View Full Version : Downtown corridor eyed for OKC mass transit options

06-13-2007, 08:05 AM
Downtown corridor eyed for OKC mass transit options

by Brian Brus
The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – The city’s Department of Transit Services has taken a big step toward the development of a light-rail or other mass transportation system by putting out a request for professional analysis of a downtown corridor, transportation administrator Rick Cain told the Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday.

Cain, who heads the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, also clarified later that interest in a multimillion-dollar project does not conflict with COTPA’s decision to cut the city’s bus routes this summer. The route reductions are due to overheating concerns, and are actually a testament to the public’s reliance on reliable mass transit, he said.

Cain’s request for $1 million more than his department received last year was approved Tuesday as part of the City Council’s unanimous vote to pass a $758 million budget for fiscal year 2007-2008. The budget will go into effect July 1 unless a protest is filed within the next two weeks.

About a year ago, COTPA produced a “fixed guideway” study that projected into 2030 the city’s most heavily used traffic corridors. About a dozen such corridors were identified and matched with likely modes of mass transportation, including variations on bus lines and rail-based vehicles.

Assuming that the city will, indeed, move ahead someday to construct a major transit system and that federal money will be involved, COTPA administrators last week started working on the years-long process necessary for securing those funds, Cain said. The authority chose to focus on the Downtown Circulator Corridor, which would be based in the central business district with branches to high-density areas including nearby housing districts, Bricktown and the state Capitol, and through the expected development just north of the Oklahoma River following the relocation of Interstate 40.

The transportation authority last week opened the bid process to hire an engineer to analyze the corridor and provide more specific numbers than earlier estimates, he said. Based on such narrowly defined criteria, a single, preferred vehicle for mass transit will be chosen and weighed for its viability. That choice should be made by September, he said.

“Clearly, there are a number of folks in town who are interested in some form of light-rail system,” he said. City leaders were surprised last month when results of a nonscientific pubic survey for possible MAPS3 tax issue goals revealed more than three times the support for mass transit than the second-most cited issue.

But Cain said early research suggests that the oft-cited train-like “light rail” system is likely to give way to “modern streetcars,” which are smaller, single vehicles that follow a constructed path in less space and that work well with tight corners.

“But now we’ve got to do the math on it and see if it is, in fact, the best choice or whether there are other alternatives that would make more sense,” he said.

That action might seem on its face to fly against COTPA’s decision to pull buses from nine of its routes. One route, which runs to Will Rogers World Airport, will be cut entirely, while the other affected routes will run fewer times each day.

But Cain said the issues are largely unrelated. The city’s buses last summer had several air conditioning shortfalls during 100-plus-degree days, “and whenever you have bus service in that kind of environment, it takes a beating. … We just had a lot of problems in keeping our AC systems up and also not having breaks in service,” he said.

The authority has increased its staffing and improved its maintenance management since then, he said. “But I was not completely happy as we approached this spring and going into summer that we were where we needed to be. … I did not want for our patrons experience the same problems we had last summer.”

So the route reductions are planned in part to ensure COTPA has sufficient backup buses if similar problems arise again, he said.

As for how the shortfall intersects with light rail, he said, “In several cities they’ve encountered a problem that when they introduce a rail or any kind of special transit service, people are concerned it’s on the back of bus services. … That’s clearly not the case.

“At this point in time, we’re a long way before we introduce any rail service, and to be able to do that, we’re going to have to figure out a way where we have some type of dedicated funding we can rely on … not only for rail operations but also our ongoing bus operations,” he said.

“In fact, if you do get into any kind of rail operation, you have to enhance your existing bus system to get people to the rail stations.”

06-13-2007, 12:04 PM
One route, which runs to Will Rogers World Airport, will be cut entirely, while the other affected routes will run fewer times each day.

Sounds like a huge mistake to me, we're going backwards on this one, if anything, we need to increase mass transit to the airport. I can't believe no one, including anyone at the airport, didn't file a complaint for this route being cut.

06-13-2007, 12:37 PM
Sounds like a huge mistake to me, we're going backwards on this one, if anything, we need to increase mass transit to the airport. I can't believe no one, including anyone at the airport, didn't file a complaint for this route being cut.

I agree. If we had decent bus service in this town I would use it. What a shame to be cutting it instead of finding ways to expand it and entice more riders.

06-13-2007, 12:40 PM
I don't think public transportation in OKC will ever be acceptable so long as COTPA is in charge (or at least until COTPA cleans up its act).

06-13-2007, 12:41 PM
I'm guessing it's somewhat of a political stunt so that next year they can say that they had to cut routes because they didn't have enough money to fix the ones they had in a timely manner or have enough to where the routes could be filled with other buses.

