Bus fares to stay $1 until 2012

The Ashland City Council will keep a subsidy in place that lowers bus fare inside Ashland to $1 per ride — at least until the end of the year.

The subsidy that cuts bus fare from the regular Rogue Valley Transportation District price of $2 per ride was set to expire on Oct. 31.

The council's Tuesday decision to extend the subsidy, which costs $76,926 per year, will give council members more time to figure out ways to boost mass transit use.

For years, the city of Ashland has tinkered with a subsidy it provides to RVTD to improve bus service and lower fares in town.

Bus use skyrocketed from 2003 to 2006, when the city subsidized free bus rides in Ashland, but that became prohibitively expensive. The cost of free bus service in town now would be $700,000 per year, Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught said.

Since abandoning the free service, the city has tried various changes to fares and bus frequency, but has never achieved the success of those earlier years.

Ridership has continued to decline during the three years that the $1 fare has been in place.

RVTD took people on 36,558 rides in Ashland during the first six months of 2009 but recorded 31,175 rides in town during the first six months of this year.

"What we're doing right now is clearly not working," Councilman Russ Silbiger said.

City staff have proposed researching a new plan to boost the $1 fare price to $2.

Free bus passes would be provided to high school students and low-income adults and senior citizens at a cost of $50,000 to the city. The city already provides $10,000 worth of free bus passes for high school students and low-income senior citizens.

Under the proposed new plan, people who work in Ashland could ride the bus for $1, a program that would cost the city $20,000.

The city also could team with a private shuttle service that would pick up tourists from hotels. City officials have not yet developed cost estimates for subsidizing a private shuttle.

Council members raised concerns about the cost of subsidizing bus service, using up city staff time administering the reduced price program for workers in Ashland and spending money to shuttle affluent tourists around.

Councilman Dennis Slattery said city and RVTD officials are not certain why bus use is declining in Ashland. He said there is demand among Southern Oregon University students and others for weekend and night service, which RVTD does not offer.

The cost to provide service from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. weekdays would exceed $288,607, Faught said. Wait times for buses would be 60 minutes, he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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