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December 15, 2013

Public transportation ridership increasing

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s biggest transit systems, often used by low-income people, provide less service than those of other cities in the region, but ridership is on the increase, federal data shows.

After a decline two years ago, the number of trips taken by riders in the four largest systems has rebounded and promises to increase further as Oklahoma City and Tulsa implement changes that will boost the frequency of bus service.

From fiscal 2007 to 2011, the number of annual boardings in the four transit systems — almost all of it on buses — rose to well over 7 million, then slipped to 6.9 million. In the past two years, the count has risen to above 7.5 million.

Until 2012, the four agencies reporting annual figures to the National Transit Database were the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (Oklahoma City area), the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority, the Lawton Area Transit System and the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit (Norman and the University of Oklahoma). Edmond’s system, which began operating in 2009, started filing those reports in 2012. Oklahoma’s rural systems are not required to report annually to the database.

Despite growth in riders, Oklahoma remains a transit-thin state. Bill Cartwright, general manager of the Tulsa authority, said the extent of service offered in the state’s urban areas lags that of other cities in the region.

A chart prepared by the Tulsa transit agency, based on 2010 federal data, shows that Oklahoma City had fewer hours of bus service per capita than Wichita, Tulsa and many other cities. Tulsa’s rate also was low.

“Oklahoma is right at the bottom of the group, in terms of how much service we provide,” Cartwright said. Still, in Tulsa “the (ridership) trend is definitely up. We see ridership going up in double digits.”

In many cities, transit is used most frequently by lower-income residents. Systems with limited service pose problems for the working poor, who may have no vehicle and depend on transit.

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