The MOVE Central Arkansas plan is the result of more than a year’s work of strategic planning with Nelson/Nygaard, a San Francisco-based firm specializing in transportation development, and local community leaders from various industries, including government, education, health care, construction, law, banking, technology, transportation, real estate, architecture, tourism and nonprofit organizations.
In November 2015, the Rock Region METRO Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve a request to the Pulaski County Quorum Court to place a quarter-cent sales tax to fund public transit on the March 1, 2016 election ballot. This action followed the July 2015 board resolution to pursue funding for an aggressive public transit service improvement plan developed by the transportation development firm Nelson/Nygaard for Rock Region METRO. Research showed that, according to current Arkansas state law, the only legal and viable option for a dedicated funding source for public transit in Arkansas is through a sales tax, which is capped at a quarter-cent. In December, the Pulaski County Quorum Court voted to place a public transit funding initiative on the March 1, 2016 election ballot. If the measure had been approved by Pulaski County voters, the funding would’ve supported the new MOVE Central Arkansas service improvement plan. Unfortunately, despite support from several different organizations and many voters, the measure did not pass. METRO continues to pursue a dedicated funding source to bring major transit service enhancements to Pulaski County. In the interim, our board and staff work hard to provide as many low and no-cost minor system improvements as possible through our annual service enhancements process.
Whether you use the Rock Region METRO system or not, you benefit from public transit. Public transit contributes to our area’s economic development by taking people to their jobs, education, health care, shopping and other activities. It is also a sustainable, environmentally friendly practice that helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. And, it’s a great way to use your commute time for business or recreational activities (surfing the Internet, listening to music, reading), save money, avoid traffic and parking hassles, and even achieve a healthier lifestyle. We could go on. For more on the benefits of public transit and some stories about our riders – who are, incidentally, your professors, your website copywriters, your neighbors, your community baker, your child’s dance instructor, etc. – click around.
MOVE Central Arkansas Plan Highlights
We created this plan recap flier and map to give a quick overview of our proposed plan. Although the plan is not yet set in stone and would still undergo additional input from the community should Rock Region METRO receive the funding to implement it, this plan represents the most demanded and feasible solutions to improve the central Arkansas public transit system. It is also important to note that Rock Region METRO cannot make major service changes without a change to its current funding structure. Here’s an explainer on how we’re funded.
Plan highlights include:
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): Backbone of the system. BRT would begin with two identified corridors in areas with heavy demand:
Corridor 1: Downtown Little Rock to State Capitol Complex to Markham Street to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Veterans Administration Hospital to the CHI St. Vincent Infirmary to University Avenue to 12th Street (past the Clinton Children’s Library, past the Little Rock Central High School neighborhood and past Arkansas Children’s Hospital).
Corridor 2 partially overlaps with Corridor 1: Downtown Little Rock to State Capitol Complex to Markham Street to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Veterans Administration Hospital to the CHI St.Vincent Infirmary to University Avenue to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Eventually, a third corridor could include North Little Rock’s Main Street-JFK-McCain corridor.
Two North Little Rock Crosstown Routes: One route would be north of I-40, the other south of I-40. These routes eliminate the need to travel from North Little Rock, to the River Cities Travel Center (the main bus station in downtown Little Rock) and back to North Little Rock for North Little Rock-only departure and destination routes and benefit Pulaski Technical College, the Levy/Amboy neighborhoods and other areas.
Improved Frequencies on Important Routes: Rather than operating on up to 1-hour, 15-minute frequencies, buses would arrive and depart at 15-, 30-, 45- and 60-minute intervals.
Community Shuttles: Community shuttles would provide local fixed route service for the first time to West Little Rock and the cities of Maumelle, Jacksonville and Sherwood.
Flex Zones: Flex zones would provide on-demand service for less-densely populated areas and emerging transit markets and feed into nearby mini-hubs.
West Little Rock Express: A West Little Rock express route would provide express bus service for West Little Rock residents commuting to downtown Little Rock from a park and ride location near Chenal Promenade and provide access to growing job markets in West Little Rock.
Pulaski County Express Routes Enhancements: Enhancements on Pulaski County express routes would include providing mid-day service.
