Jan. 05--SPRINGFIELD -- Each workday morning, Dorthy Kepler boards a Lane Transit District EmX bus on Pioneer Parkway and heads to her job.
A few minutes later, after arriving at the downtown Springfield station, Kepler disembarks from the large green EmX bus and transfers to a conventional LTD bus that will take her east on Main Street to Giant Burger, where she works as a cook.
Kepler, 39, doesn't own a car, so LTD buses and a bicycle are her "main modes of transportation."
She praised the EmX rapid transit service, mainly because the sleek, trainlike buses arrive at stops every 10 minutes on weekdays.
"It's very efficient," she said.
With the approval of other local governments, LTD started EmX in 2007 on a route between downtown Eugene and Springfield.
Since then, total EmX ridership has increased from 1.4 million annually to more than 2 million, LTD says.
Ridership got a sizeable boost after the second segment, from downtown Springfield to the Gateway area of Springfield, was added in 2007.
Before the addition of the second segment, EmX had an average of 6,451 weekday boardings.
After the 7.7-mile-long Springfield route began operating, the average weekday boardings rose to 9,396.
By October 2013, the last count, average weekday boardings had reached 11,017.
"The EmX system is operating as we hoped it would," said Tom Schwetz, LTD's planning and development manager.
But seven years after it began, the system is maturing, and getting ready to grow again in a costly and controversial expansion.
The first two segments cost more than $64 million, much of it for the construction of bus lanes, bus stops, land acquisitions and bus purchases. LTD spent an additional $7.7 million to open the new downtown Springfield bus station in 2004.
Most of the improvements have been paid for by federal funds collected through the federal gas tax.
The third, and most debated, leg -- the proposed west Eugene route -- will cost more than the first two segments combined, $92 million, also to be mainly paid for by federal funds.
Dan Egan, executive director of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said the EmX extension has had a generally "positive impact on businesses here in Springfield," including downtown.
The new bus station on South A Street is "far superior" to the old bus station next to City Hall, he said.
The new station "spurred business growth on South A," Egan said. "That station is very busy. All you have to do is watch for 30 minutes and you will see all the people coming and going to all sorts of places."
Besides downtown, EmX brings people to the Gateway area, including the Gateway Mall and area employers on International Way and South Game Farm Road, Egan said.
College students, including those from Eugene, are riding EmX to the mall to shop, work or go to movies, Egan said.
"If you are a student and you don't own a car, the system can get you there very quickly," he said.
The first EmX segment -- downtown Eugene to downtown Springfield -- should be viewed as the backbone of the bus rapid transit system, Schwetz said.
EmX buses ply the route through a combination of off-street lanes in the middle of street medians and travel lanes shared with other vehicles.
In Eugene, the route takes buses down the Franklin Boulevard median past the University of Oregon and through Glenwood on the boulevard before they reach the downtown Springfield station. From there, buses travel in a bus only lane in the median of Pioneer Parkway before they re-enter Harlow Road for the rest of the trip past Gateway Mall, businesses on International Way and PeaceHealth's Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend before returning to downtown Springfield and Eugene.
The system is designed to grow, and LTD, with the approval of city and county officials, is intending to add new segments.
This year, LTD expects to proceed with land acquisition and design work so it can extend the service to West Eugene, via Sixth and Seventh Avenues and West 11th Avenue.