The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has been mum on the public transit tax to be voted on March 1, but not the North Little Rock chamber: It announced today its support for the 0.25-cent increase for Rock Region Metro operations, saying it would “provide the agency the autonomy needed to make the current transit route system more efficient and responsive to our community’s changing mobility demands and support more, better and modern bus service to central Arkansans.”
The full release is on the jump.
Chambers in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood are represented on the MOVE Central Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission and Coordinating Committee, groups that consulted with Rock Region in its plan to provide dedicated funding to the bus agency. Asked yesterday about chamber support, Buckley O’Mell, Little Rock’s representative on the Coordinating Committee, said Little Rock’s group had made no endorsement.
The announcement by the North Little Rock chamber said its members are “heartened by these efforts to modernize the central Arkansas public transit system and understands the importance of accessible, affordable transportation to our local economy.”
The Little Rock chamber’s lack of interest is no surprise: Why endorse public transit when you’ve already endorsed the state highway department’s plan to widen Interstate 30 to 10 lanes to accommodate more cars?
NORTH LITTLE ROCK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE SUPPORTS PUBLIC TRANSIT INVESTMENT
The North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce is declaring support for the Rock Region METRO MOVE Central Arkansas plan and its related quarter-cent sales tax to fund public transit on the March 1 Pulaski County election ballot.
The quarter-cent sales tax provides funding in addition to current funding Rock Region METRO receives and would do two things: Provide the agency the autonomy needed to make the current transit route system more efficient and responsive to our community’s changing mobility demands and support more, better and modern bus service to central Arkansans.
Several North Little Rock representatives participated in the MOVE Central Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission and Coordinating Committee, groups of stakeholders from various businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits, associations and government branches who helped develop the plan. Public outreach has included multiple committee planning meetings, more than 35 stakeholder interviews, two opinion polls, six public comment meetings and ongoing project updates, throughout the last 18 months.
Rock Region METRO has already implemented part of its plan in the last several months, primarily to modernize the passenger experience: The agency launched 15 compressed natural gas buses, free WiFi on all fleet buses, a new website and a new mobile app in the last six months and will be installing 55 new bus shelters in the next several months.
The chamber is heartened by these efforts to modernize the central Arkansas public transit system and understands the importance of accessible, affordable transportation to our local economy. We can see the agency has been a good steward of the public investment it currently receives and believe more investment will result in an even better transit system that generates more economic development and attracts workers to our area.
Currently, Rock Region METRO takes 3 million riders to jobs, education, health care, shopping and other activities each year. If passed, the quarter-cent sales tax would generate an estimated $18.2 million per year for public transit and is expected to boost system ridership by 30 percent. Funds would be used to implement the MOVE Central Arkansas project bus service improvement plan. The full MOVE Central Arkansas plan can be found at rrmetro.org/move. Improvements include:
Generating more effective, efficient transit through the establishment of a dedicated funding source. North Little Rock is one of six local jurisdictions that pay into the public transit system. The other jurisdictions include Little Rock, Pulaski County, Sherwood, Maumelle and Jacksonville. The funders pay into the system based on a formula established in 1986 and based on service miles operated in each jurisdiction. While this is a fair and equitable way to plan for city and county budgets, it does not allow the agency the autonomy needed to plan more efficient and effective transit. For example, even removing a small portion of an inefficient route in one jurisdiction causes the other jurisdictions’ amounts owed to the system to increase. This means the agency cannot make even seemingly minor changes to a routing structure created 30 years ago, when central Arkansas looked very different.
Rock Region METRO receives multiple requests on a weekly basis to change our route service to accommodate areas with jobs, educational and health care institutions and shopping centers. The agency cannot make major changes to its routing system without a change in its funding structure. Specifically, a dedicated funding source, which a vote for this public transit investment provides, is needed to make major changes and match bus service to the present-day mobility demands of central Arkansas.
Bringing transformative transit to central Arkansas. The plan includes implementing bus rapid transit (BRT), described as “light rail on tires,” in two major corridors in Little Rock and a potential corridor in North Little Rock for buses arriving every 10 to 15 minutes. Bus rapid transit offers our system the rapid service other urban areas have enjoyed and has been shown to spur economic development along its path in the cities where it’s been implemented.
Getting Arkansans to jobs, education, health care, shopping and more, faster. Currently, the system has some routes where a bus may not arrive for an hour and 15 minutes. This investment will help boost frequencies on routes throughout the system and provide for later service and more service on weekends to accommodate today’s jobs and non-traditional educational options.
Facilitating connections in other areas of central Arkansas, not just downtown. The MOVE Central Arkansas plan features two cross-town routes in North Little Rock, one south of I-40 and one north of I-40, and the addition of mini-hubs throughout the system to accommodate more transfers in areas that make sense. The enhancement of express routes in the county will provide mid-day services and mean bi-directional county routes, offering more commuting flexibility for employees to reach their jobs.
Bringing local fixed route service to fellow cities for the first time ever. The plan brings local fixed-route service for the first time ever to Jacksonville, Maumelle, Sherwood and West Little Rock through smaller community shuttles. These routes build more opportunities for commuters to reach the larger system routes through shared stops and transfer points. Moreover, the addition of these fixed route service areas will mean the expansion of paratransit service to these areas, which helps persons with disabilities remain engaged in their communities.
Offering efficient, innovative service to less densely populated areas. The plan calls for providing smaller vehicles on routes with less demand, in tandem with an on-demand service option for less densely populated areas where a 35-foot bus doesn’t make sense.
Connecting more people to jobs, education and health care and attracting young talent to our area. The MOVE Central Arkansas plan is focused on making public transit an accessible, affordable and appealing option to get more employees to their jobs and vocational training, more students to their educational institutions and more seniors to their health care appointments and leisure activities. With this plan, central Arkansas offers potential young workers and others interested in alternate modes of transportation the choices they want for their chosen hometowns.
ALL GREAT CITIES HAVE GREAT PUBLIC TRANSIT
This efforts our friends at Rock Region METRO have made to modernize our public transit system are to be commended and supported. We urge our members and residents to vote for the quarter-cent sales tax to fund public transit on the March 1 Pulaski County election ballot.