From December to June, I was working three days a week in Boston (at New England Aquarium, if you’re curious). Sunday, Monday, and Friday, I either walked or took the Downtown Shuttle from Downtown Lowell to Gallagher Terminal, and then I took the train to North Station. Here’s a middle-ground free summary of the experience:
Love the train. I love trains, and I love this train. It wasn’t always perfectly sparkling, but the train was, at a very basic level, almost always clean, reliable, and on time.
Hate the train’s unreliable Wi-Fi. I know that’s such a first-world problem, because it’s nice that they even have Wi-Fi. But its unpredictability can be pretty crazy-making. Some cars it works, some it doesn’t, it can be soooooo sloooooow, and it forces you to reconnect at least a couple of times over the course of the trip.
Love the bus drivers. I found Lowell’s bus drivers to be friendly folk, and I never got the vibe you get from some of the world’s bus drivers that they wish they could drive the whole thing off a cliff. Sometimes they had music going, which might or might not be technically correct, but I personally love. Several times I saw them be really helpful and kind to the befuddled.
Hate no buses on Sunday. This was the bane of my commuting existence. No buses on Sunday. None. Thinking about it, I would give a Hate to commuting on Sunday on every level. Because the trains are infrequent, they’re always packed. Then, because of weekend events, the wait for the train at North Station and then the train ride itself are made a little too exciting with the presence of a million riled up Bruins fans, or Disney: Live! refugees all armed with light swords.
Love poorly punched 10 ride passes for the train. I bought the 10 ride punch pass (in Boston, because there’s nowhere to do it in Lowell) and in my experience, there were a couple of the MBTA folks who had to punch your pass that did not care at all about that part of the job. Result, cards like this, where I got two or three free rides out of their carelessness.
Hate the holiday schedules. Generally speaking, any holiday causes the bus to go to a Saturday schedule or none at all, and since a Saturday schedule meant no bus until after I had to leave and before I got back to Lowell, they had the same result for me. Holiday schedules for the train mean limited service, but at least I could make it there and back. Also, every person on a holiday train is grumpy about having to be there.
Love the view from the train. I have not gotten over how just plain pretty New England can be, and the views of countryside, picturesque town squares, and the Boston skyline always put me in a good mood.
Hate how hard it is to find a paper bus schedule. I cannot understand this one at all, but for some reason, paper bus schedules are very thin on the ground. When I spotted an actually stocked pile of them on the bus one morning, the driver pointed out how lucky I was. That simply should not be—not when lots of people still don’t have access to the internet, not when Lowell wants to make life easy for tourists.
Love the view to Boston getting into North Station. From the train, you can spot Bunker Hill, the Prudential Building, and the Museum of Science, and get a great view of the Charles.
Hate the way the bus and train schedule don’t even try to get along. The train I routinely took back got me to Gallagher one minute after the Downtown Shuttle left. I would see the bus leave from the train platform. A real bummer at the end of a long day.
Love walking through downtown Lowell. It’s a beautiful city, and since I had to leave pretty early, I often got to catch quiet streets with the sun just coming up.
Hate walking over the Lord Overpass. Haaaaaate. It’s a remarkably unpleasant, pedestrian-unfriendly part of the walk, which is really unfortunate for anyone that wants to day-trip from Boston. The overpass’s pedestrian paths often take you out of your way, and more than once I somehow followed one that was a straight-up dead-end, forcing me to jaywalk or turn all the way around.
If there were any single piece of Lowell I could snap my fingers and redesign, the Lord Overpass would be it. Dutton Street is almost as bad, with narrow sidewalks that put you right next to very fast-moving, dense traffic. This part of the walk doesn’t feel safe, especially as it gets dark.
On a good day, I found the commute from Lowell to be straightforward, relaxing, and pretty. On a bad day it was frustrating and felt like it didn’t really care what I wanted. Overall time from leaving my apartment to getting to the Aquarium: about two hours. Commuting by foot and public transport wasn’t always the ideal experience, but it got me where I needed to go reliably, and it says something that I never considered driving to Boston, even on the worst day.