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Spotlight: Ashland Connector is a success

Stop for a moment and think of a future Ashland that has been recognized as a leader in achieving climate goals with social equity at the forefront.

What do you see in this future?

One thing you probably see is a lot fewer cars on the road. It’s a city where you can live and work and rarely if ever use your own car. Ashland residents built this future over many years by recognizing that transportation is a top source of greenhouse gas emissions and that we could achieve our climate goals only if we transform how we move about the city and connect to our neighboring communities.

“Progress toward this vision is already underway,” says Linda Peterson Adams, chair of the city’s Transportation Commission. For $2 ($1 if you qualify for reduced fares; free for children younger than 9), between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the Ashland Connector will take you anywhere you want to go in the city of Ashland. The Connector is an on-demand ride-hailing van service offered by the Rogue Valley Transportation District. After downloading the app on your smartphone (or calling 541-842-2055) and registering, you just tell the Connector where you are, where you want to go, when you want to be picked up, and off you go. If you do a round trip that takes less than 90 minutes, you pay for only one trip. The vans are ADA-accessible and equipped with a wheelchair lift.

With its low fare, nine-minute average wait time, and a 96% on-time record, the Connector has been a great success for Ashland, despite the pandemic, says Paige West, planning and strategic programs manager for RVTD.

“Uber and Lyft cost more,” agrees Peterson Adams. “Also they don't use union labor, and they don't have the same level of background checks for drivers or COVID safety protocols.

RVTD has strict COVID protocols throughout its system. The Connector can carry up to 13 riders, but currently accepts only two riders at a time unless they’re in the same party. “Masks are required at all times when on the vehicle, and when boarding and deboarding,” explains West. “We clean all our vehicles at least every two hours, with a contracted service. The drivers are also required to wear a mask at all times, and the passengers don't really get that close to them because boarding is from a side door. The exposure risk is very low.”

Ashland’s 2019 Transit Feasibility Study called for “flexible public transportation service to areas that cannot support fixed-route transit.” With encouragement from the Transportation Commission and the group Ashland Citizens for Transit, RVTD secured state and federal funding for an 18-month pilot project. “It’s a great example of collaboration between the city and RVTD,” says Adams. “Ashland is too small to have its own transit district.”

West says that RVTD considers the Connector to be a success and will continue offering the service beyond the pilot project. Within weeks of its January 2020 launch, the Connector was completing 150 trips per week. Although ridership plunged with the onset of COVID, “coming out of the summer of 2020 the ridership has held as steady as when it was first launched,” says West.

In one year, the Connector completed 5,774 trips. Peak ridership was more than 200 completed rides during the last week of October. Most of these trips are two miles or less, and there is a growing base of residents who are riding the Connector regularly.

“Microtransit” options like The Connector have become increasingly popular as cities seek to offer the convenience of on-demand ride-hailing and flexible routes while also reducing the number of private vehicles on the roadways. A 2019 Boston Consulting Group study of four current microtransit initiatives found that on-demand transit has great potential to reduce congestion, pollution and social inequality.

“The fight against climate change will not be won without removing gas-powered cars from the streets and without a strong push toward green, shared modes of transportation,” the BCG analysis concludes.

“Reducing the number of cars on the road is absolutely essential if we are to achieve our climate goals,” says Adams. “If we can be less auto-centric, we can build long-term, equitable transit solutions. The Connector is an important part of that journey.”

Read more about the Ashland Connector at ashlandconnector.org.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the SOCAN-Ashland Climate Action Project. She can be reached at lorrie@socan.eco.

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Ride the Connector free

Readers can take two free rides on RVTD’s Ashland Connector through April 30 by using the promo code SOCAN. Here’s how to do it:

Download the “Rogue Valley Connector” app in the app store on your smartphone — it works just like ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft.

Trips can be booked through the app, or by calling the Ashland Connector line at 541-842-2055 Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The connector runs between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

On your first two rides, enter the promo code SOCAN and those rides will be free.

Refer a new rider, have them set up a new account, book a ride and take a trip through the RVConnector phone app and you receive four free trips on the Ashland Connector service.

To claim your free trip, email ashlandconnector@rvtd.org with the person’s name/phone number and they’ll add four free trips to your account. There is no limit to how many people you can refer and how many free trips you can rack up.

RVTD's Ashland Connector bus parks at the Plaza. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune