DURHAM - After four years of planning, a new Wildcat Transit bus route will open up new doors for students, staff and residents along the Route 125 corridor from Rochester to the University of New Hampshire.
Officials from the Durham campus, the city of Rochester and the state commemorated the start of the route by going on a bus trip - the second of the day - before holding a short ceremony at the shop outside Thompson Hall.
Kenneth Ortmann, Rochester's planning and development director, said officials have been working on this route for several years, but he was most delighted to see "11 real passengers" who took advantage of the first bus trip.
Ortmann and his wife, Martha, who teaches at UNH, were both inspired by the possibilities both on an off campus.
"It will be good for the faculty, it will be good for students, it will be good for Rochester," Ortmann said, adding the Rochester area offers a variety of activities and far less expensive housing than other communities to the south.
UNH Transportation Director Dirk Timmons expects more students and staff to take advantage of the service once word spreads of the option. He said one student who took the bus Monday expected to save $50 a week on gas.
To promote the new route, university officials sent out emails to 987 students and staff, according to David May, associate vice president for business affairs at UNH. He added the route allows students on campus to visit the Market Basket plaza in Lee, Calef's Country Store in Barrington and stores in Rochester.
"Home Depot really stepped up for us," May said.
Timmons said there is already an established park-and-ride lot at the intersection of Routes 9 and 125 in Barrington, but the state plans to build new lots near Lowes in Rochester and across the road from the Lee shopping center.
UNH's Transportation Manager Beverly Craig said the university used a three-year federal grant to create the new route and help purchase the necessary buses, which run on compressed natural gas. She added UNH had to pay for 20 percent in matching funds as part of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, which provided about $1 million for the project.
During weekdays - excluding UNH holidays and shutdowns - the new route has two early morning buses which are scheduled to leave McConnell Hall at 5:40 and 6:40 a.m., arrive at the Rochester Home Depot at 6:01 and 7:16 a.m. and return to various locations on campus by 6:50 and 7:50 a.m.
The bus also leaves UNH at 10:45 a.m. and 12:05 p.m., 3:35 p.m., 4:35 p.m. and 6:05 p.m. The last bus returns to campus at 7:19 p.m., according to the schedule which is available online.
Students, faculty and staff with a valid UNH identification card can ride for free. Children under 5 also can ride for free. Members of the public must pay $1.50 per ride and residents 65 and older are eligible for half-price fares with proper identification.
Additionally, single ride and monthly passes from COAST are accepted on all Wildcat Transit routes. For more information, visit www.unh.edu/transportation