Growth Via Bus

Article excerpt

Not many of us think of it, but when you see a city bus hauling passengers around town, just think of it as economic development on wheels.

That's the word from Larry Hall of the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority, Randy Hume of MetroTransit in Oklahoma City and Steve Lalli, director of the Oklahoma Transit Association.

Retailers and employers alike routinely request bus stops as close to their places of business as possible.

"There was an article in The Journal Record a few years back in which the head of America Online said the reason Shepherd Mall was selected as site of the company's Oklahoma City operations was because of the accessibility of the bus system," Lalli said. "Transit systems aren't a whole lot in economic development, but a good system just adds another arrow in the quiver of the economic development people.

"When a company starts looking at a city, one of the things they look at is whether there is a convenient, reliable and economical transit system in place."

Beyond the aspect of helping recruit new industries, a transit system helps existing companies by bringing employees to work, Hume said.

"We are working with welfare-to-work programs to help those who don't have transportation get to their work on time," he noted.

Retailers, too, like nearby transit systems.

"When we started our route out to Quail Springs Mall, there was construction work going on, so we took a detour and had a bus stop by a Target store," he said. "When the construction was completed and we started to go back to our original route, the manager of Target asked us to keep a bus stop there.

"That shows that people will ride the bus to go shopping. If the bus system didn't bring shoppers to Target, then they wouldn't have wanted a bus stop right there."

People have traditionally thought of transit systems as being for the poor, the handicapped or the elderly, Hall said.

"It's true, those groups of people do provide a large segment of our ridership," Hall said. "But we're getting more and more white- collar workers taking the bus because it's much more convenient for them."

Not too long ago, construction on Tulsa freeways forced a change in the routes to Broken Arrow. Additional buses were brought on because of demand. Motorists were trying the bus because of all the congestion.

"Now that the roads are open again, we've still got those riders because they are finding it's cheaper and a whole lot less stressful to ride the bus," Hall said.

Every transit system in the world, "except for maybe one or two in large tourist areas," is subsidized by local governments, Hall said. In the United States, most transit systems depend upon federal money, along with a state and local match to operate the systems. …