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Bus riders heartened by measure's passage

Alvin Johnson, a Phoenix resident and former Ashland business owner, gets emotional when he talks about the Rogue Valley Transit District and bus service. “When it stopped everyone was devastated,” says Johnson of the loss of bus services on weekends and later into the night.

He and his wife owned “The Treasure Chest,” which sold Native American artifacts, and they would often take the Number 10 bus to downtown Ashland to save gas money and wear and tear on their cars. He remembers other riders talking about the lack of weekend service after cut backs. “I would hear people saying, I wish Saturdays would come back. We would be so happy.”

That wish has come true. Voters on May 17 passed a levy by an overwhelming majority which will restore some services that had to be cut when prior levy attempts failed. 

Measure 15-141, which would tax Jackson County property owners 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $26 a year on a $200,000 house, was passing 61.44 percent, or 28,007 votes, to 38.56 percent, or 17,578 votes. Taxpayers currently pay about 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for RVTD services.

The five-year tax levy will collect an estimated $1.78 million in the first year. About 62 percent of the funds would help erase a $1 million annual deficit, which transit district officials said comes from increases in operating expenses and less contribution in federal money. 

RVTD District Manager Julie Brown said the levy will keep service at current levels for the next five years — including restarting Saturday service which was cut in 2015. “It helps everybody out. That bus is packed most of the time,” says Johnson.

United Way Executive Director Dee Anne Everson agrees. “The passage of the levy was crucial to low-income folks, aging and people with disabilities," she said. "United Way is focused on education, income, health and transportation — the building blocks of a good life — we think. (Lack of ) transportation can be debilitating to a young mom going to work, for people working to obtain an education, or to go to needed social service and/or medical appointments. To bring back weekend service and (more frequent) day service can truly open the world to people in need.”

In addition, RVTD plans a bus route to the Rogue Community College campus in White City and one in southwest Medford to bring riders to South Medford High. “I see people using it for school and work. Everyone is so relieved it passed,” says Johnson.

The tax dollars also will be used to provide more frequent service along Highway 99 through Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland. RVTD officials also said service to Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center will be more frequent now that the measure passed.

“We appreciate the amount of work, effort and money for people who need bus service. It’s almost like a family on the bus,” says Johnson, who describes bus riders as a sort of family who thank the driver every time they exit. He says even people who look like they don’t have a house are on the bus and so appreciative of the fact it helps them. Johnson says not everybody knew that in the past. “They took the bus for granted.” But he says now that the levy has passed, the whole community gets that “We’re in it together. It’s important to be grateful.”

About 1.3 million people use the bus service annually. The tax will be collected until 2021 and bring in close to $9.5 million, according to the Jackson County voters pamphlet.

RVTD Manager Brown expects to roll out restored bus service in July, with hourly service on Saturdays for all routes from about 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. By September, she hopes to start 20-minute service on Route 10 from Medford to Ashland, which currently runs every half hour and has resulted in full buses that force some people to wait for the next bus. 

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.