Bus use continues to fall in Ashland

Ashland is continuing to tweak bus service in an effort to boost flagging ridership numbers.

Bus ridership has fallen nearly 14 percent after the Ashland City Council decided in September 2009 to improve bus frequency from 30 minutes between buses to 15 minutes between buses. At the same time, fares went up from 50 cents to $1 per ride.

City officials had hoped greater convenience would prompt more people to ride the bus, reversing a three-year trend in declining bus use.

"Rather than seeing an increase in ridership, we've seen a decrease in ridership," Ashland Public Works Director Mike Faught said.

Bus rides are still cheaper in Ashland because the city government subsidizes Rogue Valley Transportation District bus service in town. People riding the bus in other cities in the valley pay $2 per ride.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to continue paying RVTD $187,589 per year to provide frequent bus service at 50 cents per ride.

Currently, buses follow a loop through town and travel in the same direction.

Councilors directed city staff to work with RVTD to get one bus going in one direction, and the other bus traveling in the opposite direction.

That way, people can catch the bus that is traveling toward their destination, rather than having to ride a bus away from their destination and stay on it until it loops back to where they want to go.

Faught said the city has gotten feedback from bus riders that it's not convenient to have buses all traveling in the same direction.

The city of Ashland has subsidized RVTD bus service in town for years to boost ridership in order to cut traffic congestion and pollution, provide an alternative to cars and reduce wear and tear on roads.

In 2006, bus use shot up to 150,000 trips per year when rides were free in Ashland and busses came every 15 minutes. Buses also traveled in opposite directions.

But after RVTD asked for a big increase in the amount the city paid to subsidize service, the City Council decided fares would have to be 50 cents per trip and buses would come only every half hour.

Ridership continued to fall, dipping below 40,000 rides, leading the city to make its unsuccessful bid last autumn to boost ridership by increasing bus frequency to every 15 minutes with a $1 fare.

Mayor John Stromberg said he wished there was money available in the city budget to restore free bus service with 15 minute frequency, and also to add evening and weekend hours.

"We were getting people out of their cars," he said.

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

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