In that case, it could actually help the cause for getting extra funds dedicated to our transit system. Or it could just make the city/state angry enough to do something foolish.

I'm hoping for the former. But who knows...

06-13-2007, 12:46 PM
Agreed. The problem with mass trans. in OKC is the people that run it. They do a horrible job at planning and make people not want to use it. The best plan, get rid of all of them and start all over.

06-13-2007, 01:04 PM
From looking at the site, it looks like there is only one bus line (29) that runs to the airport, and it also runs up and down Meridian to the various hotels and beyond.

Why on earth would that route be competely cut? I'll drop Jen a line at WRWA and see what she has to say.

06-13-2007, 01:23 PM
I dropped a line to Jen and also Rick Cain, head of COPTA who was quoted in that article.

Once I hear back, I'll let you guys know.

06-13-2007, 01:26 PM
If I can afford to fly, I can also afford cab fare downtown to my hotel rather than a slow city bus :)

I doubt the WRWA bus was getting much use.

06-13-2007, 01:34 PM
I used to take the bus to the airport all the time here in L.A. even when my company was paying for cab fare or parking. I did it because it was convenient and environmentally responsible.

And when I travel I always look for some sort of mass-transit as my first option when I get into town. I'm quite sure OKC would be the only city of it's size without bus service to it's main airport.

06-13-2007, 01:39 PM
If I can afford to fly, I can also afford cab fare downtown to my hotel rather than a slow city bus :)

I doubt the WRWA bus was getting much use.

Hey, what kind of thinking is this? And all this time, I thought I liked you. :boxing2: It's not about being able to afford other transportation silly. Riding the bus (in some cities) is more convenient and is better for the environment, blah blah blah. It's soooo much easier to be able to jump on a bus, get dropped off at the curb and fly somewhere and not have to worry about parking.

06-13-2007, 01:47 PM
Hey, what kind of thinking is this? And all this time, I thought I liked you. :boxing2: It's not about being able to afford other transportation silly. Riding the bus (in some cities) is more convenient and is better for the environment, blah blah blah. It's soooo much easier to be able to jump on a bus, get dropped off at the curb and fly somewhere and not have to worry about parking.

True, what I probably should have said is considering the condition of our bus system and the rather motley crew you get to ride with, I'm taking a cab. Also, when our bus system changes its routes every few months, how is anyone supposed to be able to figure out how to get anywhere?

06-13-2007, 01:52 PM
Yeah, we need an amazing marketing firm to come in, really SELL riding the bus to this city and come up with amazing bus routes and schedules. It would be great if the city also encouraged employers to have an incentive plan for those that ride the bus.

06-13-2007, 02:07 PM
I don't see how an employer is going to be very gung-ho about that. I'm just assuming from my experience with the "trolley" downtown, but COTPA buses are very unlikely to run on time.

Downtown, every 20 minutes has meant every 45 minutes in some cases.

In theory, I ought to be able to walk a block from home, catch a COTPA trolley to bricktown for 25 cents. I shouldn't ever have to wait more than 20 minutes. I can't ever remember just waiting 20 minutes though :)

06-13-2007, 02:16 PM
For people to use mass transit of any kind (at least those with any choice) it has to be convenient and reliable.

It's a bit chicken-and-egg because until ridership increases, it's hard for cities to invest in more infrastructure which would result in less waiting and more spots to hop on.

I like that the city is getting so far out in front of this, doing the planning now and having at least the beginnings of a system ready for when the demand starts to pick up.

As for the bus service, I also worry about the large amount of lower-waged employees that are employed at the airport. I'm sure many of them rely on the bus to get to and from work.

06-13-2007, 02:45 PM
Service to the airport isn't for airline passengers. I can't think of anyone who would carry luggage on a city bus. That service is for employees at the airport and the hotels. The problem with taking a bus to work in low density areas is the amount of time it take to get work. Many of these bus routes run on an hourly basis. Miss the bus and what do you do?

I think a lot of you missed the main point of the story - rail coming to downtown. I found this whole story to be good news.

06-13-2007, 03:11 PM
Regarding luggage on a bus, most times the busses or trains that serve an airport are configured to accomodate this. Usually some seats are replaced with a tiered luggage rack or two. I'm a bit of a mass transit nerd so I've seen the setups just about everywhere I've been, which is most places in the U.S. and Europe. :)

Anyway, I agree it's good news about the plan for rail/streetcars. I really like the way the city is doing so much advanced planning.

06-13-2007, 03:12 PM
Austin has an "airport flyer" that runs frequently and I've carried luggage on it. It's awesome. Rail downtown is great, but we also need good a good bus system.

