Take a hike? 

Mitchell, a regular rider on Metro Link, recently told the Oklahoma City Council that a plan to raise transit fares will hurt her and others who depend solely on daily bus service.

Mitchell lives in northeast OKC and does not own a car, so she takes public transportation across town to her job at a Walmart Supercenter on W. Reno Avenue.

She uses both Metro Link and Metro Transit. Metro Link runs after 6 p.m. and on weekends, while transit stops after 6 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays.

Mitchell now pays $56 a month to ride Metro Link, but a hike would force her to pay $112 a month, she said.

“I’ll have to not pay some (other) bills just to keep riding the bus,” she said. “It will have a major impact on my income.”

Since the proposed fare increases were announced, Mitchell has carried a petition with her, routinely asking other bus riders who oppose the increase to sign their names and provide home addresses.

So far, she has obtained an estimated 100 signatures.

“There are tens of thousands of people who ride the Metro, and I came here as the voice of the people who ride the bus,” she said minutes after making public comments to the council on Oct. 22.

“There are a lot of people who will be impacted. There are people on walkers who can barely ride. There are parents with little kids who are on a budget. It affects us all.”

Projected rates
However, Metro Link passengers may save money by walking to pre-designated pickup locations and pay $1.75 per ride.

“We want to minimize the economic impact, but people need to remember that they will be paying for a premium door-to-door service, just like a taxi,” said Rick Cain, executive director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA).

“Our (Metro Link) ridership coverage is limited because [we] can only handle so many special requests.”
Still, Mitchell isn’t giving up as she continues to fight for her fellow bus riders.

“It’s mind boggling we won’t have bus service for people who can’t walk to a bus stop or afford the extra cost,” she said. “I’ll keep asking for the signatures and hoping things change. Some people say they (COTPA officials) are going to do what they want, but I couldn’t have that attitude.”

However, there is some consolation on the horizon for Metro Link riders, according to COTPA spokesman Michael Scroggins. Likely next spring, COTPA planners will review Metro Link’s designated stops and “look at how [they] can improve services with potential additional stops.”

Misinformation
Because of the publicity surrounding mass transit in OKC, some residents also have been misinformed that Metro Transit bus coverage will be eliminated in northeast OKC, Cain said.

“She (Mitchell) talked about routes 1 and 4 going away, but they will be covered by a different route number,” he said. “She also thought route 19 was going away, but that will stay.”

Early on during planning, Route 19 was indeed targeted for elimination, but was saved when the city council increased COTPA’s  budget by $1 million. Cain labeled the route area as “low income,” where many residents are in poor health. Although the route will remain open, its service area will shrink and will not extend as far west as it does now.

Bus bonuses
While some bus riders like Mitchell are unhappy with the proposed changes, other citizens who attended previous public hearings said they were willing to pay an extra 25 cents for increased frequency on regular bus routes, Scroggins said.

Most routes will move to 30-minute intervals — a change from the current frequency of an hour or longer, Cain said.

Improved frequency was the single most important issue among Metro Transit riders, according to a study conducted by Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates, a transportation planning firm. As a result, two more buses also will be placed on city streets to accommodate the new 30-minute frequency level.

Another significant proposal based on the study’s findings would eliminate neighborhood bus stops and keep regular Metro Transit routes on major streets. The study also recommended that all Metro Transit routes be modified — some shortened and others extended.

COTPA’s board of directors will vote on proposals at its November or December meeting.

If approved, the route and frequency changes will take effect the first week in March, Scroggins said.

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Tim Farley

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