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Oklahoma City's pilot bus program left off budget

Oklahoma City's pilot bus program left off budget

COUNCIL MEMBERS QUESTION DECISION TO NOT FUND TRANSIT PROJECT

BY SEAN ELY and BRYAN DEAN, NEWOK.COM

Conversation was heated at times Tuesday as Oklahoma City Council members questioned why a pilot program for enhanced bus service was left out of the proposed budget.

Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said he thought the council made up its mind more than a year ago to fund the pilot program, and he was surprised to see it left out of the budget. White said he witnesses a crowded Route 40 bus stop outside his office near Interstate 240 andSanta Fe every day and is amazed at how long people will wait for a bus.

Enhanced bus service would mean running routes more often so riders wouldn’t have to wait so long at a bus stop.

Two routes had been selected for the pilot program — Route 8, which runs from downtown to Northwest Expressway andWilshire, and Route 40, which runs along Walker from downtown to SW 104.

Transit Director Rick Cain said it would cost $290,000 per year to improve service on those routes. During rush hours, Route 8 would run every 40 minutes, and Route 40 would run every 30 minutes.

"That’s still not as good as it should be, but it’s still better than having an hour or a little over an hour between buses,” Cain said.

Budget is ‘austere’

Expanded service on the two bus routes was put on a list of unfunded projects as city tax revenues plummeted earlier this year. Council members are scheduled to vote on the budget next week."This year’s budget is austere,” City Manager Jim Couch said.

"There is not a lot of money for additional programs. I don’t think we’ve added hardly anything to the budget, and we have cuts in some areas.”

White suggested the city could use some of the money being spent on river taxi service, which began last year on the Oklahoma River. The river taxis take riders from the Meridian hotel corridor to downtown.

"We’re going to choose to run boats up and down the river to take tourists up and down the river with $1.2 million a year and not provide transportation for our own citizens?” White said. "I mean, come on. We could find a way. We’ve just chosen not to find a way.”

According to Metro Transit, Oklahoma City spends $26.64 per person on bus services, while the regional average for peer cities is $73. Oklahoma City ranked last among the 14 cities in the comparison.

Transit improvements are expected to be included in MAPS 3. During a September workshop, council members discussed a plan including enhanced bus service, commuter rail and several other features at a cost of at least $394 million.

Before taking such a pricey plan to voters, council members wanted to try out enhanced bus service on two routes.

Long-term plans

The city’s long-term transit issues will not be solved without new funding sources,Mayor Mick Cornett said.

Cornett said state and federal matching funds can help, but the bulk of the money will have to come from Oklahoma City and the other cities in central Oklahoma that want to be included.

"We’ll have some sort of public transit in MAPS 3,” Cornett said.

"If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have hoped that the suburban communities were in a better position to start moving forward on transit. It appears the reality is that the conversation is engaging, but we’re not close on a regional perspective of a funding mechanism.”

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