Modernized Passenger Experience: This is one part of the plan that is already underway but would be greatly aided with additional funding: Improving the passenger experiences involves replacing existing diesel-powered buses with new compressed natural gas-powered buses (Rock Region METRO will replace its entire fleet of diesel-powered buses by the end of 2025), continuing to provide free WiFi service on all buses in the system, introducing a GPS-based mobile app that provides passengers with real-time bus information (the METROtrack app debuted in February 2016), implementing unique-to-location bus stop signs that offer real-time bus arrival information via a texting system (try our texting system at any bus stop in the system today, or try our online live map tracking here) and providing more passenger shelters throughout the system.
Cost: The proposed improvements in this plan are estimated to cost $36.9 million annually, which would require the same levels of local, state and federal funding that the Rock Region METRO system currently receives, as well as the $18.2 million estimated annual revenue from a quarter-cent sales tax to fund public transit.
Who Is Involved?
Lots of folks. Our board, our staff, 68 stakeholder representatives, advocates, and you (yes, you; click here for a recap on the benefits of public transit, benefits you enjoy whether or not you use your public transit system).
What Are Next Steps?
Through the help of advocates and the Rock Region Transit Alliance, outreach to support a new initiative to fund public transit is underway.
- The MOVE Central Arkansas project involved more than 18 months of planning.
- Several members of the central Arkansas community were heavily involved in providing input on the Rock Region METRO strategic vision, what public transit projects we as a community should pursue and how we would pay for them. Community involvement efforts included two standing committees involving 68 members and seven guided meetings, more than 35 stakeholder interviews, two opinion polls, six public comment meetings and ongoing project updates via email.
- Rock Region METRO has engaged in comprehensive professional research on our existing public transit system and on opportunities for improvement and expansion.
- The final report on the MOVE Central Arkansas project offers a great recap on project work to-date.
- Sign up for enewletters about Rock Region METRO happenings at the bottom of this page.
- Still hungry for more? Read on, #transitnerd. (We say it with affection!)
The project began in July 2014 when stakeholders met to discuss the project goals to refine and confirm Rock Region METRO’s vision, determine what transit projects were needed to support the agency’s vision, evaluate funding opportunities to support future projects and develop the Rock Region METRO brand. The presented project timeline included deadlines for various study deliverables, such as community engagement activities, this website landing page, a service review, a market analysis, a performance and peer review, opinion polls, stakeholder interviews, brand testing and refining activities (the new Rock Region METRO brand that replaced the former Central Arkansas Transit Authority brand debuted in Summer 2015), financial research and analysis, service plan recommendations, an implementation plan and a final report.
In September 2014, stakeholders met and engaged in an interactive transit service planning game, where they redesigned existing central Arkansas public transit service to maximize public benefit. Participants were limited in the number of buses they could use throughout the system, just as the real transit system is, and were given various service options, such as local bi-directional routes, rapid routes (routes offering limited stops and therefore operating faster than regular routes), community circulators (routes that loop through neighborhoods and popular hub areas), express routes (routes offering end stops only at major hubs) and commuter express routes (routes running a rush hours only, in peak traffic flow directions; for example, a qualifying route might run from a Park and Ride location in West Little Rock to downtown in the morning). Participants were forced to choose which areas of Pulaski County get service, what kind of service do they get and how often? Who gets a direct route to destinations, and who must transfer? They were asked to consider what audiences they should consider while keeping cost-effectiveness a high priority. They weighed factors such as where people live and where employers are located. The activity elicited frank discussion about the current public transit needs of our community from a diverse group of residents.
In November 2014, stakeholders received an update on the project progress and reviewed draft service investment concepts, potential branding concepts and results from the first of two opinion polls, which ran Nov. 13-17. The objectives of the opinion poll were to assess overall impressions of Rock Region METRO service, identify top transportation priorities and gauge voter acceptance of a possible tax increase that would fund transit investments. Read the June section for information on poll results.
The group also discussed service enhancements objectives, which included attracting new riders, making public transit system easier to use and understand, increasing service levels and matching service with demand. Project leaders sought to create enthusiasm for Rock Region METRO by addressing community concerns, developing a range of mobility services for the entire county and attracting and engaging voters. During this meeting, discussions ranged on how the Rock Region METRO contributes to local economic development and how that contribution could be strengthened, including encouraging “complete streets” initiatives, investing in the Capitol Avenue corridor poised to become Little Rock’s Financial Corridor and encouraging infill development (encouraging businesses, residences and mixed-use development to increasingly take the place of surface parking lots). A cost comparison of the introduction of bus rapid transit versus expanded streetcar service was presented and discussed. Ways to attract “choice riders” were also discussed, such as providing mid-day express routes and more park and ride areas, introducing custom branding of high-interest routes, such as the airport route, and updating the agency’s brand to garner more recognition and support of existing services.
