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Group seeks e-shuttles for town

A sparky group of Ashlanders is working to ease downtown congestion, parking woes and pollution by bringing an electric bus to shuttle tourists and locals around town.

The newly formed “E-Shuttle Team” is a citizen group led by aerospace engineer and electric vehicle activist Stephan Boutenko and by Ashland City Councilor Carol Voisin. “Cities all over the world are demanding electric buses,” said Boutenko, “Ashland could really benefit from them.”

Through word of mouth and social media, Boutenko and Voisin called for interested community members to meet and help bring an electric shuttle bus to Ashland. The group is in contact with regional electric vehicle organizations such as the Southern Oregon Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Association (SOHEVA), and with leaders at BYD, a company that makes electric buses, to procure a 30-foot demo bus. “We originally had planned for the bus to arrive on July 3rd for First Friday and then for the July 4th Parade, but the company just sold that bus to Brazil,” Boutenko said.

While the group was disappointed it couldn’t get the bus in time for the parade, members said they are excited that they will have a bus to demo this summer. “When people see how clean, quiet and cute the e-shuttles are, there will be a lot of enthusiasm. All we need is a chance to show them off,” said member Donna Swanson.

The group hopes to prove to city leaders that e-shuttles will mitigate parking congestion downtown and encourage enjoyment of all that Ashland has to offer. “We’re much better off with clean e-shuttles than building more parking areas,” Boutenko said.

Although Voisin is a city council member, she made clear that the group is not connected with the council, “This is a citizen-led movement. Once we have the support from citizens, we can take this to the city,” she said.

“The sooner we get buses, the better,” said group member Elizabeth Hallett. “The earth is withering, and we don’t have time to waste with committees and consultants.”

The group doesn’t plan to stop with just one bus, “Eventually, we would like to have three or four shuttles running continuously so that visitors could have service and those in Mountain Meadows or the north and south ends of towns could easily get around,” Voisin said. “The city bus now runs every 30 minutes, and doesn’t run at night or weekends. We are stuck in our cars, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Member Sue Springer, who is also with the Ashland Gallery Association, adds that shuttles have already been successful here. “The Taste of Ashland event had shuttle service from AllAboard Trolley to take people to galleries, and people really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s good for people and local businesses.”

The biggest obstacle in implementing anything new is cost, group member say. The buses themselves cost about $275,000 without the battery. However, Boutenko reasons, “When you go electric, you are automatically saving money. It’s only $0.16 a mile compared to diesel, which is about $4 a mile. Plus maintenance is minimal.”

Voisin says the city has money earmarked for transportation, including $325,000 from the sale of property at 380 Clay St. “I’d much rather have that money go for e-shuttles that get people downtown without their cars than just increase the number of parking spaces,” she said. Voisin said she believes that getting the word out about e-shuttles and getting feedback from riders will go a long way in convincing the city to adopt an e-shuttle program.

“Once we get the bus, people can ride it, touch it and see how great it is. Ashland is a community that is committed to the environment, and I think the citizens will make it happen,” she said.

For more information about the E-Shuttle Team or to join its efforts, contact James Stephens at james.stephens@soheva.net or hannahbakken24@gmail.com.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at decker4@gmail.com.