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Riding out the fuel price rise

Rogue Valley bus use rises 17 percent over last year

Bus ridership has jumped 17 percent over last year in Jackson County, fueled by a combination of higher gas prices and population growth.

Rogue Valley Transportation District expects more than a million riders in this fiscal year, which could set a record.

People who say, 'No one rides the bus' don't go out in the mornings, said Richard Smith, marketing manager for Rogue Valley Transportation District. In the morning and evenings, the buses are crammed like sardines in a can.

Ridership has jumped from 796,000 in July 2002 through March 2003 to 927,016 during the same period in 2003-2004.

In 1986, ridership hit an all-time high of 1.2 million when students from Medford's high schools used RVTD because the school district temporarily stopped busing.

— While the increased populations of White City, Central Point and Medford are contributing to this year's increase, some riders say they're taking the bus because of high gas prices.

I used to drive pretty much everywhere, said 19-year-old Krystal Brewer of Medford Monday.

The Rogue Community College student started taking the bus about two months ago at the beginning of the new term.

It's more efficient and it certainly helps with the high gas prices, she said.

Another Medford resident, 24-year-old Amanda Smith, said she has been using cars less and less over the past few years. It just costs so much per gallon, she said.

To keep up with demand, RVTD began running bus service every half hour in White City and Medford last year.

Soon it hopes to offer greater frequency to Central Point, which would mean every community served by RVTD will have half-hour bus service except Jacksonville.

Within Ashland, buses run every 15 minutes because the program is subsidized by the city.

Scott Chancey, senior planner for RVTD, said that ridership has tripled within Ashland in the past two years after the city cut the price from a quarter to free.

Before offering free service, Ashland had an average of 6,834 rides a month. 2003, that had jumped to 13,507. This year the average has hit 17,974.

Peter Jacobsen, RVTD general manager, said the district will buy 10 new natural-gas buses in July at a cost of &

36;325,000 each and funded by federal grants. They will hold 35 seated riders compared to 25 to 30 in existing buses.

Because of their age, 10 of the older buses will be retired from the 23-bus fleet. RVTD already has 10 of the cleaner burning buses, but it may decide to keep diesel buses because of possible volatility in natural gas prices. Also, the older natural-gas vehicles have been more expensive to repair than the diesel models.

Jacobsen said the new buses will be the first of their kind in Jackson County because they won't have stairs, making it easier for passengers ' particularly the elderly ' to get on board.

Jacobsen said RVTD plans to keep its fares the same despite the increase in the cost of fuel.

We anticipated some of this increase in prices, he said.

RVTD, which buys fuel in bulk, pays about &

36;1.60 to &

36;1.70 a gallon for diesel, which is less than the cost to consumers because the transportation district doesn't pay taxes.

Fares are &

36;1 for adults, 50 cents for a child traveling with an adult and 50 cents for people aged 62 or older.

Jacobsen said RVTD hasn't changed fares in years and is hoping to keep them low.

This might help some folks deal with the high price of gas, he said.

Motor scooter demand soars as way to cut costs

Motor scooters, a popular means of transportation in Europe, are becoming more fashionable in Jackson County as gas prices climb.

Naumes' Oregon Motorsports in Medford has seen a 160 percent increase in the number of street-legal scooters sold this year.

We're sold out, said Sarah Naumes. But then, we sold out last year as well.

The average price of gas in Jackson County jumped again Monday, to &

36;2.29 from &

36;2.27 on Sunday, according to AAA.

Between January and May last year, 13 motor scooters zoomed out Naumes' door.

This year, 33 of the little motorbikes made by Yamaha and Aprilia were sold.

Naumes said she had more buyers, but We can't get enough from Yamaha.

Both models have 50 cubic-centimeter motors, which makes them technically a moped under Oregon motor vehicle laws. Owners also don't have to pay the &

36;74 fee required of motorcycle owners.

But the most popular aspect of the motor scooters, apart from being fun to ride, is that they are thrifty on gas, said Naumes. The motorbikes can get 80 miles per gallon of gas. Naumes said she plans to order more scooters next year to keep up with demand.

Riders line up for the bus at the downtown Medford transfer station. Rogue Valley Transportation District expects more than a million riders this fiscal year, which may set a record. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell