New city bus routes and transit center starting in October

Sep. 16—New bus routes and a transit center will be implemented Oct. 16 as part of The City of Norman's ongoing Go Norman Transit Plan.

"This follows the completion of the public participation process in Fall 2022 and approval from City Council in December 2022. Service changes follow recommendations identified in the Go Norman Transit Plan, the City's long-range transit plan, and have been made in respect to community feedback received," a city press release states.

In partnership with Embark, the plan will be adding 59 new bi-directional bus routes and also includes the opening of the new Norman Transit Center, located at 320 E. Comanche St, the release added.

Discussion about changes to Norman's transit began in 2019 when the University of Oklahoma, who ran the service, asked the city if they would like to take over, said Taylor Johnson, the Transit & Parking Manager for the City of Norman, in an interview with The Transcript.

Norman voters then approved a one-eighth-of-a-cent sales tax in November 2019 by 70% after the city adopted the aging fleet from the University of Norman the previous June, The Transcript reported last year.

The city receives an annual $2.1 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to offset the $5.3 million cost for the program.

With the new routes, "there'll be some places where service is being improved, meaning that a route will go in both directions and some places where there will be better service, and then there'll also be some trade offs where some places where there will no longer be," Johnson said.

In order "to maintain the better the better service for the overall system," Johnson said they had to make "tough decisions" when deciding which routes to discontinue and add to the plan.

Cody Byrd, community engagement officer for Embark, told The Transcript earlier this year that bus routes will realign to simplify bus schedules and make them easier for people to understand.

"Norman undertook a study similar to the one that was conducted in Oklahoma City that produced the Go Norman Transit Plan, which included changes to all Norman bus routes to realign the routes to make them similar to those in Oklahoma City," Byrd said.

Local bus service will also be fare free, Johnson said.

The reason for this is that it costs more to charge fare than to keep it free, he said.

"It kind of makes for more efficient operations too," he said. "Drivers can just stop, pick people up and drop people off. They don't have to worry about passengers trying to find their fare."

"One of the most important changes for our local bus system is the transit center," which has been located near the duck pond at the university, Johnson said.

That location is a "concrete island with a couple of shelters on it and supportive bodies on it. No water, no indoor waiting area. It's not necessarily ideal for passengers or staff. So, when bus drivers take a lunch break, they take in the elements and you know picnic tables around there," Johnson said.

Councilmember Stephen T. Holman, Ward 7, had approached Johnson about changing to the Comanche location after noticing the vacant building across from his Friendly Market dispensary.

"The roofs are high enough for buses," and there had been a need "for a downtown transit hub," Holman said.

The commuter bus service that runs from Norman to Oklahoma City will also travel to and from the new transit center, he said.

Johnson said they've been working to get the word out about the changes, but still anticipate some disruptions.

"There will probably inevitably be some folks that are caught off guard. And we're actually hoping on the first day, Oct. 16, we'll have some staff available at the Norman transit center to help answer questions and guide folks," he said.