Also in November 2014, Nelson/Nygaard supplied a State of the System report that recapped existing public transit service in central Arkansas, provided a market analysis, included a performance and peer review that compared Rock Region METRO service to those of similarly sized markets, discussed current and potential funding options and offered an industry “best practices” assessment.
In December 2014, a comprehensive assessment of each of the Rock Region METRO 26 bus routes was completed. Each assessment reviews service pattern, schedule, ridership, performance and service design and offers route strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.
In February 2015, a stakeholder interview report was published to recap interviews with stakeholders – Rock Region METRO riders, government officials, transportation professionals and business and nonprofit representatives. The purpose of these interviews was to understand stakeholders’ perceptions of public transit service in general as well as public transit services operated and managed by Rock Region METRO, identify transit needs and priorities and collect insights on how public transit services could and should be funded in central Arkansas. The agency found that there is a strong level of support for public transit among stakeholders, with a desire for more frequent service, more passenger amenities and faster, more direct service. There was also support among stakeholders for Rock Region METRO pursuing a dedicated funding source. At the same time, stakeholders expressed ambivalence about public transit in central Arkansas, expressed frustration with the lack of innovation regarding public transit in central Arkansas and felt there was an impression that public transit is only for people with low incomes and, in some cases, older adults. Despite these challenges, stakeholders were optimistic about the future of public transit in central Arkansas and support expanding public transit services.
Also in February 2015, a rebranding process summary and recommendations were made to update the Central Arkansas Transit Authority name and brand to Rock Region METRO. During the brand development, input was sought from several groups, including the agency board and staff and the MOVE Central Arkansas Coordinating Committee members.
In May 2015, members of the MOVE Central Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission were presented with a summary of service improvement plans and required funding for each. Four plans were proposed, including one with modest changes, one with moderate changes, one with major changes and the implementation of bus rapid transit service and one with major changes and the implementation of light rail service. The members discussed the benefits, weaknesses and capital investments related to each plan as well as who would benefit from the plan, what implementation timelines might look like, overall costs of each plan and how a new plan could be implemented.
From mid-June to early July 2015, Rock Region METRO hosted six public comment meetings to present proposed service plan options and elicit feedback from members of the community.
A second opinion poll took place June 24-28, 2015. The poll objectives were to assess perceptions of transportation in the context of community, understand transit’s role as an economic development tool, gauge perspectives of current and proposed transit services and understand willingness to support a new sales tax and increased funding for transit.
Results from both polls indicate that there is a strong base of support for increasing taxes to fund additional public transportation services in Pulaski County. Respondents believe public transit is important in Pulaski County and that additional investments in public transit are needed. Respondents are particularly supportive of transit in its role of improving mobility for seniors and reducing environmental impacts.
In February 2016, Nelson/Nygaard completed a final summary of the MOVE Central Arkansas project, which includes a recap of community engagement activities (efforts included two standing committees involving 68 members and seven guided meetings, more than 35 stakeholder interviews, two opinion polls, six public comment meetings and ongoing project updates via email), recommendations for service improvement and expansion, a recap of funding opportunities and a recap of the new Rock Region METRO brand.
Ongoing enewsletters about the MOVE Central Arkansas project, along with the Rock Region METRO website and Facebook and Twitter pages help keep interested community members informed on project progress. Sign up for Rock Region METRO news at the bottom of the page.
Blue Ribbon Commission
The MOVE Central Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission was established to achieve the support of key community leaders and representatives from the region’s important institutions, critical for an eventual ballot measure on funding transit service. Rock Region METRO and its consulting group worked to educate this group (and their constituents) about the role of public transit in the central Arkansas region and benefits public transit provides to the community. During two project planning sessions, the MOVE Central Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission convened to discuss priorities for investment in the region’s transit infrastructure, hear from author Jeff Tumlin on why transit is important in the 21st century and the role transit plays in keeping central Arkansas economically competitive and provide feedback on funding options.
