. It was around here that one passenger got off — not far off from the terminus and, yet, not on the intended service path.

The bus made a final chicken wing approach with a right on Paine and an immediate left to meet with a more commercial stretch of Pulaski. We traveled a couple more minutes before we parked at Hilltop Farms — a ho-hum convenience store. I and the remaining passenger de-boarded, with said passenger walking into a nearby pool & spa supplier. He looked like he ran the place. As for me, I crossed the border into Rhode Island and got a bus to Providence.

"Give us a w-...actually, save your wave, you won't be able to catch this bus.

GATRA Route: South Bellingham Commuter Shuttle

Ridership: The GATRA blue book from 2015 aggregates ridership for the 10 total weekday runs of both North and South shuttles and calls it 19. And as it had proposed daily service on the North Shuttle, I think it’s safe to presume that my trip got 2 passengers (minus me) and the other trip didn't get much more.

Pros: The inbound trips time with the 6:35am and 7:50am Forge Park trains while the outbound trips meet up with the 4:43pm and 5:45pm departures from South Station. At least GATRA’s labelling and intent for this service is clear.

Cons: I’m on the fence about this whole jazz improv routing. Commuter shuttles are held very much to a different standard than a typical fixed route and Grove Street was undeniably going to be faster than South Main Street. If drivers followed the actual route map on morning trips and then did request stops coming out of Forge Park, this would actually be a fair execution of the service — for my part, the driver asked me where I was going and I told him Hilltop.

But then I’d have to wonder if the driver or drivers know that the same clientele come in and out of South Bellingham and, if that’s the case, just serve them directly on the AM runs instead of sticking to their discipline? That would preclude growth of the service, not that it’s apparently prone to much growth in the first place.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Woonsocket, Rhode Island. That is about the only thing worth a lick and it’s about a 15-minute walk away. Okay, maybe The Beef Barn for its steak sandwiches.

Final Verdict: 2/10
Free tip to GATRA: talk to RIPTA and see if either or both of you can work out a route from Woonsocket up to Forge Park. That would be better than having this thing drag up your subsidy average, serve a whole bunch more people from the northern reaches of Rhody and a long stretch of Bellingham that includes a few commercial patches as well as the high school.

Perhaps we can try and have this thing make sense, eh?

It would help people to know that this is a GATRA bus stop if it weren't hidden behind a giant crosswalk sign...

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