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February 25. 2014 8:25PM

Study finds demand for Manchester-Concord public transit

MANCHESTER — A study of public transit potential between the downtowns of Concord and Manchester is nearly finalized, and the preliminary report recommends refinement or enhancement of a pilot service now in place.

A draft of the report concludes it would be efficient and cost-effective, with fare revenue possibly paying for more than half of the cost of the service.

The study by Steadman Hill Consulting is for the Central NH Regional Planning Commission and Southern NH Planning Commission, in partnership with New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

The regional planning commissions are in the process of finalizing the report. It will be submitted to the DOT by the end of March, and the DOT will review it and consider options and potential funding scenarios.

The study was effectively launched in tandem with a one-year pilot service that began July 1, 2013, which helped gauge demand. Ridership continues to increase on the Manchester Transit Authority's Route 4 "Concord Express," according to the report. The route has stops in Concord at the Stickney Avenue Transportation Center and the State House. It now includes a few Saturday trips. A $4 day pass is required.

There now exists seven trips per day between the downtowns of Concord and Manchester. An "enhanced" commuter service would involve 13 trips. As it is a draft report, the recommendations may be modified before being submitted to the DOT.

"There is a need for commuter service between Concord and Manchester," said David Preece, executive director of Southern NH Planning Commission. "The question is how to fund it."

The study estimated gross operating costs for a starter service at $114,070, and $203,911 for enhanced service. That is exclusive of capital costs, such as vehicles.

Both cities have local transit providers, Concord Area Transit and the Manchester Transit Authority. The study initially looked into transit between the cities and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. The focus turned to service between the two city centers, as riders demonstrated commuter interest. The MTA has a service between downtown Manchester and the airport.

Under one "commuter express" in the study, stops in Concord would include the State House, Stickney Avenue and the Thomson State Complex on Hazen Drive. Manchester stops include Granite Street at the Canal Street for the MTA stops, and Veterans Park in front of the Radisson. Morning commuter service southbound proposes a stop at the Hooksett Park and Ride.

Riders surveyed in the study indicated their interest was not solely because they did not own vehicles. They cited concerns over cost of gas and parking. Priorities cited included access and speed between stops during commuter hours.

dtuohy@unionleader.com


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