New Hampshire's freshly renamed Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is about to get serious about the "Boston" part of its name.
Airport officials are pushing a $500,000 plan to begin offering, as soon as October, free shuttle buses from Boston and Woburn to the airport and back.
They would run as often as every 30 minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours and at least every 120 minutes during slower times.
The 15- and 25-seat buses, the same kind that bring passengers from the Manchester terminal to parking lots, would stop at the Sullivan Square MBTA Orange Line station in Charlestown and at the Woburn intermodal transit center, both right off Interstate 93. The Charlestown-Woburn-Manchester trips take about an hour.
The service could make it substantially more convenient for Boston-area travelers to take advantage of low-fare carrier Southwest Airlines, which does not fly into Logan International Airport. Southwest offers 28 daily nonstop flights from Manchester to six destinations: Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Chicago's Midway, Las Vegas, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Tampa.
"It's part of an overall effort we're making to reach out to a broader market, and we also want to demonstrate to the private sector that there's a very strong market for ground transportation both ways between Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and Boston," airport director Kevin Dillon said.
The airport has committed enough funding for at least six months of shuttle bus operations, hoping that will show enough business to entice a private operator. "We're excited about it," Dillon added. "The number one inquiry on our Internet site for the last two years has been: What are the ground transportation alternatives between Manchester and downtown Boston?"
Dillon said the service requires an MBTA permit to use facilities in Charlestown and Woburn, and he is optimistic final approvals could come within 30 days, with service launched quickly after that. T spokesman Joe Pesaturo did not return a call seeking comment.
Even though the new service could steer some travelers away from Logan to Manchester, Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella said officials there aren't fighting it. "We're not opposing anybody providing bus service to their customers," Orlandella said.
The initial shuttle bus plan probably won't threaten Logan's regional dominance. Logan is on track to serve about 27 million passengers this year, six times the 4.5 million anticipated at Manchester. Slightly over 20 percent of Manchester's passengers come from Massachusetts, Dillon said.
Southwest, which accounts for 53 percent of Manchester's passenger traffic, would be, by far, the strongest factor enticing passengers to shuttle buses. The next biggest airline there is US Airways, with 17 percent of the market, followed by Northwest, United, Delta, and Continental.
In almost every case, those so-called legacy airlines offer more frequent service to more destinations on bigger jets from Logan than Manchester, although competition from Southwest keeps some legacy carrier Manchester fares more competitive than at Logan.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger called the planned shuttle bus "great. It's so fabulous for us, and it's very forward-thinking by the airport."
In April -- despite truth-in-advertising objections from Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino -- Manchester city officials voted to rename the airport Manchester-Boston Regional, after discovering how few Western US residents know the airport is just 55 miles from Boston.
A study conducted for the airport by RKM Research and Communications found that in big cities in Texas and the West, just 16 percent had ever heard of the Manchester airport, and overall barely 1 percent accurately knew where it was, relative to Boston.
Doug Fleener, a Lexington retailing consultant who uses Manchester for about 20 percent of his flights, and Logan for the rest, said: "The very reason I fly out of Manchester is why I personally wouldn't take a bus there: Unless you drive up in morning rush hour, there is very little traffic, and they have great parking. But I could see the shuttle helping Manchester by giving Boston residents without cars who would like to fly Southwest a great new option."
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