Mack Burke / The Transcript

A CART bus heads south down Peters Avenue last year. The city council met Tuesday to discuss the upcoming transition of the transit system from OU to city control. The city aims to complete the transition by July 1.

The city is slated to take over the CART bus system in full next month and now has a funding plan in place.

Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said July 1 is still the target date for the University of Oklahoma to transfer its operation of the bus service to the city. The funding solution, O’Leary said, is $2 million in Federal Transit Administration funds combined with $1.1 million in city funding.

He said the city is still negotiating with Embark to operate the system and city staff will provide a detailed update to the council on Tuesday. The city is also finalizing details with OU to use its facility for operation.

O’Leary said it has been a long process to get to this point, dating back to August when the university surprised the city with a letter stating its intent to abandon its longtime partnership with the city.

“It was kind of a shocking thing,” O’Leary said. “What we learned later was that this has not happened in this region in 30 or 40 years, that a longterm transit provider would stop providing. Very unusual thing.

“That all said, we have been working on this since that time trying to figure out what to do. The only real logical operator of public transportation would be the city. There’s really nobody else beating our doors down to take it over, and that’s common if you look around the country … So we kind of came to that reality very quickly last fall that if we are going to have public transportation in Norman it’s going to be the city making that happen.”

O’Leary said the CART name will likely change but that’s the least of the city’s concerns with the transfer.

“Embark has agreed to help us, to contract with us effectively, to be the operator of the system when it transfers from the University of Oklahoma over to the city,” he said. “Technically the city will be the responsible party for this system, but we operating it using Embark.

“So my guess, and this hasn’t been confirmed, is that the name of public transportation in Norman is going to be Embark.”

Embark operates the Oklahoma City bus transit system and the streetcar system. O’Leary said a contract has not been finalized, but the pieces are in place and Norman will be in good hands with Embark.

“So, we are very thankful and grateful to Embark to negotiate with us, and again we haven’t completed those negotiations so I can’t say that we have a contract yet, but we are well on our way to doing that,” he said.

OU Parking and Transportation Director Kris Glenn said in March that he estimates it will cost the city $3 million annually to operate the non-campus routes now in place.

City staff estimates the service will bring in roughly $400,000 annually.

The city will have the opportunity to accept more than 20 vehicles from the university, including 35-foot buses and ADA para-transit vehicles. The FTA will oversee the transfer of assets, and the university will pay back the depreciated value of the federal interest in the vehicles it intends to keep.

North base land deal still uncertain: With Reaves Park being selected as the site for the stand-alone senior center, the city’s North Base land deal with OU is now uncertain.

City Attorney Kathryn Walker said the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the city has with the university was originally created when the city was considering putting the senior center near the Cleveland County YMCA. With that off the table, Walker said the land is still an option for other Norman Forward projects: the indoor aquatic center and the multi-sport facility.

“The MOU gave us three to six months from approval by both parties to finalize the closing,” she said. “The Regent’s approved the MOU on Jan. 30 so we have until July 30.”

Walker said the decision will be dictated by whether or not the city secures a deal to locate the multi-sport facility and indoor aquatic center in the University North Park TIF district, on land owned by developer University Town Center.

Failing that, Walker said the city will likely go back to the North Base site and work on closing that deal to secure a location for those Norman Forward projects.

“If it appears we need an extension on the North Base MOU, we will ask for one from OU prior to the expiration of the MOU,” she said.

Mack Burke

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