February 15, 2007

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Nashua Publisher's Note: The bus to the future
By Jeff Rapsis

This week marks a big step for public transportation in Nashua. Starting this past Tuesday, the “Boston Express” bus began service with nine round-trips each day linking the Gate City with Beantown.

What’s good about this? The city at least now has some kind of regular and reliable and relatively low-cost way to get to Boston that doesn’t involve driving there and parking. Leave your car at Exit 8 or Exit 6, and it’s $5 to South Station and $7 to Logan. Another good thing: The trips are spread throughout the day for this to be more than just a “commuter” service.

What’s lousy: If you ARE a commuter, the service doesn’t help you much. Also, it gives in to sprawl in that it avoids the city’s downtown. But as I understand it, lack of parking downtown hobbled the former Vermont Transit bus service.

Well, at least the idea that public transportation drives economic development has some kind of an audience among New Hampshire’s movers and shakers. U.S. Sen. John Sununu and Gov. John Lynch were on hand for the launch, of all people.

But they should be, because commuter rail or bus service isn’t just a subsidized convenience to get to Boston—it’s an economic asset that will influence our region’s economy, promote business growth, and guide future “smart” development in our community.

I don’t know how to put it more succinctly. To those who scoff at public transport as a waste of public money, I have two questions. How do you think the highway system is paid for? And you haven’t been out and about lately, have you?

By that last question, I mean how virtually every other industrialized nation in the world has embraced the idea of public transport as an essential element of responsible and effective economic growth.

To use a transportation metaphor, during the 20th century this country missed the boat. We let our rail lines rot, forsaking them for a highway system that’s incredibly expensive to maintain and continues to crumble before our eyes no matter how much money we pour into it.

Let’s see if bus service can help bring out little corner into the 21st century.