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Subsidy OK'd for thriving bus line

State House Bureau

June 18. 2014 7:57PM
Commuters return from Boston on a Boston Express Bus at the station in Nashua in this 2008 photo. (FILE)

CONCORD — Boston Express Bus, Inc., which provides subsidized commuter bus service to Boston, will receive about $5 million in new federal subsidies to continue providing the service through fiscal year 2017.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement called the company “the most successful new start in the country” at the Governor and Executive Council meeting Wednesday.

Boston Express won a bid to provide commuter bus service between Manchester and Boston during the Interstate-93 expansion project as part of the state’s environmental impact statement. The contract was awarded in 2008.

The company originally won a contract to initiate bus service along the FE Everett Turnpike to Boston in 2007.

On Wednesday, the council approved separate contracts for the two routes that provide $5.4 million in Federal Highway Administration funds to continue the services through June 30, 2017.

With the additional money, the total subsidies in the two contracts will be $14.1 million through June 30, 2017. Under New Hampshire law, highway funds generated from auto registrations and the gas tax cannot be used to subsidize this service.

The company will be able to use the money for net operating expenses, marketing and customer service, maintenance and improvements to state-owned bus terminals and storage facilities, and to repair and overhaul its aging bus fleet as well as increases in operating expenses with greater ridership such as medical insurance and fuel.

Although there have been discussions about fare hikes along the two routes, company officials said recently there are no plans to increase them.

The I-93 route served about 30,500 customers per month during 2013 for a total of 366,000 riders, while the FE Everett route serves about 16,000 riders a month, which is double the ridership since service began, according to information from the Department of Transportation.

Along the two routes, Boston Express carried about 580,000 passengers last year.

Contingency fund

The Council approved a contingency fund of $5.2 million to address emergency repairs to highways and bridges damaged in a storm.

Currently state transportation officials have to find the money within the agency’s budget to pay for repairs like those caused by a flash flood or the tornado in 2008.

Clement told the council it took his department three years to make up for the money spent to clean up and make repairs after the tornado.

The money for the fund would come from proceeds left over from $150 million in GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds issued for the I-93 expansion project.

District 3 Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said the bonds were intended for the I-93 project, but now the department wants to use the money for something else.

“We’re trying to create a small account for emergencies,” Clement said. “The money has to come from somewhere.”

He said the money would be used for capital costs not operating expenses, noting the request was approved by Administrative Services and the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.

Managed care contracts

Contracts with the two remaining managed care companies administering the state Medicaid program were approved by the Council. A third company recently withdrew from the program.

The contracts contain new rates for the next fiscal year that were approved by the federal Center for Medicaid Services.

Although they are three-year contracts, new rates have to be approved each year, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas.

The change also reduces the state payments to the companies by $485 million to $460 million for the next fiscal year because the second phase of managed care will not begin Dec. 1 as intended, but instead will begin at a later date that has yet to be determined.

The delay affects long-term services for the elderly and developmentally disabled, such as nursing home and community based services.

Toumpas said while he may be back later to ask for additional money to be added to the managed care contracts, the patients who would have been served will continue in their current fee-for-service programs.

Sununu said he was concerned there was no set date to implement the second phase of the managed care program. “I don’t want to be kicking the can down the road for the (developmentally disabled),” Sununu said.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, who appointed a managed care oversight commission that recommended delaying the second phase, said there needs to be a new plan to implement the program developed by the state officials and stakeholders.

“We will have a date with a robust plan,” Hassan said.

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