By Carol Cole-Frowe

Transcript Staff Writer

Long-time Norman resident Carolyn Swifthurst said she never thought she’d need public transportation.

But after an adverse health event in 2005, Swifthurst became a wheelchair user.

“All the activities that I’ve grown through the years to love — I’m excluded from,” Swifthurst said, listing activities like University of Oklahoma’s evening events, Sunday church services, and difficulty accessing health services, concerts and cultural events. “I never thought I’d be in this position. I would urge us all to do what we need to do to move forward.”

Norman citizens packed City Council chambers Thursday evening for a Mayor’s Town Hall meeting to discuss a proposed three-phase expansion of the Cleveland Area Rapid Transit or CART system. The service includes buses and MetroLift, which serves wheelchair users and others who are mobility-challenged.

The services have been operated by the University of Oklahoma, with the City of Norman providing about 8 percent of its operating budget.

The proposal came from the City of Norman’s transportation committee, chaired by Ward 5 councilmember Rachel Butler.

The expansion would increase the service area, add Sunday service, expand hours of operation and provide more convenient route frequency. For it to happen, the City of Norman would need to contribute additional funding and find equipment grants.

Norman’s increased public transportation ridership, increasing population and environmental benefits were some of the reasons cited to expand bus routes and MetroLift services.

The city’s bus ridership has increased by 30 percent since 2003 and MetroLift ridership increased by 62 percent.

Attendee Kara McKee said one of the biggest reasons public transportation needs to expand was that Norman has grown. The current population estimate is 111,000.

“This needs to happen and it needs to happen soon,” McKee said.

If all three phases of the plan were funded, it would boost route frequencies to every 30 minutes and include almost all of urbanized Norman in MetroLift’s primary zone.

Most of urbanized Norman would be served with fixed route service and there would be better access to services, particularly health care facilities. Hours and days of service would expand.

Phase I would include extension of service hour for the fixed route system and MetroLift. The “Lindsey East” and Lindsey West” would become 30-minute routes year-round.

A downtown/Campus Corner circulator route would be added.

The Phase I recommendations could be rolled out within 90 days of funding from the City of Norman.

Phase II would include the addition of a Robinson Street corridor route, a 12th Avenue East corridor route and 24th Avenue West corridor route.

It would have an 18-month roll out from notice of available funding from the City.

Phase III would add a SH 9 circulator route, east and west Norman circulator routes, a Berry Road corridor route and expand MetroLift’s primary zone.

Alameda/east Norman and the Main Street route would become 30-minute corridor routes.

Phase III would take about 24 months to roll out.

Projected capital costs would be Phase I, $300,000; Phase II, $900,000; and Phase III, $1,520,000; for a total of $2,720,000.

Annual operating costs would be Phase I, $985,334; Phase II, $947,304; and Phase III, $1,844,112; for a total of $3,776,750.

“The plan would go into effect when we have a planned funding source,” said Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, who noted there may be some grants available for capital costs.

Building a new North Base Park and Ride was not included in this plan, but is a goal of CART officials to serve the commuter population to Oklahoma City and improve accessibility for those with disabilities.

“It’s not in the plan, but it is in our heads,” said Theta Dempsey, CART director.

Basis for the plan was Norman’s 2003 Transportation Needs Assessment, which surveyed Norman citizens, human service providers, university students and city staff to determine unmet needs and develop possible transportation solutions.

The plan showed 64 percent of area citizens rating the importance of public transportation as “very important.”

Actions taken from the Assessment recommendation include:

• Increase of the MetroLift secondary zone service to all 191 square miles of Norman.

• Implementation of same-day urgent service on MetroLift;

• Adoption of a new bus stop policy, allowing passengers to use the far side of intersections to board and de-board;

• Initiation of Saturday service for the fixed route bus system and MetroLift. The services currently operation from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Implementation of planning and promotions functions;

• Improving the Lloyd Noble Center Park and Ride;

• Increasing coordination with social service agencies; and,

• A planned opening of a operations and maintenance facility in spring 2008, funded by OU and the Federal Transit Administration.

The Assessment recommendations included adding six vehicles, a downtown transit center, north campus Park and Ride, improvements to the Lloyd Noble Park and Ride and an operations and maintenance facility.

Some of the benefits cited for public transportation included environmental benefits, like saving 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline nationally. It reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 6.9 million metric tons annually.

It’s also been shown that every dollar invested in public transportation generates from $4 to $9 in local economic activity, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Public transportation also enhances property values and increases the customer base for shopping, restaurants and medical facilities.

The public can submit suggestions through the City’s Action Center at action.center@NormanOK.gov.

Carol Cole-Frowe

366-3538

cole@normantranscript.com

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