Now that downtown is becoming a true neighborhood with hundreds of apartments and condominiums opened the past couple of years, wouldn't it be great to have the Oklahoma Spirit trolleys run an expanded schedule of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays? OK, those are pretty specific operating hours. Indeed, that was the schedule with trolleys hitting stops every 10 minutes when the service was launched 10 years ago. That same service is now a mish-mash of reduced service routes. One can travel an extended downtown "blue line” that traverses the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and Bricktown and everything between. The loop doesn't begin until 10 a.m. and stops are now every 20 minutes. A red line serves lunchtime workers 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays with stops every 15 minutes.
As service declined, ridership also fellNeither line makes it feasible for a downtown resident even to consider relying on shuttles as a way to get to and from work. And Sunday service? It's been dropped all together. The cuts have crept in gradually over the years, blamed invariably on tight budgets and increased costs. And as the schedules have shrunk and waiting times expanded, ridership has dropped. At a recent meeting of Urban Neighbors, Mayor Mick Cornett was asked by a resident if MetroTransit's operation of the trolleys has been inept. He disagreed, but acknowledged some changes may be needed. As the trolley routes have been whittled, the city has launched the Oklahoma River Cruisers as a means of public transit to meet a need that city officials admit doesn't exist yet.
What does city pay for boat service?In a contract negotiated with the only company to bid for operations of the boats, the city pays Hornblower Marine Services $15,000 per month — and that's just the management fee. Hornblower also is reimbursed for operating expenses including wages, equipment, supplies, utilities and fuel. To date, since Hornblower was hired last fall, payments have totaled $307,000. Jordan Associates is being paid to coordinate a print and broadcast campaign for the boat service, which is funded, partially, by $100,000 from the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, and $100,000 from the Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority. Funding for all this includes $350,000 from the city's general fund. Rick Cain, administrator of COTPA, presents the river cruisers as a way to "proactively” provide public transit along the waterway for a population and need that he believes will exist in future years. He points out the boats will eventually connect not just Bricktown but also the Native American Cultural Center and developments planned at the former downtown airpark with the hotel corridor at Meridian Avenue. Maybe. The boats, however, currently duplicate the Orange trolley route — which also has the lowest ridership of any of the trolley routes.
Downtowners complain about promisesMeanwhile, downtowners say the promises made to them a decade ago aren't being met, even though average daily ridership on the downtown routes total 166 compared with 26 on the Meridian Avenue Orange route. And it's the Meridian Avenue Orange route that is being expanded. To ensure boat passengers can always take a trolley back downtown, Sunday service has been restored for the Orange line. And, oh yes, Cain is looking at expanding trolley service even further — with a possible express Orange route to eliminate a 20-minute tour of the Meridian hotel corridor that has been met with complaints from boat passengers just wanting a quick ride back to their cars.