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Officials speak on value of public transportation

EXECUTIVE COUNCILOR RAY BURTON speaks at a gathering of transportation officials, non-profit senior services providers, and elected officials at the Tri-County Community Action Program building in Tamworth last Thursday, Sept. 27. (Mellisa Seamans photo) (click for larger version)
October 04, 2012
TAMWORTH — Would you be willing to spend one-cent extra per gallon of gasoline if you knew it would generate $8.3 million dollars in revenue that could be used to build better roads or help offset the cost of public transportation?

At a gathering of transportation officials, non-profit senior services providers, and elected officials Sept. 27, that's what just one-cent per gallon could mean for the state's transportation budget said NH Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher D. Clement, Sr.

The purpose of the gathering was to allow guest speakers the opportunity to "discuss the importance of rural bus service, including local and intercity/intercommunity transit, and how transit services support the local and regional economies.

In addition to Clement, NH Executive Councilor Ray Burton, Tri-County Community Action Program (TCCAP) Director Joe Costello, Advanced Transit Director Van Chesnut, C&J Lines and Boston Express Bus Service President Jim Jalbert, and TCCAP Transportation Director Beverly Raymond all spoke at gathering on the front lawn of the TCCAP building in Tamworth.

Burton told the small crowd that public transportation has "become part of our culture," our way of getting around for work, medical appointments, and cultural opportunities. "It's not just joyriding," said Burton. He said the efforts of TCCAP and its Blue Loon bussing system should be supported and valued and the $150,000 they are expected to request in additional federal funding should be supported as well.

Clement congratulated those who have worked to bring public transportation services to the northern parts of the state. He said the value of public transportation can be seen in many areas including the self-sufficiency it helps support in New Hampshire residents and it is a bonus to the environment by taking additional vehicles off the road.

Transit services, he said, are critical in the rural areas because of the distance between places and critical in the urban areas to help ease traffic congestion. Partnerships between the private sector and public agencies should continue to be developed to leverage federal transportation dollars that come into the state, said Clement.

Jalbert said his company provided 1.7 million bus rides last year and, he estimates, his company took about 120 tons of emissions out of the environment. Add that to the 350 people employed by the company to provide bussing services in New Hampshire and you get the fact that public transportation has a positive impact on the economy and the environment. He said Blue Loon is a vital link in the transportation system. With those blue busses moving people from bus stop to bus stop and connecting passenger with the ride they need to get to the big bus route, the continued growth of the interconnected system is key as public transportation moves into the future.

Jalbert said there are challenges though and the main one is financial. With the legislators taking the "tax pledge" vowing to raise no new taxes, it's time to get creative. Jalbert said, with ideas that might include a program like Boston's commuter tax credit, an increase to the New Hampshire fuel tax, and working to form partnerships between transportation providers and private company owners who rely on the bussing systems to get their employees to work. According to the N.H. Fiscal Policy Institute, the last time the state's fuel tax was increased was in in 1991 when it went from 16 cents per gallon to the current 18 cents (www.nhfpi.org).

The Blue Loon bus system continues to expand and work out the tweaks in service. In its first year it has provided 50,000 trips. As town selectmen and county representatives begin the 2013 budget discussions this fall, it is likely they will each decide whether or not to recommend appropriating money to the Blue Loon service. More information about Blue Loon can be found at their website at www.tccap.org/nct_cct.htm or by calling (603) 752-1741.

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