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There in a flash, on Green Dash

Staff Report
January 18. 2012 11:53PM
Riders board the Manchester Transit Authority’s Green Dash, the city’s first hybrid bio-diesel circulator bus, following a media conference at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. 

MANCHESTER - City officials and businesses are hoping a new name, marketing campaign and remodel of a free downtown shuttle will boost ridership.

The Manchester Transit Authority, together with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, yesterday held a press conference touting the success of the Green DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle), which was relaunched in August after the number of riders dropped from a high of 3,500 in November 2010 to 1,600 in August 2011.

Since then, ridership on the redesigned shuttle - complete with its Green Dash crusader caricature on the side - has steadily climbed to reach 2,200 riders in December.

'The MTA found some federal funds to let people ride free,' Mayor Ted Gatsas explained at a press conference geared at marketing the bus and which was held at the chamber's offices. 'That's right, it's free. Nothing wrong with free.'

Originally, the shuttle was called the 'Downtown Circulator' and was wrapped in white and black historical photos of the Millyard. Funded with a $180,000 federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant and $36,000 from the city, the shuttle was aimed at reducing traffic and auto emissions in the downtown area. The buses, however, became less inviting after becoming dingy in the winter from snow and slush, said MTA Executive Director Mike Whitten.

The two more contemporary buses came about after the MTA partnered with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce in an effort to rebrand the service and get more people - residents and downtown workers, particularly those in the Millyard - to take advantage of the free service.

The chamber's Downtown Committee came up with the Green DASH name because the bus is hybrid electric and brought in MESH Interactive Agency of Nashua to design the new wrap, making it more inviting to residents and the public. The bus now has transparent windows, is brighter, emphasizes its hybrid technology and promotes its free service.

'Through this partnership we hope to encourage more people to get outside during their lunch hour, run errands, visit local businesses and grab a bite to eat,' said Robin Comstock, the chamber's president and CEO.

Whitten said people need only to park once and then take the shuttle to various downtown locations, hopping on and off when they want.

The buses, which operate Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., run a 10- to 20-minute, figure-8 loop between Granite and West Brook streets along Elm Street and Commercial Street. The bus will stop anywhere along the route but has scheduled stops at Veterans Park, the corner of Commercial and Spring streets and the corner of Commercial and West Brook streets.

The three-year federal grant ends on June 30, 2013, at which time the federal government will pick up 50 percent of the cost and the city will have to pay the remainder. Whitten said the taxpayer isn't paying anything toward the service since the 20 percent is covered by parking fees.

He said the city will never be able to charge a fee for the service, per federal requirements, but once the grant expires it will allow for some leeway in hours of operation and routes.

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