Grant Madden, EDN
In June 2011, the Lane Transit District (L.T.D.) announced its 2011/12 year fiscal budget, in which it detailed a plan to not cut any services. It does however plan to curb spending on employee benefits such as health and disability. Unfortunately one of the first things to occur was the elimination of a State funded program, which allowed thousands of Oregon middle and high schoolers to ride the bus to school, for free. This was not an LTD decision, but LTD certainly got the credit.
The free bus service has been in place since 2005, ferrying almost 7,000 student a day – approximately 1 million students each school year. For students (and parents) who depend on the bus service…whether it be economic, domestic situations or school district alignment, the elimination of the free bus pass will now require students to buy their own tickets. The most economical method recommended by the Lane Transit District is the $24 a month or $65 for three month pass. Currently there are no special concessions available for school students.* According to LTD, the funds from student fares will make up for a portion of the lost state funds, which allows the District to maintain current levels of bus service.
The free bus service originated with a Business Energy Tax Credit Program, where private business pursuing an energy conservation project would apply for a 35% tax credit in advance, and supply the Lane Transit District 25% in a lump sum. The free bus program has only been in effect for 5 years; for 36 of the 41 years LTD has operated there has been no such program.
State legislators decided not to extend the funding to the energy conservation program, with school children becoming the unwitting victims. The Lane Transit District expects student ridership to drop by 40% due to the lack of funding.
Despite forecasting a loss of almost half a commuters a year, most of whom may be forced back into private vehicles. With more vehicles on the road, a 1984 Federal Highway Administration assessment and proposed to create a traffic lane on Sixth and Seventh Avenue between Charnelton and Garfield Streets. The proposal is to create a dedicated lane for LTD buses in order to permit “more transit and right turning vehicles out of the traffic corridor.”
According to LTD’s director of marketing, planning and accessibilty Andy Voboda: ” LTD is not taking away a lane for the West Eugene EmX line. The design calls for a mix of lane uses, including a shared lane, adding a lane at congested intersections, and running in mixed traffic as the bus does today along W 11th.”
Lane Transit District currently does not operate a bus route through that corridor.
The proposal by the LTD to dedicate one lane of vehicle traffic for an EmX route, coupled with the loss of the school free bus pass, adds fuel to the opposition to the LTD’s west Eugene EmX extension. Citizen groups like Stop The Green Dragon and Dear Lane County… have formed, opposing the EmX expansions and LTD’s approach to public transit in general.
The State Government has also received numerous complaints concerning the proposed EmX program and has now begun its own investigation into the matter. The Oregon Department of Transport announced on August 11th that it will conduct it’s own traffic analysis of adding busses to the corridor. No date of delivery for the State Government assessment has been given.
*UPDATE: according to KEZI News:
To help ease the transition, LTD says it will provide free bus passes for students grades 6 through 12 for the month of September. After that, those students will have to pay to ride.
The Eugene School District is also stepping in to help. It will provide LTD bus passes to 4J high school students who meet the following criteria:
· Qualify for free or reduced-price school meals (parents must give written permission to share this information)
· Live within the attendance area of the high school they are attending
· Live more than 1.5 miles from the school and
· Do not receive school bus transportation.
For those who don’t qualify, families can contact point2pont solutions to find out more about its free services. Point2point solutions connects people who want to carpool, walk or ride their bike to the same location together. Call 541-682-6213 or click here for more information.