Study recommends Broken Arrow create microtransit now, add fixed-route service in future
By John Dobberstein, Editor
A study undertaken by the city of Broken Arrow about its public transportation system needs is recommending city planners, in the short term, implement a “microtransit” pilot program in the core area of Broken Arrow to serve local residents.
In the future, a fixed route service is also recommended once travel data, funding and decisions about governance are in place.
Implementing the two options together would cost and estimated $3.2 million each year, although funding could come from a variety of sources.
The study, done with the help of Oklahoma City consultant Kimley-Horn, also calls for the city to maintain the existing Regional Express Bus from Broken Arrow to downtown Tulsa, modifying it to include a reverse-commute route from downtown Tulsa to Broken Arrow.
Microtransit is a transportation program that improves the rider’s experience by operating small-scale, on-demand public transit services that that can offer fixed routes and schedules, as well as flexible routes and on-demand scheduling.
Fixed-route transportation systems operate on a predetermined route according to a predetermined schedule.
Fulfilling a need
With the city having grown nearly 15% just in the last decade, Broken Arrow City Manager Michael Spurgeon has said Broken Arrow leaders needed to explore “full-service city” amenities such as public transit to meet the needs of residents both now and in the future.
Marketing projections show Broken Arrow’s population could reach 137,500 people by the year 2040, and Census projections show the senior population is likely to grow rapidly in the coming years.
A Public Transit Study Advisory Committee comprised of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) Tulsa Transit, the city of Broken Arrow, Wagoner County, Broken Arrow Neighbors, Broken Arrow and Union Public Schools, A New Leaf, Broken Arrow Seniors and the Broken Arrow Chamber has been studying the city’s transportation needs for the near term – the next 1-5 years – and over the long term, for the next decade or more.
The city has reached out to the public about transportation needs through an online survey, in-person surveys, an online mapping exercise and a virtual public meeting.
The community input was fed into an “existing conditions and needs assessment” that evaluated current transportation needs within Broken Arrow, demographic data, travel patterns, land use, transit-dependent populations and existing transit services.
A survey about transportation needs gave respondents an opportunity to select from 10 options that were related to potential changes to public transportation.
The top five responses were to:
* Make the service more convenient and closer to where people live and want to go,
* Provide more transit options,
* Provide more information and communication
* Improve the facilities
* Have more frequent trips
On an average day in Broken Arrow, 570,000 trips are started and 74% of those stay within the city, the study figures said. There are 4,000 trips to downtown Tulsa daily during the peak hours as well.
Data show some of the demographics for transit-dependent populations in Broken Arrow:
- 25% are youth (18 and younger)
- 15% elderly (65+)
- 7% are disabled and under 65 years old
- 8% are considered in poverty
- 11% don’t speak English at home
- 27% are households with access to one or fewer vehicles
Advantages of this system would be that passengers can utilize the service wherever they want to be picked up. The system would utilize small minivans, shuttles, Sprinter vans and the like.
Studying the options
Currently, public transit options in Broken Arrow are limited to Route 508, which has no weekend or evening service, and Express Bus Route 900 from Broken Arrow to downtown Tulsa.
One scenario the steering committee has been studying is a fixed-route service, which would maintain and enhance existing fixed-route bus services.
This called for designated stops along a permanent route, and the express bus currently running would be given two park-and-ride lots.
A second option city planners considered is “microtransit” that would be more adaptable to the city’s needs. Such a system would serve the city core, and vanpool/on-demand carpool services would be used to connect to Tulsa.
The final decision
The 62-page study concludes that in the near term, the best option is to begin and operate a microtransit pilot program in the core area of Broken Arrow and to maintain the existing Regional Express Bus from Broken Arrow to downtown Tulsa.
Though the microtransit is planned to serve the area within the city’s core area, it can easily be expanded to serve more or all of the city, based on funding availability.
The microtransit pilot program would be initially held for 6 months and the city of Broken Arrow would have the option of keeping the existing 508 fixed-route in service during part of this pilot.
Also in the near term, the Regional Express Bus would be modified to include a reverse commute trip from downtown Tulsa to Broken Arrow in the peak commuter periods and would serve the community members who work in Broken Arrow and live in Tulsa.
SHORT-TERM PLAN FOR MICROTRANSIT
In the long run, the study recommends the city adopt both a microtransit and regional express bus service, as well as a fixed-route bus service.
The microtransit service would be expanded to serve the entire City and key destinations outside of the city’s limits.
The Regional Express bus would operate more frequently during the peak periods and would continue to offer the reverse commute service from downtown Tulsa to Broken Arrow. It would also have an estimate of two new pick-up and drop-off locations to make it more accessible to the community.
The proposed fixed-route service will be designed to serve key origin and destinations and does not have a specific alignment at this time.
The city will use travel patterns identified from the microtransit pilot program to help determine the eventual alignment. “This will allow the City to operate their transit network in a more efficient and sustainable manner that is flexible based on demand,” the study said.
LONG-TERM PLAN FOR MICROTRANSIT AND FIXED-ROUTE SERVICE
How to pay for it
To implement the short-term microtransit and Express Bus systems would be $301,000.
The overall cost for implementing both the expanded local microtransit and fixed route option would cost about $3.2 million annually, with an estimated ridership at 96,000 annually. The includes $2 million for the microtransit program and $900,000 for fixed route.
The city currently allocates $330,000 each year for public transportation provided by Tulsa Transit. The city would continue to provide this funding and could potentially increase their contribution based on the proposed transportation improvements.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allocates funding to cities and transit agencies to contribute to the cost to operate and maintain transit service.
Tulsa Transit is receiving operational and capital funds for the service that it provides Broken Arrow. It is estimated that of the $6 million to $7 million dollars that Tulsa Transit receives, 5-10% is for service provided to Broken Arrow.
The FTA also has additional grant opportunities based on the transportation mode being implemented and the population that the transportation improvements will serve. The city would have the ability to apply for these grant opportunities, especially ones intended for microtransit improvements or serving populations 65 years or older and other priority populations.
Additional funding can be generated from other sources, including private and other organizations within Broken Arrow. Private funding sources could include private businesses paying to have advertisements on or within the vehicles or at specific pick-up locations.
Private organizations could also contribute their funding allocated for transportation into the City’s service. For instance, senior centers in the community could share the funding that they have budgeted to provide transportation services with the City of Broken Arrow. This partnership would allow their users to have reliable service and greater access to the transportation system throughout the city.
Another partnership opportunity, the study said, is with Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow. A partnership could include the university subsidizing a route connecting the campus to key destination in the community, or subsidizing microtransit rides. This partnership would benefit students and public transportation access in the community
The recommended operation option for the near-term scenario implementation of the microtransit and Express Route services is to have a private organization to run and manage the microtransit service and to have a local transit authority continue to operate the Express Route.