KFH Group completes rapid transit study, develops options for Ozark Regional Transit

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 199 views 

KFH Group has completed the feasibility study for a light-bus rapid transit system along U.S. Highway 71B in Northwest Arkansas, staff of Ozark Regional Transit have reviewed it and will present the options for the system to stakeholders before presenting it to the board, executive director Joel Gardner said.

The hope is to bring the study before the board at the Nov. 30 meeting, he said. KFH Group completed the study Sept. 15. The more than 30 stakeholders will have the opportunity to select the options “cafeteria style,” Gardner said. He explained he wants this not to be the “Joel Gardner show” but what “Northwest Arkansas wants to see.”

If the stakeholders were to select all the options, including widening Interstate 49 and Highway 71B to provide for dedicated bus lanes, it would cost between $60 million and $70 million to establish the system. If they wanted to establish the system without dedicated lanes, but with the buses and technology to operate the system, it would cost about $25 million. Annual operating costs would be between $3 million and $4 million.

Along the route, 55 locations have been identified as possible stops. He would like to see a shelter for passengers and more than a stick in the ground at each stop but doesn’t think each stop needs bathrooms, heating and cooling and a magazine rack.

In January, the Walton Family Foundation gave ORT a $140,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed light-bus rapid transit service. Some of the features in the proposed service might include priority treatment at traffic signals to improve travel time, platforms allowing riders to quickly board buses and a connecting bus with no waiting time to reach a rider’s final destination.

The Springdale-based transit provider previously extended the deadline for the study to Sept. 15, allowing KFH Group to gather more details and host another survey to get feedback on the proposed transit system from employees of major employers in Northwest Arkansas, including J.B. Hunt Transport Service, Simmons Foods, Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart Stores.

“We’ve had a wide variety of working professionals regardless of what their position is in the company submit this survey, and it’s really good to see that it is people that are working and are driving and don’t want to drive, looking for alternative forms to work,” Gardner said.

On Sept. 28, Gardner discussed the results of the 14-question employee survey in a board meeting. The survey had 696 responses and addressed demographics, commuter details, bus frequency, and how much one would be willing to pay as a fare. In the survey report, the employee survey was compared to the survey given in June to the general public, which had about 525 respondents.

In the employee survey, nearly two-thirds of the respondents (455) would use the proposed transit service to commute to work if the frequency and travel times were convenient. Respondents wanted buses reaching each stop every 10 to 15 minutes. Some of the features respondents would like included rapid and frequent service, “real-time bus information, smartphone app, shelters at stations and well-lit stations,” according to the survey results. The average fare respondents would pay is $2 per one-way trip.

“When we start looking at the potential ridership between 3% and 5% of vehicle trips up and down the 71 Business corridor, we’re talking between 3,500 and 5,000 trips a day utilizing this service,” Gardner said. “Public transit is a service for the community. It’s for people who choose to use transit as an alternative form of getting back and forth to work and entertainment and everything else.”

In the employee survey, 36.7% of respondents were between 35 and 44 years old, and 80% were between 25 and 54. In the previous survey, 68.7% were between the age of 25 and 54. For income, 35.3% of respondents in the employee survey earned more than $100,000 annually, and 15.5% received between $65,001 and $85,000 annually. In the general public survey, 25.7% of respondents had a salary of more than $100,000, and 24.2% earned between $45,001 and $65,000.

The most common commutes for respondents in the employee survey were intra city, with 13.3% commuting from home in Bentonville to work in Bentonville and 11.8% from home in Fayetteville to work in Fayetteville. About 11% of respondents who commute to work live outside of the 71B corridor. More than 8% of respondents commute from Springdale to Fayetteville, and 6.6% commute from Rogers to Bentonville. A total of 4.5% of respondents commute to Bentonville, from Fayetteville, and 3.5% commute to Fayetteville, from Bentonville.

Gardner believed there would more need between Bentonville and Fayetteville in the survey, but respondents had a greater need for transportation between adjacent cities.

“We’re seeing people want more of the shorter runs than the longer runs,” he said.
The commutes of respondents were similar in both surveys.

The majority of the frequency of commutes were every weekday. The most common work arrival and departure times were between 7:31 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 5:01 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively. Like the commutes, travel times were also similar in both surveys.

More than 97% of respondents in the employee survey use a vehicle to commute to work. Nearly 12% carpool, 8% walk, 7.1% ride a bicycle and 5% use a taxi or ride sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft. More than 3% use Ozark Regional Transit. In both surveys, more than 90% of respondents use a vehicle for commuting. While carpooling was the second most common mode of commuting in the employee survey, walking was the second most common mode of commuting in the general public survey, which included many responses from University of Arkansas students.

The most common morning and evening commutes took between 15 and 30 minutes. The second most common morning commute was less than 15 minutes, and the second most common evening commute was 30 to 45 minutes.

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