Kicking the auto habit

Americans have always had a love affair with their vehicles, but with soaring fuels costs, the relationship has soured. People are re-evaluating, distancing and in some cases &

calling it quits.

One option for cutting fuel costs is to trade in a gas gulper for a sipper, as Phoenix resident Will Bartell did recently.

Bartell, 59, said good-bye to his 14 mpg Honda Pilot for a cute-as-a-button, three-cylinder Smart Car that gets up to 45 mpg on the highway.

Bartell first saw the Daimler AG cars in Europe a couple years ago and was immediately taken with the idea of downsizing.

He paid $15,500 for his car from a dealership in Portland and said he, his wife and kids fight over who gets to drive the two-seater.

Bartell said he loves peoples' reactions when they see him driving by in his pip-squeak auto. The car is only 106 inches long and weighs 1,808 pounds.

"They laugh, stare, wave or give me the thumbs-up," he said. But Bartell is also laughing &

all the way to the bank as he drives past the gas pumps more than he stops.

People on the bus

Some might find riding the bus a less glamorous option than a pint-sized car, but you can hardly beat the price. Buzzing from one end of Ashland to the other on a Rogue Valley Transportation District bus costs 50 cents. A bus ride from Ashland to Medford, $2; from Ashland to White City, $2; and from Ashland to Central Point, you guessed it, $2.

"Public transit is more affordable than driving your vehicle to work every day," said Paige Townsend, senior planner for RVTD.

She said RVTD rider numbers on every route increased by 9 percent overall in April and May, and she attributes that to higher fuel costs. Townsend said the Ashland route accounts for 45 percent of their ridership.

"Route ten is seeing more and more passengers," she said. "And the drivers said they are seeing a lot of new faces."

RVTD offers discounts to the elderly, disabled and children and special monthly passes. For more information, contact 779-2877 or .

Pedal power

Scott Krupe, manager of Cycle Sport at 191 Oak St., said he's seeing a record number of people purchasing bikes for their work commute.

"People come in every day saying they are sick and tired of spending so much on gasoline," he said. "And guess what, folks? These prices aren't going away."

Krupe said biking, walking or skateboarding should be the first option for quick trips, whether it's heading to work or grabbing lunch.

"If you have to go somewhere and it's less than two miles, why drive a car? And more than half of all our car trips are less than two miles," he said.

Krupe said getting around Ashland on a bike is a breeze, citing a Bike Transportation Alliance 2002 report that rates towns on their bike-friendliness.

"Just to give you an idea, they gave Ashland a B-minus, compared to Medford, which rated a D-minus," he said.

"There is a change in the air," Krupe said. "The other day I rode my bike to the Co-op and couldn't find a place to park my bike. That's never happened before."

James di Properzio and his wife have been schlepping their three kids around on bikes for years.

"We try real hard not to use the car," he said. "Once in a while I might think about taking the car because it's rainy or cold. But the last time I filled up the gas tank, it cost $50. The sticker shock of that redoubled my enthusiasm for riding the bike."

Car sharing

Ashland resident Becky Brown is laying the foundation for car sharing in Ashland, a program that allows drivers to become members of a group that share a vehicle. It's designed for people who don't do a lot of driving, but still want to use a car once in a while.

She recently applied for a federal grant called the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality fund and attended a car-sharing convention in Philadelphia.

Brown said she would buy a car and purchase special software designed for car sharing programs.

"People can just go online, see when the car is available and reserve a time slot," she said, adding that people in the program would pay a $10 to $15 per month fee to belong to the program, and then pay an hourly and per mile rate when they use the car.

"I don't have a car on the road yet," Brown said. "But I receive two or three e-mails a week asking if we're up and running yet. With gas prices the way they are, I expect more and more inquiries."

Brown said there's a lot of enthusiasm in Ashland for the program; she just needs funding to get it off the ground.

For more information, contact Brown at 890-1936 or

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226 or .

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