Remember the PVTA’s B79 I wrote about a while ago? With me being in Massachusetts for the next month, and with some friends at UMass Amherst that I chose to pay a visit to, why not take the bus out that way? So, I did. I also took it back east to Worcester. Also - the 15 RTAs in Massachusetts are fully free until the end of 2022, with other RTAs having free service extending longer (WRTA through June 2023, among others), go out and take a free trip somewhere.
To preface this intense journey, quick recap of the August post. The B79 is a key route for the state’s transportation network. It is the best thing Massachusetts has until East-West Rail comes along, but the limited schedule really holds this route back. With fares usually being $9 for a complete ride, this route is “a bargain” according to my mother. Even more so that it’s free as I write this. Peter Pan is about $20 (I think, I didn’t check again), and same-day on Amtrak is $17 (and then you have to get to or from Springfield). I know I said that you could save some money with the WRTA being free for longer by transferring in Leicester - don’t (for the time being). You’ll see why. With an Eliot Deviation Index of 1.1, the route is fairly direct as well.
We’ll start the story yesterday (December 3). The B79 runs three times a day on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays. It runs twice on Sundays. I got the second trip on Saturday, leaving Worcester at 12:50 in the afternoon. On the trip between my parents’ house and Union Station, I think to myself that either the bus will be completely empty or completely full (I had a duffle bag with me for the westbound trip, that’s why). I get to Union Station 15 minutes before the scheduled departure, and there’s already a good chunk of people waiting outside Union Station. At the correct stop, nonetheless. Yes, the B79 stops at a different location than any other bus there. Not the intercity terminal. Not the WRTA hub. But behind the station by the parking garage. And there’s not even a PVTA sign at all. People are doing their research for the B79!
The bus arrives about 5 minutes early, the eastbound passengers get off, and about four of us get on the bus. We pull off at 12:49… but quickly stop and three more people get on who were (I believe) waiting on the sidewalk when I got on. They must have seen the sign. Yes, this is a minibus that is currently operating the route. There is no headsign. The bus seats eight. The only indication that this is the B79 is a handwritten paper taped to the door reading “B-79 Worcester Amherst.” Quality right there. (Also - this bus had zero PVTA branding, instead it was from Quaboag Connector.)
So we finally leave Worcester on time with seven on board. Only one questioned about the fare. Six of us knew it was free. We’re all college-age as well, until the eighth passenger. This younger-elderly woman flags the bus down in Webster Square (still in Worcester city limits) and gets on. She ends up getting off in Ware, and I think she may be a frequent rider on the B79.
I assume that we are perfectly on-time for a 2:35 arrival at UMass for the majority of the ride. It was raining out that afternoon, so I had a vague idea of where we were. I didn’t look at Google Maps either. No traffic on Route 9, so all seemed to be good. Until 2:00. I had never been on Route 9 between Leicester and Belchertown… and recognized the small plaza at the corner of Routes 9 and 202. It was 2:00. Scheduled arrival here - 2:13. We were 13 minutes early. Turns out we skipped a stop in Belchertown Center as well, but our driver didn’t make any stops - the woman getting off in Ware just shouted where to be dropped off. We continued on to arrive at UMass a whopping 18 minutes early at 2:17. Padding galore. In total, five of us rode the full length of the route (two others got off at various points in downtown Amherst).
The return trip earlier tonight (December 4) was similar. We left UMass at 5:05 with nine on board. Nine? Seated capacity of eight? Yeah, the last one on board was on the floor. You had to show up ten minutes early (at 4:55 when the bus pulled up) to get a seat. Nobody went to pay a fare either. Even at Haigis Mall (the main UMass stop), where there are signs for other PVTA routes, there is no sign for the B79, and the same Quaboag Connector minibus pulled up. The PVTA even has a warning on their website (albeit hidden) that the Friday and Sunday evening trips may be overcrowded. No shit, you’re using a minibus that seats eight. This driver (a different driver) actually made the missed stops at Amherst Common and Belchertown Center (complete with a slow down to see if anyone’s getting off), but didn’t do so anywhere else along the route. All nine of us rode the entire route through Worcester. Padding hit again here, with passing through Leicester at 6:22 (scheduled 6:35). We hit some traffic in Worcester, but arrived at 6:41, nine minutes early. To make it better, more people were waiting at Worcester for the return to Amherst. I think about ten or eleven were waiting.
PVTA - you have to do quite the few things here, but you have a solid 6/10 route. Add some signage - please. People seem to know where the Worcester and UMass stops are, which is good because it’s only listed on mapping apps and the very bottom of the PDF schedule. Give this route a full-sized bus as well. The demand is there. It’s all 20 year old college kids. Get rid of the padding and fix the timings. Between Amherst and Belchertown as well as between Leicester and Worcester isn’t bad, depending on how traffic is. Between Belchertown and Leicester is the problem. Trips exit that segment a good 15 minutes early. And maybe give it some more trips. Three round trips a day (two on Sundays) isn’t that great… but will suffice for the time being, I guess. One in the morning, one in the afternoon, one in the evening, gives me FRTA 41 vibes.
Posted: Dec 4, 2022 22:39
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