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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nashua-to-Boston bus service stands out nationally for popularity and ridership, state officials say

The state Executive Council approved a significant increase in operating support for the Nashua-to-Boston service without a lick of criticism Wednesday.

Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement said the increase of about $300,000 a year for the Boston Express Bus Inc. contract that would run through 2018 was well worth it. ...

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The state Executive Council approved a significant increase in operating support for the Nashua-to-Boston service without a lick of criticism Wednesday.

Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement said the increase of about $300,000 a year for the Boston Express Bus Inc. contract that would run through 2018 was well worth it.

“It is the most successful new start in the entire country,” Clement said of the bus line that’s in its sixth year.

The three-year, $2.5 million contract is paid for with federal money, up from $1.6 million over the previous three-year period.

“The operator, Boston Express, has done a phenomenal job,” Clement said. “They’ve been very good for us to deal with, and their service to the public is great, as well.”

Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua, said she was wholly supportive of the Nashua bus line when it started, but its popularity has surprised her.

“When we started the Boston Express from Nashua to Boston, many of us couldn’t see how spectacular a success this was going to be,” said Pignatelli, who is not seeking re-election this fall.

Clement noted that ridership has gone up from 8,000 passengers a month when it began to more than 16,000 a month now.

What makes this service stand out nationally is how much support for it comes from passengers, he said.

Currently, fares cover 88 percent of the costs, compared to the national average of bus service, which gets 55 percent of its money from ticket sales, Clement said.

Boston Express officials haven’t ruled out seeking a fare increase in the future. It currently costs $18 for a round-trip ticket from Nashua to Boston.

State officials pursued this Nashua bus line service in part to boost their chances of getting environmental permits from the federal government in order to widen Interstate 93 from Salem to Manchester.

One of the bus line routes goes from Nashua to Boston via I-93; the other goes south onto Route 3 in Manchester and then on to Boston.

The biggest obstacle to continued growth could be a commuter train that would run from Boston through Nashua and on to Concord.

Supporters of the commuter rail project insist that both projects could financially co-exist.

Fiscal conservatives – such as Greg Moore, with Americans for Prosperity – maintain that the bus service is a better bargain.

“Do the math: $800,000 a year subsidy from the federal government for the bus, $10 million-$15 million a year subsidy from the taxpayer for a train,” Moore said.

“The bus fits the scale of real need for commuters from here into Boston, and it’s a much better deal for taxpayers, who are footing the bill.”

Norma Gordon, a resident of Warren, R.I., takes the bus up regularly to visit her daughter Lori Connolly, who lives in Jaffrey.

“It’s great. They’re on time all the time, so you’re not worried about missing the train connection,” Gordon said Wednesday at the Boston Express bus terminal off Exit 8 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

The 50 percent discount for senior citizens is an added bonus, she said.

“I used to drive up. I have an old car, and it’s a two-hour drive by myself. My daughter said this is easier. It’s about a 45-
minute drive for her, but it’s worth it,” Gordon said.

“I’m not putting the wear and tear on my car, and they’re not worried about me driving by myself. It’s ideal for me. It works out great.”

Richard Dickson, of Brookline, said he never thinks about driving into Boston anymore.

“I take these guys and I get off, take a train or walk. My car? I don’t need any dents,” Dickson said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).