Recent surges in school enrollment and changes in employment patterns have led to a proposal by the Rogue Valley Transportation District to expand service at night and feature Saturday routes.

Recent surges in school enrollment and changes in employment patterns have led to a proposal by the Rogue Valley Transportation District to expand service at night and feature Saturday routes.

The RVTD Board of Directors will consider the proposal today at a public hearing scheduled for 5:30 p.m. — and at the same time on Feb. 22 — at the Jackson County Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

RVTD has received a $983,052 air-quality grant that will help pay for the expanded service. Other grants and contingency dollars will make up the difference for a program estimated to cost $2,077,800 over a three-year period.

Paige Townsend, senior planner at RVTD, said both Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University offer more night classes to accommodate additional students.

As a result, five routes, including the most popular from Medford to Ashland, will run until 8 or 8:30 p.m. instead of the current 6:30 p.m.

The change also will help businesses that are staying open later and employees who are working until later in the evening, Townsend said.

In addition, Saturday routes are being added because more people are working Tuesday through Saturday shifts, Townsend said.

Ridership, which currently runs 1.1 million a year, should see an increase of 285,000 under the new program, Townsend said. About 40 percent of the ridership is on Route 10, between Ashland and Medford, which has a bus running every 20 minutes during peak hours.

In recent years, Southern Oregon University has offered more evening and night classes in Medford at the Higher Education Center.

Jonathan Eldridge, vice president for student affairs, said expanding bus routes into the evening is a step in the right direction, but most evening classes don't finish until after 9 p.m.

"It would need to go another hour into the evening to work on an ongoing basis," he said.

Eldridge said students, RVTD, the city of Ashland and other interested parties will meet to discuss the need for even more bus service between Medford and Ashland.

He said one idea is to create an express route between the two cities to drive up ridership.

Eldridge said RVTD would like some kind of subsidy for students to help expand bus service further.

At the same time, the university would like to reduce its overall use of fossil fuels through a bus service that attracts more students and encourages them to park their cars.

Jeanne Stallman, executive director of outreach and engagement for SOU, said evening students come from across the county, and particularly the north end of the valley.

The winter term for SOU has 49 evening classes at the Medford campus, and 54 evening classes at the Ashland campus, as well as one at Umpqua Community College, Stallman said. Enrollment growth has surged 11 percent this winter term over 2011.

She said weekend and evening classes in Medford are particularly popular with working adults.

"This building is just hopping in the evenings," she said.

Townsend said more employers, such as Food 4 Less, Ontrack and Walmart, have shifts that end around 8 p.m., which is one of the factors driving the evening routes.

"We have early-morning shifts, too, but the greatest need is the evenings," she said.

RVTD hopes the expanded routes encourage more people to use buses for running errands in the evenings and on Saturdays.

Riding bikes to and from work at night can be dangerous, said Townsend, who noted that the new schedule will allow more cyclists to use the bus.

Fares will remain the same at $2; $1 for those younger than 18 or older than 62.

Townsend said a new ridership tracking program will help improve scheduling by providing updates every three minutes on individual buses.

Fares from the evening and Saturday ridership will bring in an estimated $80,000 a year, she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.