Better buses 

In addition, most bus routes will move to more favorable 30-minute intervals as opposed to the current frequency of an hour or longer, said Rick Cain, COTPA’s executive director.

“We’re not going to be dipping into neighborhoods as much. We have localized the routes as much as possible to meet our priority needs,” he said. “People are not going to be able to walk out of their houses and get on the bus anymore. They may have to walk a couple of blocks.”

The Nelson-Nygaard study was presented to the Oklahoma City Council in April. Since then, COTPA officials have studied the plan and made adjustments to accommodate specific needs.

Cain will present the agency’s final plan to the city council in about three weeks and then seek approval from COTPA trustees. Public hearings about the changes will begin in September with plan implementation tentatively scheduled for early next year.

The hearings likely will occur at libraries in the city’s four quadrants.

Top priority
Of all its recommendations, the Nelson-Nygaard study revealed improved frequency was the single most important issue among Metro Transit riders. As a result, two additional buses will be placed on city streets to accommodate the new 30-minute frequency level.

In addition, all routes have been modified — some shortened and others extended — said Wayne Simpson, Metro Transit’s scheduling manager.

“Most of these routes were established 30, 40 years ago. On some, the times have never changed,” Cain said. “There will be pushback, and that’s the challenge for the [city] council. They will have to field those calls from people, especially the elderly or the handicapped who are used to walking out of their homes and straight onto the bus.”

Nevertheless, Metro Transit officials are confident improved frequency will translate into increased ridership based on pilot programs conducted in 2010 and 2011.

“In those years, the council gave us money to increase frequency on two routes,” Cain said. “On one route, the number of riders jumped almost immediately by about 20 percent. On the other one, it was close to 30 percent.”

In one instance, the route frequency dropped from one hour to 40 minutes, while the other route dropped from 65 minutes to 32 minutes.

Rick Cain

By achieving the 30-minute frequency level, future frequency improvements will be a discretionary decision.

“Thirty minutes is acceptable for Oklahoma City. After that, it comes down to local preference,” Cain said. “We’re not in a Chicago or New York where you need a bus every five or 10 minutes.”

Route retained
Cain also said the agency will use a portion of its $1 million budget increase to keep a route in far northeast OKC that had been targeted for elimination, according to the Nelson-Nygaard study.

Concerns expressed by Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis Jr. and Oklahoma County Commissioner Willa Johnson, he said, convinced COTPA to rework Route 19, the only bus line that services that area.

Cain labeled the route area as “low-income” where a majority of residents are in poor health. Although the route will remain, its service area has shrunk in size and will not extend as far west as it does presently.

Route 19 is indicative of the problem that outlying areas present to Metro Transit planners. In the past, Cain said, COTPA was mandated to accommodate housing and commercial developments that weren’t within the transit boundaries.

“Now, the council is saying no when developers build outside the service area but still want service,” he said.

In two specific cases, the Oklahoma City-County Health Department and the federal Social Security Administration (SSA) built new facilities on the outer edges of the city.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to spend $250,000 to put a bus out there [servicing the SSA],” Cain said.

In both cases, talks are under way to provide alternate public transportation options.

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