Potential changes to the city’s bus services being discussed by transit officials include increasing frequency, lowering the cost or extending service hours.

Mike Whitten, executive director of the Manchester Transit Authority, went before aldermen recently to discuss ways the city can improve local bus service.

Paul Feely's City Hall column sig

“I think the time is right to really consider an additional investment in the core fixed route network for the city,” said Whitten. “We are not talking about the regional service in the other towns or the inter-city busing. We are talking about Manchester’s local bus service.”

Whitten said the first option is increasing frequency.

“Right now, most of the buses run once an hour,” said Whitten. “As you can imagine, that puts a lot of pressure on some folks. Imagine just something as simple as being in the checkout line at the grocery store and it is a little longer than you thought it was going to be. Now you are out there five minutes late and you just missed the bus so you have an hour to wait with all of your groceries just sitting there.”

Whitten said another option is decreasing the cost to ride.

“Our fare is $2, and all of the fare media we do — day passes, weekly passes and monthly passes, even the Step Saver — is based off of that $2 piece,” said Whitten. “As that moves, everything moves.”

Whitten mentioned extending service hours as another possible improvement.

“We have done that with three of the routes,” said Whitten. “The Green Dash, the Front Street and the River Road buses all run until 9:30 p.m. We could extend weekend service. We get this request a fair amount — a lot of people wonder why we don’t have any service on Sundays and we have very limited, eight hours of service, on Saturday. That is it for the weekend.”

Whitten said right now, increasing frequency is the preferred option.

“I think if you improve the quality of the transportation available, that is how you get choice riders,” said Whitten. “This system does a great job of meeting the needs for transit dependent people. If you don’t have a car available for the trip, the bus will get you there. It may not be convenient, and it may not be time effective, but it will get you there. Increasing that frequency is what it is going to take to get a lot of people who could drive to choose to take the bus and leave the car parked at home. That is a big barrier for us, that is where we want to get to.”

Whitten said MTA is looking at expanding frequency Monday through Friday, labeling Saturdays “an entirely different animal.”

Whitten said the cost to operate one hour of service, five days a week for an entire year is $16,000.

“The feds will automatically match the city, so you are only on the hook for the first $8,000 and that doesn’t have to come just from city funding,” said Whitten. “If the city can partner with a private sector source of revenue, that works. You could increase frequency on the highest ridership routes.”

Whitten said the best part of increasing frequency is “it doesn’t require an awful lot of infrastructure.”

“You are just running the same routes more often,” said Whitten. “You are not buying shelters, and you are not buying bus stop signs, and you are not having to do a lot of planning or studies, and you are not dealing with any noise complaints or anybody upset because all of a sudden there is a big bus coming down the street.”

“We have heard the word subsidy, but a lot of that money is coming from the feds and others and not out of local taxpayer dollars,” said Alderman Will Stewart of Ward 2. “I certainly think we get the long end of the stick when it comes to transit service here in the city, particularly in regards to bringing a workforce to our companies and employers in the state.”

Whitten said initially MTA would look at increasing frequency on Routes 8, 10 and 6.

“Route 6 is a west side bus with Bremer Street, Mast Road, and up into Pinardville, and Route 10 is Valley Street, Huse Road and goes up to the mall through that section,” said Whitten. “When you are starting with something like frequency, you don’t have to overthink it. You can go with the routes that already have the highest ridership and run those more frequently and you will see the most return for it.”

Stewart said he thought the proposed changes make “financial sense” and makes sense on a number of levels including reducing parking congestion, vehicle congestion on city streets and air quality.

“To me, it is a no-brainer all the way around,” said Stewart, who added aldermen should consider the request when crafting the Fiscal Year 2021.

Whitten said a question he often gets asked is ‘why now?’

“The reason is that transit, a lot of times, gets stuck in this endless circle,” said Whitten. “The ridership builds up the most when the economy is down and unemployment is high and people have less disposable income and it is harder to insure and keep your car on the road so we see our ridership grow. In the teeth of the recession in 2009 and 2010, we had over 500,000 people on the buses and we ran less service than we do now. We haven’t made a number of improvements. Now that times are good, it seems like if we ever have a chance to break the wheel, this is the time to try to do it.”

Craig inauguration

The details for Mayor Joyce Craig‘s second inauguration are coming into focus.

Craig will take her second oath of office at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the Rex Theatre on Amherst Street. The inaugural ceremony will include the swearing-in of aldermen and members of the board of school committee. John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Society, will serve as master of ceremonies. The inaugural ceremony is free, and the public is invited.

Following the inauguration, Craig will preside over meetings of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Board of School Committee in the aldermanic chambers at City Hall.

Following those meetings, the mayor will host an open house from 3-5 p.m. in the chambers and her office, located on the third floor of City Hall.

Mayor Craig’s Inaugural Committee will host an inaugural ball Saturday, Jan. 11 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Manchester, 700 Elm St. The committee will be co-chaired by state Rep. Mary Heath, Elizabeth Hitchcock and Patricia Lynott, all of Manchester. Tickets are $75 and available on a first-come-first-serve basis. For additional information or to purchase tickets, visit www.craiginaugural.com.

50 years experience

Last week, city officials said goodbye to nine school committee members, and their nearly 50 years of collective experience on the board.

Thanks go out to the following for their years of service to the city and its school district:

John Avard (12 years); Sarah Ambrogi (10 years); Ross Terrio (6 years), Katie Desrochers (6 years); Mary Georges (4 years); Lisa Freeman (4 years); Rich Girard (4 years); Jimmy Lehoux (2 years) and Patrick Long (14 months).

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com

Saturday, February 15, 2020
Sunday, February 09, 2020
Saturday, February 01, 2020
Sunday, January 26, 2020