City officials discuss transportation system

Tuesday, September 16th 2008, 7:18 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's not a new problem in Oklahoma City but there's talk now of a new solution.

The city's mass transit system called inadequate, at best, even by the mayor, could look very different ten years from now.

A public transit workshop was held Tuesday, were there was talk -- serious talk -- about moving ahead with plans for the sort of mass transit generally associated with bigger cities. A commuter rail, modern streetcars, something called BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, are modes of public transportation other cities offer, but the only way those can be successful, the experts said, is to first have a first-rate bus system.

Oklahoma City's mass transit system is among the worst-funded in the country, which helps to explain why the city struggles each year just to maintain the status quo, and why new development downtown -- for most, a boon -- for transit officials, can be a burden.

"Because in order to service them we have to pull service from someplace else, and most of our riders are transit dependent, and that means taking transportation away from a segment of our society that needs it most," Oklahoma City Director of Public Transit Rick Cain said.

Transportation would be taken away from people like Jay Doudna, a Philadelphia native who would like to see the bus system enhanced.

"Obviously for those of us who are visually impaired, we depend on the buses," Doudna said. "It's not just a matter of wanting to be able to go for a social event; it's a matter of getting back and forth to work."

At the transportation workshop, some city council members were lukewarm to a study suggesting the need for a nearly $100 million enhancement of the entire bus system.

"For the citizens' sake, and for their resources' sake, we need to do that in a way that's responsible, and just throwing $100 million here or there, based on some studies, I have a problem with it," Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters said.

The key to improving mass transit in Oklahoma City is going to be finding the funding, and the mayor said that means bringing the feds to climb on board.

"No one likes subsidies, but public transit, just like highway dollars, requires subsidies and I think Congress is going to be much more likely in the future to start coming through with some more subsidies down the line," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said.

Mayor Cornett said, in addition to help from Washington, they may also be asking neighboring cities, like Edmond and Norman, to share in the costs, since these systems may benefit them as well.