January 11, 2008

LTD’s EmX line wins award for ‘sustainable transportation’

On the eve of its first birthday, Lane Transit District’s EmX bus rapid transit line has received an international award.

The EmX “Green Line” between downtown Eugene and downtown Springfield has won a 2008 “sustainable transportation honorable mention” from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in New York City.

The EmX line was the only project in the United States recognized, sharing honorable mention status with projects in Guatemala City and Pereira, Colombia. The top two awards recognized alternative transportation projects in Paris and London.

The award comes as EmX completes its first year of service on Monday — with ridership numbers that have far exceeded initial projections.

LTD officials had said they were hoping, within 20 years, to see a 40 percent increase in ridership compared with the former Route 11 that ferried riders between the two downtowns.

Instead, EmX ridership has roughly doubled — from 2,700 to 5,400 weekday riders — in just its first year. The one-day record is 6,189 on Halloween. In all, EmX has exceeded 1.4 million boardings in its first year.

The line’s 60-foot-long hybrid electric-diesel buses carry riders along a four-mile route via Franklin Boulevard on an every-10-minutes schedule. Sixty percent of the route features exclusive bus-only lanes, which has allowed EmX in most instances to meet its goal of traveling between the two downtowns in 16 minutes.

According to LTD survey data, many riders are so convinced by EmX’s efficiency that they perceive it as covering the route more quickly than it actually does, spokesman Andy Vobora said.

EmX appears to have attracted a sizable number of new riders who previously rarely or never rode the bus.

“When you do surveys of people who don’t ride the bus, the reasons always come down to travel time and convenience,” Vobora said. The EmX “has struck a chord in terms of ease of use of service.”

EmX is contributing to increased ridership figures district­wide. For example, weekday ridership in October grew 16.7 percent compared with the previous October, with EmX accounting for 11.8 percent of the gain, Vobora said.

It’s unclear whether EmX’s early success will contribute to future efforts to expand the system. LTD hopes to begin operating its second leg, a Pioneer Parkway loop in north Springfield, in 2010. Initial plans to build a third leg in west Eugene have met resistance from local residents and trolley rail advocates.

The Pioneer Parkway loop will serve the new River­Bend hospital that opens later this year and the Gateway Mall commercial district. The planned corridor appears to have spurred some development interest along the route, Vobora said.

“When we hear a developer say ‘I’m putting my business on International Way because I know there will be a future EmX line there,’ that gives us hope that people are starting to catch the vision,” Vobora said.

The sustainability award recognizes projects that improve public transportation, help reduce private car use and vehicle-related air pollution, or reduce urban sprawl by linking transportation to development.

Tom Schwetz, LTD’s director of planning and development, will receive the award at a Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday — EmX’s first birthday.

LTD plans its own celebration of the one-year milestone during Earth Day in April.

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