COAST History

COAST was formed in the early 1980s out of a community effort to improve mass transportation options in southeastern New Hampshire. While we are proud to have served the Seacoast for over 30 years, we were far from the first provider to operate transportation service in this area. Did you know the Seacoast had public transit as far back as the late 19th century?

Portsmouth Electric Railway streetcars await the next departure from Market Square Although trolleys are more typically associated with larger cities such as San Francisco, New Hampshire had them, too. Real trolleys (also known as streetcars or electric railways) existed for a few decades from the 1890s through the 1930s. In the Seacoast, many of the electric railways converted to bus operation in the mid-1920s. Buses are much cheaper to operate and more flexible, and at the time were the next new and exciting technology. 

Streetcar systems were privately owned, usually by a power company, a powerful local business owner, or the major railroad. As streetcars converted to buses, many of the routes and travel patterns stayed. Over the decades between the Depression and the late 1970s, many of the bus lines changed ownership. By the late 1970s, there were a handful of private bus lines operating throughout the Seacoast NH region on routes and schedules that did not relate to one another.

In the early 1980s, a group of citizens, planners, and business owners representing the entire southeastern New Hampshire region began to meet to talk about regional transportation as a public service. Originally the idea was to coordinate many of the social-service providers together to network the limited publicly-supported transportation options available in the region. However, this group quickly realized the need for a coordinated fixed-route bus system to form the backbone of health and human-service related transportation. It was eventually determined that this group, now "COAST", would bring together the existing transportation providers, apply to receive Federal subsidy, and expand the remaining bus network. The group also decided to work with the University of New Hampshire to make their "Kari-Van" bus system open to the public. 

At the outset COAST provided no transit service itself, instead contracting the planned routes back to the private bus lines that were running already. Early COAST schedules clearly identify the operator of the route, such as "Coast/Kari-Van Route 3" or "Coast/Watson Route 1". By the 1990s, after Federal funding cuts had forced the elimination of some routes, the primary contractor operating COAST routes was the UNH Kari-Van system. This arrangement remained in effect until late 1998.

Although UNH had been tightly linked to the very existence of COAST as a public transit agency, differences between the missions of the University and COAST caused the organizations to split in 1998. COAST and UNH agreed to maintain a reciprocal fare agreement, and to keep Kari-Van's original three bus routes running and open to the public. COAST contracted with a new private company to operate the remaining routes (1 and 2) from 1999 to late 2001. After several years of struggle, COAST discontinued its contract for operations. On December 10th, 2001, COAST reorganized to become a primarily self-operated system, taking on the day-to-day management and operation of the system and re-hiring most of the drivers who had worked for the private contractor only the night before.

2011 COAST TrolleySince 2001, COAST administration worked tirelessly to build up COAST as the best small urban transit agency it could be. A renewed focus on quality at every level allowed our organization to grow from 211,000 passenger trips in 2001 to 464,000 in 2011. Today, our maintenance program is top-notch, with mechanic shifts covering all hours of operation. Our bus fleet has been modernized with all the features of an urban transit system. Our drivers receive some of the most extensive training available. Today, COAST has become a name throughout southeastern New Hampshire associated with professional and highly-respected transportation.


Significant COAST Milestones:

  • 1981 COAST established to promote and/or provide public transit service in southeastern New Hampshire
  • 1982 First COAST routes introduced, including integration with previously existing UNH "Kari-Van" (now Wildcat Transit) routes, other private regional bus lines, and Lamprey Health Care.
  • 1985 State of New Hampshire Legislature establishes COAST as an independent public body.
  • 1986 Delivery of fleet of 13 "SAAB-Scania" buses (no longer available in the U.S., buses retired around 2000)
  • 1987 Four bus routes eliminated due to dramatic cuts in federal support for public transit, including service to Exeter, Farmington, and a Durham/UNH-Rochester service. 
  • 1994 ADA Paratransit service begins, following the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • 1995 COAST provides 5 millionth passenger trip
  • 1996 Return of service to Farmington as route 6 and to Exeter as route 7. Both routes originally provided under contract.
  • 1998 COAST and UNH part ways. Kari-Van becomes Wildcat Transit, operating routes 3, 4, and 5. COAST moves offices from Durham to the Pease International Tradeport.
  • 1999 The Downtown Loop is introduced to historic Portsmouth as a summer service (through 2013; it is no longer running). COAST takes delivery of its first replica trolley-styled buses.
  • 2000 Year-round trolley service introduced serving Portsmouth and Pease International Tradeport. COAST purchases former C&J Trailways facility in Dover and moves into new, permanent home.
  • 2001 COAST reorganizes from primarily contracted operation to in-house management of operation. COAST purchases new 3 Gillig Low-floor buses, bringing modern bus design era into NH.
  • 2003 Redesign of year-round trolley route in Portsmouth results in current Pease/Lafayette Trolley routes.
  • 2008 COAST celebrates 10 millionth passenger trip. COAST and City of Dover introduce first of planned three-phase "FastTrans" project. Delivery of four new Gillig low-floor buses. Ninth consecutive year of setting record passenger counts on all routes. 
  • 2009 Phases two and three of FastTrans introduced. Dover enjoys the highest level of public transit service of any community in New Hampshire. COAST is awarded over $3 million in federal stimulus funds (ARRA) for capital projects.
  • 2010 COAST crosses the 50 employee threshhold. New staff member comes on board to take a lead in developing a human-service transportation regional coordination system, in conjunction with the Alliance for Community Transportation (ACT). New Google Transit trip planning feature for COAST and Wildcat Transit users goes live.
  • 2011 Five new Gillig buses are delivered, including three replica trolley-styled buses. North Bus service is established in five communities north of Rochester that previously had no transportation options. At 464,000, our annual passenger trip total smashes all previous records and represents a more than 100% increase in ridership from ten years prior. 
  • 2012 COAST initates new Clipper Connection service, reintroducing a public transit option for employees at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for the first time since the mid-1980s. Six new Gillig buses are delivered to support a major improvement in the frequency of route 2 and Trolley schedules. The new Gilligs, along with the addition of five used and rebuilt New Flyers allow COAST to decomission all "high floor" buses, bringing the entire fleet into the modern era of low-floor buses. COAST also introduces bus service to East Rochester as an extension of route 2. The improvements are tempered by a major decrease in FastTrans service and rerouting due to budget shortfalls.
  • 2013 Clipper Connection service begins its second year exceeding expectations and going very strong.
  • 2014 COAST acquires two used MCI commuter coaches to improve its continually-growing Clipper Connection commuter service.