ASHLAND — The city's bus service leaves students and low-income residents stranded on evenings and weekends, a research firm told city planners Tuesday.

ASHLAND — The city's bus service leaves students and low-income residents stranded on evenings and weekends, a research firm told city planners Tuesday.

"The same service that can help enhance service for students also will benefit low-income households by helping people get to work who aren't working standard 8-to-5 jobs," said Susan Wright, senior engineer with Kittelson & Associates Inc.

The Portland-based engineering firm gave the city a "C" grade for bus transit on main streets and a "D" grade for bus transit on the fringes of town.

Kittelson is analyzing transit in Ashland to help the city's Planning and Transportation commissions rework the Transportation System Plan.

The new plan will focus on providing safe transportation routes for pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, trains and airplanes — instead of focusing primarily on vehicle traffic, as past plans did.

Ashland's bus ridership has fallen dramatically since 2006, when the city started charging riders. The Rogue Valley Transportation District recorded 150,000 Ashland riders in the first six months of 2006, when rides were free in town, but only 27,000 during the first six months of 2010, when each trip cost $1, according to Kittelson's report.

The city, which subsidizes the RVTD bus program, especially would like to increase ridership in the coming years, said Mike Faught, public works director.

"We have (Southern Oregon University) sitting there with 6,500 students, and almost half of them are driving back and forth every day to school," he said.

About 1,300 of the students live in Medford and commute to classes in Ashland, said Larry Blake, planning commissioner and SOU's campus planning and sustainability officer.

Students have told campus officials they don't take the bus more frequently because it doesn't run on evenings and weekends, when they often have classes or jobs, he said.

"Students don't operate on the same time schedule as a lot of us," Blake said.

In addition to expanding service hours, city planners discussed several other ideas, including providing a direct route from Ashland to Medford.

"To me one of the biggest flaws in the system is the fact that we don't have an express bus that gets people basically from Ashland to Medford," said Planning Commission Vice Chairman Michael Dawkins.

To further reduce the number of people driving into Ashland each day, Transportation Commissioner Brent Thompson suggested charging a toll on roads entering the city.

"Are cities allowed to charge people for driving into them, like London did?" he asked. "It's something to consider."

Commissioners are still working to come up with a list of recommendations for improving the bus program, which they will send to the City Council.

"I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg," Planning Commission Chairwoman Pam Marsh said. "It's a great conversation."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.