“So we said, ‘If we’re going to do this by seniority, we’re going to require that you bid it and that you stay on it at least for nine months and then we’ll see how it works out’,” he explains. “What we agreed is to pay a premium not for driving the service, but for giving up your bidding rights.”
Pangborn mentions that there are some riders and drivers that prefer the traditional system’s slower pace. Some riders prefer taking their time, chatting with the driver during the ride. Some drivers prefer the traditional routes as well. “There are some drivers that love that [the new service] and there are others that go, ‘Give me a root canal without the anesthetic’,” he says with a laugh. “They like the interaction. ‘Hi Mrs. Jones. Did your daughter come down for Mother’s Day? Did you have a good time?’ And they like it a little looser. If you take an extra five seconds until Mrs. Jones sits down it’s OK because you can pick it up somewhere else.
“This is doors close and off we go,” he emphasizes.
He reflects for a moment on his personal experience with the systems’ differences. “When I ride it, there’s been a little bit of a sense of loss on it, but this is what our community needs, particularly if you look at global warming and sustainability.” He adds, “If we had one bus carrying 30 people every 15 minutes and we can now have a bus carrying 40 people every 10 minutes, what have we done in reducing the carbon load and carbon footprint in terms of global warming? This is what we need. We really have to have a system that’s convenient enough that people will make that choice and say, I’ll do that.”
Getting People on Transit
“Ridership has been great,” Pangborn says with a large smile. “We all had our fingers crossed. It jumped up the first week, but it has steadily built every week except when school was out because it goes right by the University of Oregon.” LTD is running more than a 50 percent increase in ridership compared with what it had before.
This new service has sparked more ridership with the regular fixed-route service. “We’ve had to add extra service to that,” Pangborn states. “It was only 15-minute service and we’re adding extra buses in the afternoon because more people are riding with a transfer.” He adds, “That’s counterintuitive. It must be something about this that is working.”
As Vobora and I ride from the office to downtown Eugene on the EmX, there were two bicyclists onboard and most of the seats were full. Vobora mentions that the seating capacity is about 38 and standing brings capacity to about 100. Due to the left-hand doors, you lose a lot of seating, but that doesn’t affect most riders, as most trips are fairly short with people hopping on and off as we ride.
For the time, riding on EmX is free. “There’s a couple of things happening here and this really made sense for us to make it free,” Pangborn states. “We’re assuming 2010 this Springfield section will open and as we add that, then we would add fares at that time.”
Many people ride the traditional bus service to the Springfield or Eugene station, then ride EmX to their final destination. Many riders are from the University of Oregon or Sacred Heart Medical Center and they are already group pass holders. Pangborn adds, “So we said, well, let’s make it free because people have paid in one way or another.
“The other piece is the fare technology. It’s evolving so quickly that you know, it’s kind of like computers. What was a hundred thousand dollar machine two years ago is now a 50 thousand dollar machine that does more.”
LTD’s group pass was an idea it got from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Pangborn says. “They needed a way to move people around so they came up with this group pass.” So LTD approached the University of Oregon.
“At that time we had really simple drop boxes for fareboxes so we said we can’t do registering. We can’t keep track of who rides and who doesn’t.” Pangborn explains, “We said, ‘we’ll tell you what we can do. We have a fairly good idea of how many students are riding and, therefore, what they’re paying for fares. We’ll take that amount of money plus what we think is going to be an extra cost to provide more service. We’ll add that into it and we’ll essentially divide it by the number of students and say that’s what it’s going to cost each student per quarter or per term to have their student body card function as a pass.’