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Low Ridership and Lack of Funding Cited

By Patrick Cronin

Herald Sunday, Sunday, May 3, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

The Beach Bus, which ran from Epping to Exeter to Hampton Beach last summer, was unable to support itself and will be discontinued.
[Courtesy Photo]

The so-called Beach Bus that ran on weekends last summer linking Epping, Exeter and Hampton Beach will not be returning.

Rad Nichols, executive director of the Dover-based Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transportation, said they decided to discontinue the service this summer due to lack of funding.

The bus was piloted by COAST last summer to gauge public interest in expanding public transportation along the Seacoast.

While interest was there, Nichols said funding was not.

“We were able to fund the service last year by private investments and sponsorships,” Nichols said. “Given the economy, that was not going to be possible this year.”

COAST operated the bus last summer on a trial basis with contributions from Unitil, Exeter Hospital and the state Department of Park and Recreation.

While the service was used, it wasn’t enough to pay the costs to operate it.

“We would have provided the service if we had local funding to do so.” Nichols said. “But there really hasn’t been a lot of interest on the local community level to fund the service.”

Local tourism officials said the service was not as well received as officials had hoped.

Ridership on the bus, they said, last summer was lackluster.

“We were hoping that it would connect people from Epping through Exeter to the beach,” said Thomas Kraus, president of the Exeter Chamber of Commerce. “Unfortunately, from our perspective, there were not many people getting off at downtown Exeter as we would have hoped.”

BJ “Doc” Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said it appeared more people were using the bus to go to Wal-Mart in Epping than Hampton Beach.

“The demand was just not there,” Noel said.

Nichols admitted the beach service did not catch on as much as they had hoped.

“We were disappointed with the number of people who actually rode,” Nichols said. “Despite being bombarded with inquires about the service, it didn’t result in a tremendous amount of riders.”

Nichols said while ridership was low for its first year, he thinks it would have been successful given time.

“Public transit is something that can take a while for people to navigate to,” Nichols said. “Our experience at COAST with new service is that it usually takes a couple of years for people to warm up to it and discover them. I think that would have happened in this case.”

Nichols said while the Beach Bus will not be back this summer it doesn’t mean it won’t be back in the future.

‘We would love to make a connection again between Epping and Exeter and I think there is a lot of demand to connect Portsmouth and Hampton,” Nichols said.

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