06-13-2007, 06:42 PM
No offense to anyone here intended, but this Cain character reads like a real mouthbreather. He seems to bring to the table the same mentality of the Joe Van Bullhead's of the world.

The "rail" this discusses sounds like a sideshow for downtown routes only. Is that transportation?

06-13-2007, 06:51 PM
That's not how I read it -- it seems to me that initially, light rail is going to start with one, maybe 2 lines. Obviously, that isn't going to be enough to serve the whole city, so we'll see a restructuring of bus routes around that system.

That there would need to be more routes -- I just don't know about that.

06-13-2007, 09:52 PM
I think you are right soonerguru. This article is about a downtown route only - hence the modern street car option. This is absolutly the best way to start. The system needs to grow from the inside out. No one would ride a train from Norman to downtown if there was no way to get around once you were there. A downtown rail system will also encourage more downtown residents by connecting downtown employment areas, entertainment districts, and residential areas.

06-14-2007, 08:04 AM
Here's the response I received from COPTA:

"Mr. Cain asked me to respond to your inquiry concerning the elimination of service to Will Rogers Airport. It is true that Route 29 is the only route that goes to the airport and it will be eliminated in late June, due to extremely low ridership. We will however continue to have a limited amount of service to the airport by expanding Route 11, which currently services SW 29 and Meridian, to make three trips a day to the airport. Route 11 will serve Will Rogers at 7:42am, 11:42am and again at 4:57pm each weekday. The website is currently being updated to reflect this change.

Thanks for your email and I hope that I have answered your questions."

06-14-2007, 08:16 AM
Steve Lackmeyer, pleaseeeeeeeeeee do an article on this. Talk about the chicken and egg dilemma and that they need to promote mass transit better, etc.

06-14-2007, 08:44 AM
For more information, call:
June 13, 2007 Davan Gardner 297-2976

METRO Transit Seeks Community Input on

Proposed METRO Link Service Changes

Oklahoma City- Due to reductions in federal Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) funding and the decision of local jurisdictions to preserve more utilized public transportation options, METRO Transit proposes elimination of METRO Link weekday routes.

METRO Transit will hold a Public Hearing in order to receive comments concerning the proposed reductions. Once approved, changes would become effective June 30, 2007.

Public HearingThursday, June 21st, 2007
Midwest City Library
Meeting Room A
8201 E. Reno Avenue
Midwest City, Ok
(along the METRO Link 80b Black Route and along the METRO Transit Route 15).

METRO Transit will conduct the Public Hearing to describe the proposed elimination, suggest alternative transportation options, and to receive comments. The hearing is planned to last 30-45 minutes.

The proposed service changes would consist of the elimination of service on all METRO Link routes operated in Eastern Oklahoma County between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. All forms of Routes 79 and 80 would be eliminated.

Patrons must notify METRO Transit at 235-7433 (TDD 297-2602) 48 hours in advance if a sign language interpreter or other disability accommodation is needed at the hearing. Written comments or questions about the proposed changes will also be accepted at the COTPA Administrative Offices through June 22nd, 2007 by e-mail to the webmaster at (; by phone to COTPA Customer Service at 235-7433 (TDD 297-2602); or by mail to:

Customer Service
Attn: METRO Link
300 SW 7th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73109

METRO Link is a transportation van service created to complement the regular fixed route service. The weekday schedule currently serves Midwest City, Del City and Choctaw.

METRO Link weekday passengers may find the following options to be a viable alternative to the proposed METRO Link elimination.

Route 15 - Regular bus service serving Midwest City, including Rose State College, MWC Library, Crest Foods, Wal-Mart and Heritage Park Mall.

Grocery Shopping Shuttle - Van service to designated grocery stores one afternoon per week for persons 60 and older.

Congregate Meal Site Transportation – Daily van service to a nearby nutrition site for a noon meal for persons over the age of 60.

METRO Lift - Lift-equipped vans for qualified persons whose disability prevents them from using the regular METRO Transit bus system.

Share-A-Fare - Discount taxi fares for qualified persons who are disabled or over the age of 60.

06-14-2007, 07:39 PM
Does anyone here actually ride the bus regularly? I have personally never ridden the bus but am intending on trying it sometime this summer. Just to see if I can get from my house dowtown and back againg without calling someone to come pick me up. There is a bus stop literally across the street from my house, so it should not be too hard.

Also, has anyone used Amtrak for a shorter trip, say to Norman or Purcell? I have ridden it to Denton once when my mom lived about 30 minutes away and she picked me up and then brought me back to OKC a week later. It worked out nicely. I was just wondering if any body used it for commuting?

