The Rogue Valley Transportation District could begin express buses on Highway 99 between Ashland and Medford or a circular route that would allow medical personnel around east Barnett Road to hop a bus downtown for lunch. Those are possible expansions beginning fall 2019 funded by new state money.
“There’s an opportunity of probably doubling our employee pool,” said RVTD General Manager Julie Brown. “We just started the process. I’m not sure what the community wants. That will be determined through focus groups or conversations with the community.”
Development of a long-range transit plan is required to receive money from the State Transit Improvement Fund, approved by the Legislature in 2017. Besides looking as far ahead as 2042, the plan also will include near-term evaluations that will determine where the estimated $2.6 million the agency will receive beginning July 2019 is used.
An RVTD graph projects annual service hours going from 90,000 in the 2018-19 fiscal year to nearly 150,000 in 2019-20. Driver numbers night nearly double from the current 43. State funds can pay only for new routes, longer service days or upgrades to current routes.
Nothing has been decided yet, says Paige West, strategic programs manager for RVTD. Over the next year, a consultant, the public, and citizen and technical advisory committees will all work with staff to develop recommendations for the service expansion that the agency board of directors would need to approve.
“Routes we are looking at will be short range, zero to five years,” said West. “We look to enhance service we have throughout the district. That could mean new routes to underserved neighborhoods or an express on Highway 99.”
A study done six years ago found that 70 percent of valley residents are within a half-mile of a transit route. New services may be targeted at the other 30 percent. That includes people who live on the west sides of Phoenix and Talent and several areas in Ashland. In Central Point areas west of 99 and the Table Rock Road neighborhoods lack close access.
“It’s really too early to know what new routes will come out of this process,” said West.
Highway 99 express service might take 30 to 40 minutes between Ashland and Medford, compared with over an hour at peak traffic times currently, said West.
Consultant Kittelson and Associates, a nationwide transit planning firm, will help committees and the board look at factors such as cost of service, proximity to new populations and job sites, convenience of time and fare costs as part of the master plan.
“At the end of the process we’ll have a proposed list of service enhancements in a draft form that will help make better decisions of where to invest funding,” said West. The agency board of directors would need to approve the final plan by the end of April 2019 to meet state requirements.
In anticipation of increased services, the agency already has purchased additional buses, most recently from Athens, Georgia. There are now 31 vehicles with 20 in use. When the first phase is implemented in fall 2019, the agency looks to use 25 buses daily.
A second rollout of upgrades will occur in Spring 2020. Besides route changes or additions, new stops may be added, said West.
An estimated six technicians and mechanics will be added on the maintenance side. An additional field supervisor, a first responder for issues with buses or passengers, also will be hired, said West.
The addition of Sunday service, something that Brown hears mentioned, would require adding another work shift to the operation, she said.
A 22-member citizens advisory committee was formed specifically for the process. The technical advisory committee includes representatives from all areas in which the district operates.
Besides looking at routes and operations, the master plan also will consider financing. Voters passed a five-year levy in 2016 that allowed expansion of operations. Brown said the agency and its board hasn’t looked at a future levy.
“We’ll look at how much money we will need to put that master plan in place, then make a decision by 2020,” said Brown.
Lawmakers wanted a stable funding source for transit programs across the state when they passed SB2017. Most states fund transit services though sales taxes, said West. Conservative estimates from the Oregon Department of Transportation project $2.6 million to $2.7 million coming to the district annually. The funds come from payroll taxes paid by employees.
A Transit Master Plan open house is set from 3 to 6 p.m. June 6 at the Medford library. Residents can also participate in an online open house that allows visitors to place pins where they would like to see routes. More information can be found at http://www.rvtd2040transitplan.com.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at firstname.lastname@example.org.