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Waiting a little longer for the bus

The announcement that Rogue Valley Transportation District has proposed cutbacks in its schedule to balance its budget comes as no surprise after voters rejected a requested tax levy in November that would have maintained existing service levels. The unfortunate consequences of the levy failure and the service reductions will fall most heavily on those who have no alternative to bus travel.

RVTD has struggled for years to provide bus service to the Rogue Valley by cobbling together grants with a property tax levy that hasn't increased in 30 years. The November levy would have cost property owners an additional 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, added to the 18 cents county property owners now pay. For the owner of a house assessed at $150,000, that would have meant an additional $1.62 a month.

Not only would the levy have maintained existing service levels, but it would have let RVTD keep $400,000 in federal funds.

Proposed cutbacks include reducing the Ashland-Medford route from every 20 minutes to every 30 minutes, reducing evening hours and Saturday service on many routes, and eliminated the portion of Route 1 that connects to the Medford airport. 

Opponents of tax measures are fond of saying people who use public services should pay for them through user fees. Bus riders here already pay some of the highest fares in the state, but no bus service can survive for long on fares alone.

Charging fares high enough to support the bus system wouldn't work, because the people who need the bus the most — the working poor, the disabled and the low-income elderly — could not longer afford to ride. For some of those people, reduced bus service will mean they no longer can get to work. RVTD officials say riders have told them they will have to quit their part-time jobs on weekends or evenings when bus service hours are reduced.

Reduced service won't hurt just those riders who depend on buses to earn a living. It will hurt the overall bus system, too, because the loss of routes means ridership will drop, costing it an estimated $243,000 in fares.

Asking everyone to contribute a small amount so that a service can be provided to all, even if not everyone uses it, is part of a functioning community. A bus system that can't offer enough routes and frequent stops to be convenient won't survive in the long run, and we will all be the poorer for it.