Ashland Community Hospital park-and-ride not a success

Ashland Community Hospital canceled a park-and-ride service because not enough employees were using it.

In 2004, hospital officials began renting a parking lot on Hersey Street and providing shuttle bus service because of a chronic parking shortage around the hospital. But officials discontinued the service in 2006 because of lack of use, said ACH Director of Planning and Marketing Carolyn Johnson.

To leave space for patients and visitors, employees of the hospital, nearby doctors' offices and the Linda Vista Nursing Rehabilitation center avoid using parking lots and instead park on the streets, she said.

That has created problems for neighbors, said ACH Chief Executive Officer Mark Marchetti.

"We have a tremendous parking shortage. That is a stressor on the neighborhood when our employees are parked on city streets in front of people's houses," he said.

Several years ago, hospital representatives participated in two transportation planning sessions that ultimately led to many organizations in town forming the Ashland United Front. That group lobbied for the $395,000 in federal funding that will be used to build a park-and-ride lot near Exit 19.

The hospital's experience provides a glimpse into the future about whether that park-and-ride facility will actually be used &

with some important differences.

Although the hospital has long suffered from a parking shortage, it was a series of major construction projects on campus that was the impetus for renting the off-site Hersey lot, Johnson said.

Beginning at 5 a.m., a shuttle van traveled back and forth between Hersey Street and the hospital. But it only ferried about a dozen people per day, said Marchetti, who used the van.

Employees didn't like to wait for the van if it was in mid-trip, he said.

"When they were ready to leave, if the shuttle was on a trip they might have to wait a few minutes for it to get back. People were also concerned that if they got a call from school that their child was ill, that they would have no access to school," Marchetti said. "People are accustomed to having their car."

Johnson said 70 percent of hospital employees come from Medford, Eagle Point, Grants Pass and other cities outside Ashland. It was not convenient for people to drive into town to Hersey Street to park, and then go back out to the hospital on the shuttle.

The planned park-and-ride near Exit 19 would avoid that problem because it is on the way for people driving from cities to the north into Ashland.

Johnson said the Rogue Valley Transportation District would need to provide frequent service past the park-and-ride. She said she hopes RVTD officials would consider sending busses up Maple Street to the hospital. Some hospital employees might not be physically able to walk uphill from the existing bus stop on North Main Street, especially during bad weather.

However, in the wake of budget restraints, RVTD has been scaling back bus service &

not expanding it.

To boost use of the park-and-ride near Exit 19, employers would probably have to consider some type of incentives for employees, such as buying them bus tickets. But that would raise questions about fairness and how to give incentives to workers who walk or bicycle to their jobs, Johnson said.

Marchetti said most hospital administrators used the hospital's shuttle service to try and model the behavior they wanted employees to follow, with little discernible impact.

"We're all just spoiled. We like our cars," he said.

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