Blue Ribbon Commission Members and Organizations
Joel Anderson, Chancellor, UALR
John Bacon, Chief Executive Officer, eSTEM Public Charter Schools
Dr. Jay Barth, Distinguished Professor of Politics, Hendrix College
Scott Bennett, Director, Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department
Brent Birch, Director, Little Rock Technology Park
Mary Bowman, Director of Commerce, City of North Little Rock
Jay Chesshir, President and Chief Executive Officer, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce
Sericia Cole, Director, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
Dr. Margaret Ellibee, President, Pulaski Technical College
The Honorable Gary Fletcher, Mayor, City of Jacksonville
John Gaudin, Partner, Argenta Wealth Management
Gretchen Hall, President and Chief Executive Officer, Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau
Nicole Hart, Chief Executive Officer, ARVets
Terry Hartwick, President and CEO, North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce
Patrick Henry Hayes, Community Volunteer
Gabe Holmstrom, Executive Director, Downtown Little Rock Partnership
Colette Honorable, Community Volunteer
The Honorable Barry Hyde, Judge, Pulaski County
Sharon Priest, Community Volunteer
Jim McKenzie, Executive Director, Metroplan
Doug Meyer, Owner, TerraForma, LLC
Virgil Miller, Community Reinvestment Act Director, Arvest Bank
Greg Nabholz, Chief Executive Officer, Nabholz Properties
Bobby Roberts, Director, Central Arkansas Library System
Kelly Rodgers, Superintendent, North Little Rock School District
Skip Rutherford, Dean, Clinton School of Public Service
Rep. Warwick Sabin, Executive Director, Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub
Dushun Scarbrough, Executive Director, Martin Luther King Jr. Commission
Michael Schwartz, Dean and Professor of Law, UALR Bowen Law School
Frank Scott, Director, Arkansas State Highway Commission
Barry Sellers, Director, Office of Economic Development, Sherwood Chamber of Commerce
Diana Shelton, Community Volunteer
Susie Smith, Executive Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Simmons First National Bank
Rev. Hezekiah Stewart, Executive Director, Watershed Human and Community Development Agency
The Honorable Mark Stodola, Mayor, City of Little Rock
Rep. Clarke Tucker, Attorney, Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull PLLC
Rett Tucker, Co-Chairman, Moses Tucker Real Estate
Floyd G. “Buddy” Villines, Community Volunteer
Troy Wells, Chief Executive Officer, Baptist Health
Carolyn Witherspoon, Director, Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C.
The Honorable Virginia Hillman Young, Mayor, City of Sherwood
During five project planning sessions, the MOVE Central Arkansas Coordinating Committee convened to provide input on planning efforts, share reactions to ideas and assist in developing strategies to reach out to customers and engage community organizations.
Coordinating Committee Members and Organizations
Michelle Anderson, Director of Student Life and Leadership, Pulaski Technical College
John Baldwin, Adult Services Director, Easter Seals Arkansas
Andre Bernard, Director of Housing and Neighborhood Programs, City of Little Rock
Tony Bozynski, Director of Planning and Development, City of Little Rock
Reed Claiborne, Access Consultant, UALR Disability Resource Center
Thomas Clarke, Director of Properties, Planning and Development, Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport
Marcia Cook, Executive Director, Sherwood Chamber of Commerce
Ron Copeland, Director, UALR University District
Casey Covington, CARTS Study Director, Metroplan
Gretchen Hall, President and Chief Executive Officer, Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau
Donna Hardcastle, Executive Director, Argenta Downtown Council
Robert Hayes, Planning Director, City of North Little Rock
Jennifer Herron, Architect, Herron-Horton Architects
Jon Honeywell, Director of Public Works, City of Little Rock
Wanda Horton, Executive Director, Arkansas Disability Coalition
Jessie Jones, Division Engineer, Transportation Planning and Policy, Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department
Ken Keplinger, Alderman, Ward 1, City of Sherwood
Todd Larson, Executive Director, North Little Rock Economic Development Corporation
Harrison Maddox, Communications Chairman, Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas
Richard Magee, Deputy Director, Metroplan
Bob Major, Executive Director, North Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau
Don McMillen, PTP Administrator, Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department
Buckley O’Mell, Vice President of Advocacy, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce
Harold Payne, Bus Rider
Margaret Powell, Director of External Affairs, City of North Little Rock
Sharon Priest, Community Volunteer
Lynn Rockenbach, Volunteer, AARP Arkansas
Kelly Rodgers, Superintendent, North Little Rock School District
Bill Ryan, Administrative Officer, Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department
Dan Scott, Director, Neighborhood Services, City of North Little Rock
Lou Tobian, Associate State Director for Outreach and Education, AARP Arkansas
The Rock Region Transit Alliance, established in 2015, is a group of people who are interested in advocating for public transit services in central Arkansas. Follow them on Facebook.