Public Transit to Travel New Tracks By the Year 2000
By Jan Paschal
Sunday, November 14, 1982
Public transit in Oklahoma City will come full circle by the year 2000, if the city’s dreamers and planners get their way.
In the year 1900, Oklahoma City office workers and shoppers rode the rails to and from work.
Your options were limited 82 years ago: the streetcar, your horse or your feet were the best ways to get to work.
From 1900 to 1940, the streetcars ran on rails that criss-crossed the city. But a network of interurban rail lines also linked Oklahoma City with Edmond, Norman, Guthrie and other outlying towns.
Now the city’s visionaries hope to see a monorail or “light rail” system whisking passengers over that rail network by the 21st century.
“It would be a lot faster than buses,” said John T. “Terry” Pattillo, executive director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority. “Wouldn’t you rather speed to work on rails far above the freeway rather than being stuck in traffic?”
The Oklahoma City Council authorized $100,000 in June to hire a consulting firm to study which type of light rail system would work best in Oklahoma City.
In Washington, D.C., construction continues slowly on the Metro system with 33 miles done, 68 miles to go at a whopping $75 million per mile.
In Tulsa, the staff of the Metropolitan Tulsa Transit Authority will conduct its own preliminary study of a light rail system rather than spend 100 grand in city funds to hire a consultant, said Kathryn Thompson, manager of marketing and customer service at MTTA.
The future favors mass transit, Pattillo and Thompson agreed. Their rose-colored equation includes the scarcity of downtown parking and its high price.
COTPA is spending about $7,000 per parking space to build multilevel parking garages downtown. Monthly parking now costs $10 to $50 at COTPA lots and garages.
With 10,000 more people projected to join the downtown Oklahoma City work force by 1990, the problem will not be affording your own parking space. More likely, such space will be nonexistent.
“Bus ridership has been increasing each year for the last two years,” Thompson said, citing daily MTTA ridership of 15,000.
In Oklahoma City, daily COTPA bus riders total about 12,000. The city’s 1980 population was 405,500.
Breaking even is not in the game plan of either Oklahoma City’s or Tulsa’s public transit systems, the officials said.
“No mass transit system in the world breaks even except Hong Kong,” Pattillo said. “And why Hong Kong? Well, they’re serving a small area and a population heavily dependent on mass transit. Plus they lease their rail lines.”
In Oklahoma, the transit authorities struggle to wean customers away from their cars.
“Some people are diehards. I’ve got one friend who bought a spare car to drive to work just in case his regular car breaks down,” said Joan Lockwood, marketing director for COTPA.
High-priced gasoline and still higher prices on new and used cars will play a part in nudging more city residents toward mass transit.
“The day of the car as a status symbol is past,” said Elwin Hatfield, managing director of Downtown, Now, a local group that has pledged money toward landscaping a proposed new bus terminal site for south of the Myriad Convention Center.
Beyond the city’s plans to build a $350,000 bus terminal downtown, Pattillo and others look ahead to the 1990s, when they hope the city will make plans for a permanent transportation center downtown.
“That’s what you would need to make it work financially,” Pattillo said. “We need a facility with a heliport for downtown helicopter landings, a bus terminal, a light rail center, and a package transportation center. To have a first-class transportation system, we need such a center.”
Doris Gunn, a local real estate agent and an outspoken advocate of mass transit, would elaborate on that theme: “To be a first-class city, Oklahoma City needs a first-class transit system. We need good bus service and we need a light rail network to link the outlying areas with downtown. Just look at Houston and its six-hour traffic jams. We don’t want to become like them.