Oregonians love to drive. The only way to get them out of their cars is to provide a better, more convenient alternative.
The Lane Transit District understands that reality. LTD is several months into a pilot program that offers door-to-door service in Cottage Grove, replacing most of the fixed routes there, and residents have responded.
Buses are LTD’s core business, yet transit ridership has declined slightly. The district has responded by undertaking a broad look at area transit offerings. General Manager Aurora “AJ” Jackson, the district staff and the elected board members are being careful stewards of financial and community resources while moving out of the status quo.
In August, LTD hopes to launch on-demand, point-to-point service in downtown Eugene using all-electric vans — at no charge to riders. This partnership — LTD is working on agreements with the city of Eugene, Lane County, Lane Council of Governments and RideZero — could be a big step toward solving downtown parking woes.
All the participating governments and agencies are to be commended. Free is an awfully good price for getting people around downtown in a Low-Speed Electric Vehicle.
Instead of sinking money into a lengthy, time-consuming study, LTD is launching the service and recognizing there will be a learning curve for everyone. The program will serve as its own research project, revealing when and where people want to travel downtown, how long they are willing to wait for a ride, and other factors. This nimble approach to public transit is refreshing.
The future of transit is a truly convenient, multi-modal system. Someday, an app will allow residents to set their destination and see which method would be fastest, most economical and most environmentally friendly.
Lane County residents care deeply about the environment, and the biggest impact the district can have is to get more people out of their single-occupancy cars. LTD is examining where to adjust service, including where 40- and 60-foot buses are the best resource and where alternative transit makes sense.
The district also is rolling out electric buses, adding them to the fleet of hybrid and diesel buses. Officials are working on funding to have more than 20 electric buses within a few years. This is one more way in which Jackson and the district are recognizing fiscal reality — methodically increasing electric buses as funding allows instead of making the popular but potentially unrealistic promise of an all-electric fleet.
Meanwhile, the district also will be adding electronic fare collection, which riders will find more reliable and convenient than paper bus passes. LTD also plans to make bus passes available for all K-12 students in Lane County.
With all these changes, the district must be equally innovative in informing the public. It is especially important to reach out to large employers, civic organizations and other groups, so the word gets to commuters and households throughout the district.
LTD’s value proposition — that its diverse offerings will not replace personal vehicles but in many ways be better than those vehicles — will need a good amount of education to take hold, along with opportunities to try out the evolving transit system.