Broken Arrow to launch door-to-door ‘micro transit’ service
By John Dobberstein, Editor
The Broken Arrow City Council has given the green light to launching a year-long micro transit pilot program this summer or fall.
The plan is to start with three vehicles that will provide door-to-door services, similar to Uber, for Broken Arrow citizens who need transportation around the city, and to downtown Tulsa.
Larry Curtis, Broken Arrow's director of community development, said staff looked at various funding options and secured a $700,000 grant through the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) to provide an electric vehicle-based system.
The grants will provide 80% of the funding to purchase the vehicles. The city will have to provide the other 20% of the funding.
The estimated start date for the micro transit pilot program is August 2023. A name for the new micro transit program is also needed and had been toying with “B.A.T Mobile” for Broken Arrow Transit Mobile.
The pilot program aims to develop a long-term strategy for enhancing passenger public transportation services in the city. In the near-term, the pilot program includes a 12-month program serving the city’s core and capable of adapting to the demand and funding.
A regional express bus service will also be a part of the program and will reduce the number of commuter trips during peak periods. A local transit authority will own these vehicles and operate the services.
City Councilor Lisa Ford said she didn’t feel the current transit system in Broken Arrow was reliable.
“I see customers waiting for the bus in the rain and pickup and departure times are not consistent. Even if it costs a little more, the convenience of doorstep to doorstep is going to be so much better for our citizens that do not drive,” Ford said.
In the long-term, the plan is for an expanded city-wide service area, with a private company providing the service.
The city said regional express bus service will get a higher frequency use during peak periods, and additional pick-up and drop-off locations will be added as needed. A fixed service route will be determined by the pilot program’s observed travel patterns.
Changes for Route 900
A year-long transit study released last year indicated a lot of residents didn’t know that Broken Arrow had a bus program “and that plays a part in why we are currently spending a great deal of money per rider,” Curtis said.
While the costs at first may go up incrementally to change the city’s public transportation system, the goal is to bring the overall costs per rider down “so it makes more economic sense for the entire system.”
Currently, the city has two routes operating. The Express Route 900 travels from the Battle Creek Church parking lot, 3025 N. Aspen Ave., to downtown Tulsa and back, and Route 508 travels clockwise around the city on a specific route.
Starting with the pilot program, Route 900 will move from the Battle Creek Church parking lot to the Rose District and New Orleans Square. One current stop would be replaced with a micro-transit option to reduce the additional cost.
Two vehicle types which were selected for use: a Chevrolet Bolt EUV and the Tesla X. The Chevy Bolt was currently the only electric vehicle which had a traditional car feel. He stated the Tesla X was user accessible because the driver could open and close the doors for citizens, and this would be easier for elderly citizens who did not need ADA accessibility.
He said the Tesla specifically had more capacity, was easier to get into and out of, and had a further range, and was a brand currently in the Broken Arrow fleet.
Cost of vehicles
Curtis said he reviewed the differences between the two vehicles including miles between charges, unit costs, pilot costs, and long-term costs and the Tesla was significantly more expensive than the Chevy Bolt.
The pilot costs for the Chevy were more affordable than the Tesla but the grant could cover either vehicle’s costs. He said an option from Ford was roughly $65,000, twice the Chevy Bolt’s cost, but half the Tesla’s cost.
The Bolt had a range of 247 miles between charges while the Ford roughly had 287 miles and the Tesla got 333 miles. Capital costs were covered by the grant but overall operational costs would be the responsibility of the city moving forward.
Route 900, route 508, and micro transit would be in service with one of the 508 directional routes being replaced by micro transit.
The city is still working on which people or service will be operating the vehicles. The city considered doing the pilot program internally by hiring staff to drive the vehicles or hiring a private company to drive them.
Curtis said staff contacted a number of agencies and the proposed rate was $55 dollars per service hour -- the same amount as was paid for the 900 and 508 routes which included vehicles and fuel.
Looking at the cost of hiring a contracted service vs. asking city employees to do it, it was cheaper to hire out the work, he added.
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Looking at the long term, providing four vehicles with a fifth in reserve means the city would need approximately $197,000 dollars in addition expenditures, which includes eliminating the 508 route and enabling micro transit and the 900 route.
There is federal funding available for operational costs, and Curtis said depending on who the city contracts with the city could negotiate a requirement that the company help the city through the application process for the grants.
The additional funding doesn’t take into the consideration the cost the city could pass on to the consumer.