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Low-income Ashland residents eligible for free bus tokens

The city is offering free bus tokens to low-income residents who were hit hard by a fare increase that accompanied a city-requested increase in service.

A City Council majority voted in May to change the city's subsidy of Rogue Valley Transportation District bus service so that buses would come every 15 minutes instead of every half-hour. To fund the more frequent bus service, fares in Ashland increased from 50 cents to $1.

The council earmarked $10,000 for free bus tokens for low-income residents. The change to more frequent service, but higher fares went into effect last week.

Ashland High School staff members will distribute free bus tokens to low-income students, while Ashland Senior Center staff members will give out the tokens to low-income residents who are 62 or older. Low-income adults who are younger than 62 can get free bus tokens at the senior center if they live in Ashland and have a current Oregon Trail Card, city officials said.

Oregon Trail Cards, which took the place of food stamps in the state, are government-issued debit cards that low-income people use to buy goods at grocery stores. City Councilor Eric Navickas suggested in the spring that the cards could be used as an efficient way to identify low-income people.

Adults who are applying to get bus tokens at the senior center must prove that they live in Ashland by showing a driver's license, identification card, city utility bill, Social Security statement or other document or official mailing.

Residents who use RVTD's Valley Lift van — which serves frail seniors, people with disabilities and others who can't use the regular bus — can get free tokens by showing a current Valley Lift card.

Residents who think they qualify for free bus or Valley Lift tokens can call the Senior Center at 488-5352 to set up a time to meet with staff.

Even with a doubling of bus fare to $1 in Ashland, residents still pay less than the $2 people elsewhere in the Rogue Valley pay to use the bus.

That's because the City Council voted to pay $187,588 this fiscal year to subsidize RVTD bus service in town to increase frequency and also keep bus fare here lower than elsewhere.

The $1 bus fare in Ashland is for a one-way trip. But a rider can request a "transfer" that is good for another bus trip within 90 minutes.

"So, essentially $1 is good for a round-trip if taken within 90 minutes," RVTD Senior Planner Paige Townsend said.

It's too early to tell whether the changes in bus service in Ashland will have an impact on the number of people who ride the bus, Townsend said.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.