Tulsa City Council to consider 3 plans to cut bus system wait times
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Friday, November 09, 2012
11/09/12 at 7:10 AM
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Tulsa Transit presented three scenarios to the City Council on Thursday that would cut the bus system roughly 40 percent in order to reduce the average weekday wait time from 52 minutes to 30 minutes.
The first scenario is based on ridership and would eliminate nine of the 17 routes and 106 of the 250 route miles, while the second is based on productivity and would eliminate six routes and 98 route miles.
The third scenario would eliminate a total of 99 route miles on all of the existing routes, but two routes still would be cut because there wouldn't be enough buses to go around.
"All three of these put an emphasis on frequency over coverage," Tulsa Transit General Manager Bill Cartwright said during the council's committee meetings.
Councilors had asked Tulsa Transit and Indian Nations Council of Governments officials to prepare such a plan for study in an effort to make the system more efficient at the current funding level.
INCOG Transportation Projects Coordinator James Wagner said there would be significant impacts by shrinking the system.
The city of Tulsa has a population of 391,906, with 236,389 or 60 percent currently having access within a quarter of a mile to a bus stop.
That would be reduced into the range of 42 percent to 40 percent or 164,987 to 155,601 having such access under the three scenarios, Wagner said.
The city also has 259,914 jobs in its boundaries, with 216,078 or 83 percent currently served by the bus system, he said.
That would drop to only 174,346 to 154,553 or 67 to 59 percent with access, depending on the scenario.
Reducing the size of the bus system also would trigger some cost increases, Wagner said.
The scenarios would have a $185,000 to $594,000 cost impact due to decreased passenger fares, he said.
There also would be a $616,000 to $437,000 impact due to disabled riders no longer having access to the regular system and having to rely on the more expensive para-transit Lift Program.
Any reduction in the Tulsa Transit system, Cartwright warned, also would affect federal funding levels in future years.
Councilors plan to discuss the study further at a future meeting after having time to digest its findings.
Tulsa Transit has faced severe budget cuts for the past decade. The current system is 27 percent smaller that it was in 2002, with 213,630 service hours then compared to 155,472 this fiscal year.
Its budget is about $18.5 million, with $7.9 million coming from the city and the rest from the state and federal governments.
Small gains have been made in service levels as funding has become available.
Council Chairman G.T. Bynum spearheaded the request for the study, saying that it's unlikely the city will ever have enough funding to make the bus system what it should be.
Cartwright has countered that reducing the system would leave segments of the population essentially immobile.
A downsized system was looked at years ago, he said, but public response was overwhelming to sacrifice frequency for coverage.
Councilors questioned how much it would cost to get the current system to a 30-minute to 45-minute wait time.
Cartwright said getting the weekday operation down to an average of 45 minutes would take about $1 million.
Five of the councilors last month rode a bus to a grocery store from north Tulsa to do some shopping and experience the system firsthand. It took them about 2 1/2 hours.
Councilor Phil Lakin had purchased a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream to take home and said it was pretty well melted by the time the trip was over.
Lakin said it might sound "a little goofy" but asked whether Tulsa Transit has ever considered putting small refrigerators in buses to help riders preserve their food products. Cartwright said they would explore the idea.
Councilors also asked whether it would be cheaper to run smaller buses on routes, but Cartwright said the major cost is the drivers' wages and benefits and that the larger buses are more durable and last longer.
"It's a very common question," he said, "and it would seem like it would make sense, but actually it would cost us more money."
Original Print Headline: Plans considered to cut Tulsa Transit wait times
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
Bill Cartwright: "All three (plans) put an emphasis on frequency over coverage," he says.
G.T. Bynum: He says the city may never have the funds to make the system what it should be.