Intracity Route 17 will connect with two intercity routes, 1x and 10
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
A brand new bus route will circulate every hour in Ashland beginning June 26.
Rogue Valley Transportation District will unveil Route 17 to provide local residents with a new way to get around town.
The route runs from the Asante Ashland Community Hospital to Albertsons, traveling along Maple Street, Hersey Street, North Mountain Avenue, East Main Street and Wightman Avenue.
The route will also circulate up Helman and Oak streets as well as on Clay Street and Tolman Creek Road, providing greater reach into more residential areas.
RVTD briefed the Ashland City Council about Route 17 during Monday night’s study session.
Initially the service will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. In the future, RVTD hopes to circulate a bus on Route 17 more frequently.
RVTD has already rolled out new routes in Medford as part of an ongoing expansion effort.
“Ashland service is the next up,” said Paige West, RVTD Planning and Strategic Programs Manager.
The expanded service is being funded by a Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund.
While the stops are still being worked out, they will be at one-quarter to one-half mile intervals. It will take up to one hour to complete the route through Ashland, based on the number of stops, school zones and railroad crossings, as well as traffic.
The new route will take passengers to popular shopping areas near Albertsons and Shop’n Kart, near various local schools and to various medical offices located around the hospital.
West said the route was selected based on information gathered from a micro-transit service offered by RVTD.
Based on this data, no bus service would be provided above Siskiyou Boulevard because of insufficient demand. Southern Oregon University is already served by Route 10.
West said Route 17 will provide service deep into areas of Ashland where there is high demand for bus transportation.
As more drivers are hired, RVTD will expand the service earlier in the morning and later into the evening.
The city already has two bus routes, including Route 10, which connects Ashland, Phoenix, Talent and Medford, and Route 1x, which provides a fast freeway connection between Ashland and Medford. Route 10 is the most-used route in RVTD’s service area.
Transfers from the two existing bus routes to Route 17 will be available.
West said RVTD had hoped to roll out Route 17 earlier but faced challenges hiring additional drivers.
Over the past six months, RVTD has managed to hire 18 new drivers, bringing the total to 71.
Another headwind has been a decline in ridership during the pandemic.
“The steepest decrease is among older passengers and those that are disabled,” she said.
During a good year, RVTD had more than 1 million passengers, but during the pandemic that dropped to about half.
During the current fiscal year, ridership is projected at 800,000. “It’s still not where we want it to be,” West said.
The new route as well as other new routes in Jackson County are made possible from $3.5 million-a-year in ongoing state grant money, which is derived from payroll taxes.
West said Route 17 is considered a priority route under the grant program.
Councilor Bob Kaplan asked if RVTD would consider offering a free fare trial to get more people interested in the new route.
West said RVTD is looking at a couple of programs in Ashland to attract riders, including a low-income bus program and another program that employers can use as an incentive to attract workers.
“We did have free transit in Ashland in the ’90s,” she said. “It was very successful.”