06-14-2007, 10:53 PM
Also, has anyone used Amtrak for a shorter trip, say to Norman or Purcell?

Yeah, I rode it to Purcell so we could take our little cousin from Kansas on the train. Then we got picked up and came back.

06-15-2007, 07:11 AM
You can use it to commute...if you have a boss that doesn't care if you are an hour late half the time.

06-15-2007, 07:46 AM
Does anyone here actually ride the bus regularly? I have personally never ridden the bus but am intending on trying it sometime this summer. Just to see if I can get from my house dowtown and back againg without calling someone to come pick me up. There is a bus stop literally across the street from my house, so it should not be too hard.

I ride the bus a few times each week to work, and I enjoy it tremendously. I have to get a ride at the end of the line, however, because there is a 45 minute walk from the last stop to my work. That isn't a problem. Two people at my house work at the same place, one goes to work earlier than me, so he picks me up. he gets off before I do, so he takes the bus home and I drive home because I generally finish after the bus stops running. So we are able to get two people to work at different times with only one vehicle running, which saves us lots of money.

I enjoy riding the bus because it gives me time to catch up on my reading.

07-29-2007, 12:23 PM
CCOKC... did you get a chance to ride the bus?

I decided to see what it would take for me to get from my house (near SE 44th & Bryant) to my workplace (near NW 50th & I-44) on the bus with just walking to and from the bus stop. It would be a 2 hour ordeal. Wow.

If I didn't have a car, I could understand doing everything I could to make sure I kept my job. Even if it included riding a bus for two hours.

I still haven't ever ridden the bus in OKC. I'm tempted to just to try it. But, even considering taking it downtown for an evening in Bricktown I run into a problem. The last bus coming back to my neighborhood leaves the Transit Center at 6:45 PM. I couldn't even spend an evening in Bricktown. It would be more of an afternoon. The Saturday schedule is even worse with the last bus leaving at 5:30 PM.

Maybe my starting point and ending point are just odd, but 2 hours on a bus to travel 15 miles is crazy. And not to be able to catch a bus to go downtown at night is a bummer.

This exercise just made me realize that it's gotta be difficult for them to determine when and where routes should go.

I wonder how a rail system would tie into all this...

07-29-2007, 01:06 PM
Buses don't have cachet. There are so many negative stereotypes associated with them. If you want people to use mass transit who've never used it before, I think trolleys and light rail are much more appealing. I still think light rail running north and south between Guthrie and Norman, with trolleys as your "circular" form of transportation is what would generate the most new ridership. But if buses are the choice we're stuck with, the key is frequent buses that run on time. I take the bus all the time when I visit London, and when I lived in Denver I lived in Capitol Hill and didn't even have a car. But, buses ran every ten to twenty minutes and they were rarely more than 5 minutes late. You want to be able to walk to a bus stop and know that a bus will be there soon, without having to consult a timetable. And in the Oklahoma weather, you really need to know you won't have to wait long. You cannot assume you have to have full buses to increase ridership. OKC will need to run more vehicles empty at first in order to achieve an increase.

David Pollard
07-29-2007, 01:55 PM
I recently visited my parents back home in OKC and decided to take a day trip on Amtrak to Ft. Worth, just to be able to compare the service to what I am used to here in Europe. To be honest the service leaves MUCH to be desired. We started 20 minutes late, got about 2 miles down the track and stopped for over an hour. We ended up being SO frustrated that we actually got out in Norman and, after a fun day at the OU's new art museum, took the bus back to downtown OKC from the OU campus. Was actually the first time in my entire life that I had taken public transportation in OKC other than a school bus.

My point is that in order for even a light rail to be effective for OKC, there must indeed be a guarantee of a least reasonable service. In additional, the condition of the Amtrak carriages were, well, abysmal! If OKC does ever have the vision and courage to put in light rail for a commuter line I strongly suggest that they make it a quality and punctual service that actually encourages ridership. Make it a real treat. Noone in their right might would jump on a filthy, late train. For an example of what does work, take a look at Minneapolis' train... real nice. Better yet, check out Amsterdam, Cologne, Lille (France) to see cities that have really done good jobs at making their public transportation both attractive AND effective.

07-29-2007, 02:28 PM
No I haven't ridden the bus yet. I have just been so busy this summer. I do follow at least one bus every day on my way to work and have noticed that they seem to have more riders on them than I have ever noticed. As I go down Portland they seem to stop at every bus stop and either drop someone off or pick someone up. Also I see people on every stop on 10th street in the morning. So I know people rely on the bus system to get to work and back. But just like you were saying Luke, they don't seem to be a viable option just to get downtown for a night out.

