Ashland bus ridership has plummeted in the year since funding problems led to the loss of free and frequent bus service there.

Ashland bus ridership has plummeted in the year since funding problems led to the loss of free and frequent bus service there.

People took 291,000 bus rides in the 2006 fiscal year, when rides were free and buses came every 15 minutes.

But they are projected to take just 93,250 rides in the 2007 fiscal year, which ends June 30. Bus fare is now 50 cents, and buses come every 30 minutes.

"We don't know who are the missing riders," Ashland management analyst Ann Seltzer told the City Council this week.

The city lacks demographic data about people who rode the bus before ridership numbers fell, she said.

The city of Ashland subsidized Rogue Valley Transportation District bus service, so it was free from 2003 through June 30, 2006.

But faced with a $1.2 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year, RVTD officials sought $535,000 to continue free and frequent service — up from $290,000.

With only $290,000 budgeted for the bus service subsidy, Ashland City Council decided last summer that fares would increase to 50 cents and buses would come every 30 minutes.

RVTD raised bus fares to $2 elsewhere in the valley.