Former MetroTransit director Randy Hume, back when trolleys were shinny and new, and could be counted on to hit pretty much every corner of downtown every 10 minutes (and five minutes during the lunch hour). Sure, the map wasn’t easy to follow, but compare it to what’s out there today (if you can find it on COTPA’s web site).
Steve Newlon, a board member with Urban Neighbors, suggested we go a bit more in-depth on the blog with the group’s report on public transit. I couldn’t agree more. So let’s take a look at their actual report:
TASK- The UN Transportation Subcommittee has reviewed the Public Transportation options in the Downtown area. This review of current transportation ability was stimulated by concerns regarding the success and programming of the existing system.
ASSESMENT- Urban Neighbors has solicited input from its membership of downtown residents and workers as well as tourists and the general public. We have engaged in a fruitful dialogue with Metro Transit and we have reviewed available information and opinions to analyze the current situation.
FINDINGS- The subcommittee realizes that the current available transit service is faced with many challenges. The downtown areas use has changed dramatically over the past decade with new potential transit users and trip needs. The existing transit system is-
1. Poorly understood by the General Public (my comment: Urban Neighbors is being kind. How much time and money has been invested into educating the public about the Oklahoma Spirit trolleys compared to what has been spent on the new river cruisers?)
2. Faces low ridership on key routes (ah, but why? When the trolleys started, they had much better ridership. Numbers dropped as MetroTransit lengthened wait times, trimmed service and lengthened routes? Coincidence?)
3. Timings and actual arrivals at stops are inconsistent (Um, yeah)
4. Stops are poorly identified (Um, yeah)
5. Stops feature limited information (Route maps, schedule times and
actual arrivals) (Um, yeah)
6. Hours of service are limited and poorly advertised (um, yeah)
7. Onboard stop information is inconsistent or not available (um, yeah)
8. Existing system is not configured for 2008 and future ridership demographics in 2008 and the future (um, yeah)
(Come on folks, is all you’ve got? Other complaints I’ve heard include the “friendliness” of the drivers and the upkeep of the trolleys).
The primary existing downtown service is provided by the “trolley-like” bus vehicles funded through the MAPS I initiative. Some parts of this service have been discontinued due to low ridership or funding pressures since its inception. Some operational funding has been redirected from downtown to other areas at various times over the 10 years of operation. The existing system is poorly understood by the general public.
This confusion has caused poor ridership on routes that should exhibit higher ridership. Existing and new riders are often challenged by the inconsistent service delivery. In our assessment period, we received many complaints regarding late or no arrivals. While several stops are clearly identified at the Ford
Center, OKC National Memorial, and Bricktown, most stops are not clearly obvious.
Many stops appear undistinguishable from standard bus stops unless directly read by pedestrian traffic. These “regular” stops feature only limited signage and do not display running time, actual arrival time, and projected arrival time. Actual riders of the system have responded that the information regarding upcoming stops and or points of interest are not consistently conveyed by onboard signage or audible announcement.
(Interesting note here: way, way back when, back when the trolleys were launched a decade ago, I asked then MetroTransit director Randy Hume if they had thought about using exterior trolley signs like those used by similar shuttles in San Antonio that clearly identified major attractions along the route. Randy told me then they’d “think about it.” Here’s another question: how much would a half dozen or so signs cost compared to what’s being spent on advertising for the river cruisers? Yes, I’ll keep bringing up this comparison because the river cruisers were launched as a form of public transit. Should a city be ensuring existing transit is being well run and funded before launching into an entirely new and untested form of public transit?)
The most challenging aspect of the current system is that it does not efficiently serve the needs of the growing and diversified downtown community. Existing routes and stops are primarily configured for tourism. (Here’s another question: was the west route, the Orange route, based on need or political interests? Before the River Cruisers started up, the Orange Route was averaging 11 passengers a day).
New citizen demographics and needs have evolved with new residential, office, health care and medical research development. Diversified business growth, new neighborhood corridors, and continued entertainment development lead to increased demand for Public Transportation, especially as fuel costs rise.
1. Conduct detailed analysis to establish new routes
2. Determine reprogramming operational costs
3. Reprogram system routes
4. Rehabilitate existing vehicles
5. Design and install distinctive stop locations
6. Improve and expand hours of service
7. Use current technology to improve user information of scheduled and actual arrivals
8. Embark on comprehensive marketing and information campaign
9. Improve onboard experience with automated and consistent stop announcements
10. New infrastructure should be designed for easy migration to a modern, ecological, customer friendly transit system The Transportation Subcommittee recommends that a detailed analysis should be conducted of potential new routes.
Public and private input must be solicited from business, residential, development, entertainment, and tourism stakeholders. The input gathered should identify routes that service these various demographics, in order to maintain good ridership levels during all operational hours.
Certain specific demographics may entice more direct routes, but stability and consistent ridership will help maintain the health of the system. Also, a diverse and eclectic ridership would justify a broadened daily operational period. Upon considering the data collected from stakeholders and available statistics, an optimal transit routing solution must be priced out. The system should be reprogrammed to the level of funds available and desired for further economic development.
The existing operational “trolley-like” vehicles should be rehabilitated cosmetically and functionally for their remaining three years before they are life-expired. They should be reprogrammed with new onboard features for their prospective new uses. Bins, shelving, cargo nets, and other storage amenities should be incorporated to assist with groceries and other physical goods.
Current technology should be incorporated for automated GPS activated audible and visual indicators regarding upcoming stops and tourist interest. The vehicle routes should be more clearly identified via vehicle colors or the reinstatement of the colored flag bumper indicators. Such enhancements will distinguish vehicles for pedestrian interaction. Distinctive, downtown-specific stop designators should be designed to incorporate operational information.
These designators should also include current technology with GPS displays or audible signal to indicate the actual arrival time of a vehicle. Such designators could also incorporate kiosk features with additional relevant information. They should also be designed for authorized removal and transfer to new locations for future system upgrades or re-alignment. A comprehensive public information and marketing campaign must be implemented to increase awareness and ridership of the reprogrammed system. Such marketing will reinforce the accessibility and utility of the system to all potential user demographics. In addition, the ridership experience should be improved with vehicle operators that are trained in enhanced customer service.
The personal interface between “trolley” operators and riders should follow the “Downtown Ambassador” model. Vehicle operators should be helpful in assisting customers with diverse knowledge of downtown, vehicle stops, points of interest, and available amenities. They should also assist downtown residents who have special needs including the proper stowage of physical items.
OTHER FINDINGS- The Urban Neighbors Transportation Subcommittee noted in its initial surveys and interaction with potential users that increased fares to cover enhanced services would be acceptable. The subcommittee emphasizes that the existing “trolley-like” bus vehicles have a limited life expectancy and encourages the benefits and experience of a re-programmed system to be migrated over to permanent future solutions. There is great desire for a modern transportation solution that can permanently service the downtown and central city where density levels increasingly significantly.
The success of improvements to the existing system should assist in the future development of transportation in all areas of the Oklahoma City metroplex.
(Final note: Don’t expect Urban Neighbors to be the only group to weigh in on the trolleys. Bricktown is next).