Changing Tulsa's bus system might start with a shift in attitude.
"One of the things we're working on is trying to make transit more attractive," said James Wagner, transportation projects manager with the Indian Nations Council of Governments.
Change could come in the form of a new bus rapid transit system along Peoria Avenue. Wagner envisions a system with street-side stations and pre-purchased tickets, turning more than 17 miles of road into a reliably frequent bus route, each station serviced by a bus at least four times an hour.
In essence, the plan would build on the existing strength of the system. "If you look at ridership, the Peoria route is roughly double of any of the other routes," Wagner said.
Several large hurdles remain for a plan not yet formally presented to decision-makers, however -- including coming up with money to pay for it. Most recently, the Tulsa City Council has focused on options for improving the bus system's glaring weakness: on average, the wait time between buses is 55 minutes.
Bill Cartwright, general manager for Tulsa Transit, at the Nov. 8 council meeting outlined changes that could be made -- without an increase in funding -- to cut down wait times.
Not surprisingly, the options amounted to reducing coverage area. Councilor G.T. Bynum, who initiated the request for the council to hear the options, said the presentation was "not about cutting routes," but instead about "utilizing the system more efficiently."
"Blindly throwing money and just increasing transit funding for a system that isn't based on maximizing that money is wasting the citizens' tax dollars," Bynum said, adding that he's interested in technology to better track ridership. For example, infrared beams at the entrance of buses could precisely keep track of people getting on and off a bus, he said, though such a system could cost roughly $1 million.
Councilor Phil Lakin wrote in an email that he also is interested in a more data-driven approach.
He called it "really too early to tell, in my opinion," if a system revamp is imminent, but added that he favored further study "to have someone determine where all the pockets of people are, and design the system around them, while also being mindful of those who are currently being served."
"Bill Cartwright told us that he would look into how much such a study would cost and get back to us," Lakin wrote. "When we know that price, we will determine if such a study has a high enough potential return for us to make the investment."
When asked if a dramatic revamp of the system would happen soon, other councilors voiced little support after seeing Cartwright's presentation.
Councilor Jeannie Cue, who represents District 2 in south and southwest Tulsa, said the council doesn't want to "knock people out of transportation."
Similarly, Councilor David Patrick, who represents District 3 in northeast Tulsa, said, "I don't think there will be a push from the council to reduce routes, to do that, because it would just leave more people underserved."
Councilor Blake Ewing, whose District 4 includes downtown, wrote in an email that he didn't expect a revamped system soon, but is optimistic about seeing "consistent improvements." He added: "As we move forward, we'll work to continue to improve service for Tulsans who are currently grossly underserved by our inadequate public transportation offerings."
Councilor Byron "Skip" Steele, who represents District 6 in east Tulsa, endorsed a greater focus on coverage area. "I think that the priority should be on coverage," Steele wrote in an email. While wait times would increase, "people know when the bus is going to arrive." If the entire city is covered, it might be a fairer system since all citizens contribute to funding bus service, he noted.
Dollars for mass transit were slashed by the city about 10 years ago because of overall economic concerns. The city provides funding to the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority, which has its own governing structure but relies on yearly allocations from the city to fund much of its operating budget.
INCOG's Wagner said the bus rapid transit idea is a candidate for federal funding assistance -- if city leaders formally bless the project -- though an increase in city funding would also likely be needed to cover the considerable costs.
He said estimates are still being worked out, but the project would have a roughly $25 million capital budget to cover the expense of designing and building stations, adjustments to traffic signals, and a real-time disply of wait times. To operate the bus rapid transit line might take $1.25 million yearly, Wagner said. The project might run from South Lewis Avenue and East 81st Street (near a Walmart) to East 66th Street and North Peoria Avenue.
Another group has eyes on potentially revamping funding for the bus system.
"I think our December report to the council and administration is that we need to look much more seriously and urgently at coming up with an ongoing, dedicated source of funding for our mass transit system," said Jamie Jamieson, chair of the Transportation Advisory Board, noting that several cities have such funding, which sometimes involves devoting a portion of sales tax to transit. He said the city council seems more focused on improving public transportation, calling it an important priority.
"Land use development policy and transportation are the yin and yang of a city's organic growth," Jamieson said, adding that transit improvements fit with PlaniTulsa, the city's comprehensive planning document. Bynum said he opposes such a funding source. "Everybody who's a champion of any issue wants a dedicated funding source," Bynum said. He said establishing such a funding source amounts to creating something that "isn't accountable to the public and runs on forever and leads to waste."
Bynum said he supports the proposed bus rapid transit concept, noting that paid observers have tracked Peoria Avenue ridership.
Such a system "would do wonders for how Tulsans think about public transit," Bynum said, adding that, in the long run, it's "kind of apparent we've got to have a public transit system that more people use."
Send all comments and feedback regarding City to email@example.com
Share this article: