The Big Stump on the Right
The Rogue Valley Commuter Line is Uniting The Rogue Valley in a Way Previous Efforts Have Failed
The Rogue Valley Commuter Bus Line launched as a grand experiment in September of last year, linking our sister counties, Jackson and Josephine through public transit. The round trip is made from Grants Pass to Medford, with stops in Rogue River and Gold Hill along the way, five times every business day.
Though I live in Grants Pass and work in Medford once a week and consider myself mindful of my carbon footprint, I have never utilized the Rogue Valley Commuter Line.
The Messenger wanted to see how the new line is working out, and there’s no better way than to hitch a ride and soak up that new bus smell.
No one was waiting when I rode my bike to the bust stop, but over the course of those minutes, two more brave souls showed up for the 6:35 a.m. route, the earliest option to leave Grants Pass. Our bus pulled up right on time, which was driven by Dave Acton, who has been driving for JCT for one-and-a-half years. He said that the most people he has taken for the early route was 14, but the numbers climb as the day progresses, bringing upwards of 30 people to Medford at a time on the afternoon route. What Acton has been most surprised by during his time driving the Commuter Line was that people go both ways.
“As many people go to Grants Pass as come to Medford in a day,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
According to Josephine Community Transit Dispatcher Martha Chavez, the current average for the Rogue Valley Commuter line is 67 people per day, round trip. When the line started in September of last year, the initial numbers were 40 trips per day. She adds that some days have seen 70 to 90 riders. A goal for this year is to get the average to 100 riders, and more are welcome, as the bus has the capacity for about 200 per day.
And people aren’t just commuting for work. The Commuter Line is also utilized by those who couldn’t otherwise get to Medford or Grants Pass. Chavez says that people who use medical transport within the county often have medical appointments in the other county, and up until the creation of the Commuter Line, would have to pay a private company to transport them, if they could even afford it.
“One family said that they had not connected with their family in 30 years,” she says. “This new system is able to really help the community. One lady who works at the hospital works long hours and she was afraid of falling asleep while driving said, ‘You guys are saving my life. I can get on and relax.’ There are so many stories.”
I also found it relaxing, yet strange, to sit back and relax on my way to Medford, as I am usually driving myself. Plus the commute time is double on the bus compared to driving. Most of that delay comes from going to the other stops along the route, Rogue River and Gold Hill, which added two people to our ranks. The most notable of these was the Gold Hill stop.
The aforementioned “big stump on the right” is the Gold Hill bus stop on the Rogue Valley Commuter Line, located in the Moose Lodge parking lot. When we pulled up, an average-sized man was dwarfed by the massive stump he was sitting on. Soon he had paid the $2, like the rest of us, and the humongous stump waited for its next mini-visitor.
The fare for a one-way on the Commuter Line includes a one-hour transfer ticket that can be used to get as far as Ashland after arrival at the Front Street Medford Bus Station. That $2 price is a pretty screamin’ deal, considering it costs about $7 per rider, says RVTD’s Associate Planner, Jon Sullivan.
Sullivan says that federal grants fund most of their bus service. Jackson County voters recently chose to end evening and weekend routes on their ballots, which will return their service to what it was in 2010. Last year’s most recent proposed 3 percent property tax increase was the third or fourth attempt of that ballot measure to pass in Sullivan’s seven years with RVTD. The grant that makes the Commuter Line go ‘round is for three years, so in September 2017, the Line could potentially stop.
“It is a sustainable way to travel, especially with our natural gas buses,” he adds.
Sullivan says that RVTD was the first transportation district in Oregon to have natural gas buses in 1981. Now 18 out of their 23 buses run on natural gas. He adds that RVTD has also tested bus GPS technology as well. Sullivan’s major project right now is preparing an app for riders to watch the bus headed their way in real time.
“We are able to collect data on schedule adherence, see where people are boarding and when buses cross a certain line,” he says. “Now we are working towards linking to an app as soon as August.”
Ever since I saw the movie Speed, I have been wary of buses. Especially when my prized bicycle is attached to the front of it. But we both made it safely from Grants Pass to Medford without any bomb threats, and all for the very affordable price of $2.
But don’t take my word for it.
“People can be afraid to get out of their comfort zone,” Chavez says. “People aren’t sure they can rely on it. You have to be brave and try it. All it takes is one time, and then you will wonder why you haven’t done it sooner.”
Full schedules are available at rvtd.org and co.josephine.or.us or call 541.779.2877 for Jackson County and 541.474.5452 for Josephine.