If Jude Whalen had his way, he'd take the bus every day.

If Jude Whalen had his way, he'd take the bus every day.

Because bus rides are the 2-year-old's special treat, mom Jean Whalen makes sure they climb aboard on the one day each year when "Santa's lights" are on the route.

"I think it's just a really fun way to get in the holiday spirit," says Whalen, 40.

The Whalens of Ashland were among more than 90 people Friday who viewed some of East Medford's most beloved displays of holiday lights from the seats of three Rogue Valley Transportation District buses. The tour has been an RVTD tradition since 2005, when senior planner Paige Townsend traced the buses' route using the newspaper's online interactive map of holiday lights in the valley.

"I just remember as a kid always driving around with my parents the week before Christmas," says Townsend. "I thought, wouldn't it be nice if we could do the driving ... let people enjoy the holiday season a little bit more."

The city of Medford joined the effort, promoting the tour in its recreation guide. RVTD provides the buses at its own cost, while the city charges a $3 registration fee per person and provides the pickup and drop-off point at west Medford's Santo Community Center.

"It's been getting booked every year," says Townsend. "Usually, we see entire families."

Like most tour participants, Melanie Schorsch isn't a regular RVTD rider, but she is a connoisseur of local holiday-lights displays.

When she saw an announcement for RVTD's event last year, she added it to her itinerary that includes several nights in December of driving around Medford, Central Point and Eagle Point with friends.

"This is a big thing to me," says the 51-year-old Medford native. "The displays have gotten a lot better."

Among her favorites are some of the more unusual, seasonal shows featured in the newspaper over the years, such as retired Hedrick Middle School band teacher Ron Bartlett, who greets visitors to his East Jackson Street home with a saxophone serenade while wearing a Santa Claus suit.

"He's really personable," says Schorsch.

She also lauds the "elf-man" house on Medford's Bristol Drive, saying that she could visit four or five times and still marvel at the figurines handmade by Don Schmidt.

"You can't even see a blade of grass in his yard," says Schorsch.

RVTD can't feature all the city's highlights on its hour-long tour but tries to give riders the most glitz per glance.

"Greystone Court and then the Candy Cane Lane," says Townsend. "We always drive through those areas."

The program also adds a bit of education to its Christmas cheer, giving RVTD one more opportunity to reach out to residents who have no experience with the bus.

"It's clean ... it's modern," says Townsend, explaining that 16 buses in RVTD's fleet of 23 run on compressed natural gas. The buses provides more than a million trips per year — 4,500 per day — between Medford, Jacksonville, Central Point, White City, Eagle Point, Phoenix, Talent, Ashland and the airport.

"We just do a really quick 101," says Townsend.

Jude Whalen needs no encouragement to climb into a seat by himself and relish the ride. His mom says she also gets to enjoy the light show when she's not the one driving.

"He sat by that huge window," says Jean Whalen. "It's just the perfect view."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.