07-30-2007, 10:55 AM
A system in transit: Though light rail idea is picking up speed, officials propose cuts to some bus routes

By Bryan Dean
Staff Writer

After years of neglect, momentum is building for an improved public transit system in Oklahoma City.
If it happens, it could have a dramatic effect on ozone pollution.

Light rail is at the center of early discussions about a possible MAPS 3 proposal. But city leaders and environmental advocates agree such relief could take a decade or more, meaning the city will need to look elsewhere to avoid falling out of compliance with clean air standards this summer.

"If we could have a public transportation system tomorrow, I think we would all take it,” said Jennifer Gooden, co-founder of Sustainable OKC. "We really have to do something in the short term.”

Automobiles account for more than 60 percent of the city's ozone pollution, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said a long-term air quality solution must include reducing automobile pollution, and that public transportation will play a big role.

A recent Internet survey by the city shows public transit is by far the most popular idea for a potential MAPS 3 proposal. Cornett said the survey shows the city hasn't done enough to support public transit and is continuing to fall behind.

Transit officials have proposed temporary cuts to eight bus routes this summer.

Zach Taylor, executive director of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, said the city is suffering from a lack of planning decades ago.

‘Real' economics
Momentum appears to be shifting.
Those responding to the city's MAPS 3 survey mentioned public transit ideas more than three times as often as any other issue.

Clean air is only a small part of the reason for such a shift, Taylor said. Taylor lists two other factors that are leading the drive for mass transit: increased traffic congestion and high gasoline prices.

Although Oklahoma City's traffic congestion is minor when compared to most other major cities, that that may not always be the case, Taylor said.

"Between now and 2030 we will see a 35 percent increase in the number of cars on the road and the number of trips and travel,” Taylor said. "We can't build enough roads to service all of the needs for our long-term future.”

The idea of congested roads 20 years from now probably means less to the average Oklahoma City resident than $3 per gallon gasoline, Taylor said.

"The economics are real,” Taylor said.

"For some people, it's a matter of getting to and from work and still having groceries to put on the table.”

‘Plan for our future'
The Association of Central Oklahoma Governments tracks and tries to control ozone pollution in the area through a public education campaign.
Television advertisements, billboards and other marketing efforts encourage people to forego activities that contribute to air pollution, such as filling up gas tanks and mowing yards when weather factors such as hot temperatures and low wind make heavy pollution likely.

Taylor said the group does a survey at the end of each summer to see how effective the advertising campaign is.

Results show people may see clean air as another driving factor for public transit.

"I think it's part of the picture and long term, it will be part of the solution,” Cornett said. "But for mass transit to be successful, we have to have a higher level of ridership than we would expect to have now.”

Cornett and other city leaders are talking about light rail now because they expect it will take a decade or more to get such a system in place. Light rail would likely cost more than $100 million, city officials say.

Taylor said something else must be done in the meantime. Boosting the city's bus service would be a good start, he said.

Light rail could prevent more stop-gap measures in the future, he said.

Gooden said it makes sense to get started on a long-term solution as soon as possible.

"Public transit is our future,” Gooden said. "We can do it now and plan for our future, or we can wait until it's a crisis.”

BY PAUL HELLSTERN, The Oklahoman To reduce your contribution to ozone pollution, follow these government recommendations:
•Keep your vehicle maintenance up to speed: A poorly maintained car can release up to 100 times the pollution of a well-maintained one.

•Inflate your tires to the recommended levels: You'll improve your gas mileage by 3 percent.

•Choose a different commute: If you left your car at home one workday a week for a year, you'd save, on average, $455. To find someone to carpool with, call the Rideshare Carpool Matching Program at 235-RIDE.

•Ride the bus, bike or walk.

•Consolidate your errands : Vehicle travel is doubling every 20 years.

•Don't idle: You will save gas if you turn your car off when you expect to be idling for 30 seconds or longer. Skip the drive-through.

•Say no to stop-and-go: When possible, plan your driving trips around rush hours. When you do have to stop and go, do so slowly, accelerating and braking gradually and anticipating stop signs and traffic lights.

•Open your windows: Car air conditioners reduce fuel efficiency. •Fuel up in the evening or early morning: Don't top off your tank, as it lets harmful emissions into the air.

07-30-2007, 11:31 AM
There was a letter to the editor in the DOK today in which a woman was complaining about irregular schedules and an hour-long wait for the trolley while she was attempting to show out of town guests around Bricktown. If trolleys truly only run once an hour, that is an unacceptable form of public transportation. Reliable, frequent service is the only way to get people out of their cars.