On September 30, a Thursday, I rode the PVTA’s new intercity express from Worcester to Amherst, passing through Leicester, Spencer, the Brookfields, Ware, the Town of Belchertown, Pelham, and stopping in Amherst at the Common. From there, the bus went on to UMass without me.
While I was waiting in Worcester, by the Union Station garage at the intersection of Harding and Franklin streets, I ran into one of my acquaintances from the WRTA, who told me that this new intercity line was funded by a grant from MassDOT which had been available since 2014. These things take time, I know, but seven years? That’s got to be a record, even for MassDOT.
I caught the 8:50 out of Worcester. When it arrived, three passengers got off. The next surprise came when the driver told me that this was the last day of the first month of service, and by way of introduction no fares were being collected until tomorrow. Why the PVTA chose to not tell everyone is a mystery, as is the sad fact that there are few bus stop signs along the route, and no schedules except on the website. I rode alone from one end of the route to the other.
It was a pleasant trip, and in a week or two when the Fall colors are peaking it will be spectacular, allowing passengers to travel along a very scenic stretch of Route 9, have lunch in Amherst or Worcester depending on where you start, and back home without any worries about driving and parking You could have a drink, or enjoy the products of the many cannabis dispensaries at both ends of the route, without getting behind the wheel.
You will be paying $9 each way, and the trip takes around an hour and a half. As usual, when I see an expensive empty bus I wonder how many more riders might be on board if the fares were cut in half. After all, it costs no more to run a full bus than an empty one, and if you got four riders instead of one, the revenue collected would be twice what a single rider would be contributing. And if the powers that be really wanted this to be a success, they could forgo the trivial contributions the passengers make, and come up with a more realistic funding mechanism.
Another peculiarity of the service is that when the PVTA bus is operating in WRTA territory, it must not compete for passengers. Therefore,the driver may stop and pick people up, but they must go all the way to the Hub. Likewise, when it is in Amherst it can only pick people up at the University and the Common, but it can let them out anywhere. All of this is a little difficult to understand unless you’re a bus wonk, and especially because there is no signage explaining it. All the explaining is left up to the driver.
If you look far enough on the PVTA website, you will find the schedule. I don’t know if it’s up on their bus tracker app, but it may be. The bus runs five days a week, skipping Tuesday and Wednesday. There are separate schedules for Saturday, Sunday, and Mon-Thurs-Fri. On the weekdays, it leaves Amherst at 6:55, 11:55, and 4:10, arriving/departing in Worcester at 8:40, 1:40, and 5:55. Back in Amherst at 10:25, 3:25, and 7:40. Saturdays it leaves Amherst at 7:05, 11:05, and 5:05, arriving/departing Worcester at 8:50, 12:50, and 6:50, back in Amherst at 10:35, 2:35, and 8:35. Sundays there are two trips; Leaving Amherst 11:05, 5:05, turning around in Worcester at 12:50 and 6:50, back in Amherst at 2:35 and 8:35. No service on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
As is usual with the RTAs, there has been no promotion, at least at the Worcester end. People seem to be finding it by accident. It is assumed that we all have internet access everywhere we are, and if this were true we would need no physical signage or paper schedules. Unfortunately it is not. How much effort would it take to have a sign, at least in Worcester, informing us of where and when we should be waiting for the bus? Why not have paper schedules available at the Hub and the library? Since this route involves the PVTA operating in enemy territory, I guess that the WRTA and the City of Worcester would have to give their okay, but what earthly reason could there be to be keeping things like this a secret? Here we have a new service, the first of its kind in Massachusetts, quietly sneaking along 40 beautiful miles of Route 9 without any riders to speak of.
– Adam Thielker