Mt. A bus could be a thing of the past

The bus that hauls skiers and snowboarders to Mount Ashland may have made its final run.

Ski area managers say they will eliminate bus service to the mountain this winter unless they sell enough tickets in advance to cover the costs of operating the buses during weekends, Monday holidays and the Christmas school holidays.

"The buses have been running half full the past two seasons," said Rick Saul, Mount Ashland's marketing director.

Saul said Mount Ashland will need to sell 265 of its 10-pack ticket books by Nov. 9 to operate the bus. Individual round-trip tickets will cost $12 this season (if the bus runs), but the ticket books will sell for $96, a 20 percent discount from the cost of 10 individual round-trip tickets. A one-way ticket will cost $9 this season. The tickets can be used by anyone, not just the buyer.

Saul said no ticket packets had been sold as of Thursday morning.

He said if the ski area falls short of its goal, the bus will not operate and those who bought ticket books will receive full refunds.

Saul said ridership on the ski bus has fallen precipitously in recent years, and the ski area lost more than $17,000 operating the bus last year.

The bus stops in Central Point, Medford and Ashland to pick up skiers and snowboarders, and makes about 50 trips to the mountain in an average year. In the 1990s, the buses carried 4,000 to 5,500 skiers and snowboarders during each season. That number plunged to just 2,054 in the 1999-2000 season, and during the past three seasons, ridership has averaged just 1,473. During the winter of 2007-08, just 1,242 people, or about 23.5 riders per trip, used the bus to reach the mountain.

Saul said most bus riders are children whose parents don't ski, or young people who lack dependable transportation to get them to the mountain in snow. He said the increasing popularity of SUVs and all-wheel-drive vehicles, especially among skiers and snowboarders, likely contributed to the decline in ridership.

"The SUV boom in the late 1990s really changed the dynamics of our public transportation effort," he said, noting that many cars in the ski area parking lot these days are all-wheel drive.

"You didn't see that in 1992," he said.

Time may also be a factor in the bus' declining popularity. The ski bus leaves Central Point at 6:50 a.m. and reaches the mountain around 9 a.m., about twice the time a private car would need to make the trip.

Bus service to the ski area was an on-and-off proposition during the resort's early years, but mountain managers have run a bus every winter since 1993. No-frills school buses that were used to haul skiers for more than a decade were replaced by chartered motor coaches two years ago to make bus travel more attractive for adults.

Saul said operating costs for the bus have increased about four-fold since 1993, and it now costs about $500 for each round trip.

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