As part of an annual review process and in relation to the R.I.D.E. 2020 transit network design study, Rock Region METRO launched its annual service enhancements process in 2020. The agency hosted three public meetings, July 7, 8 and 9, 2020 to discuss plan recommendations for 24 bus routes which are slated to begin to take effect in Spring 2022, with timing subject to METRO’s ongoing COVID-19 service response and work to recruit, hire and train qualified bus operators and microtransit drivers. Details were shared at the three public meetings and then posted at this webpage following the July 8 meeting for a 30-day comment period.
The METRO staff began its annual service review in late 2019 with the kickoff to its R.I.D.E. 2020 transit network design project. As part of this project, a round of suggested transit network changes was recommended by the agency’s R.I.D.E. 2020 consulting team, Transportation Management & Design, Inc, a San Diego-based firm specializing in transit planning services. These recommendations were only a part of the overall R.I.D.E. 2020 project, which had several project outcomes, including two transit network design models: a cost-neutral model and a model based on a moderate funding increase. The cost-neutral recommendations were adopted by METRO in August 2020 as the beginning-in-2022 annual service enhancement recommendations (again, the timing is subject to METRO’s ongoing COVID-19 service response and success in meeting hiring goals for bus operators and microtransit drivers).
In anticipation of these recommendations, the R.I.D.E. 2020 project launched with an analysis of existing system conditions, a non-rider and voter survey within Pulaski County, a series of 15 meetings with various stakeholders and the general public in January 2020, and establishment and discussion of network design guidelines. With this information, a transit network plan for cost-neutral recommendations was drafted and discussed with the METRO Board of Directors and various stakeholders in June 2020, and these are the recommendations were presented to the public in July 2020.
Related to the R.I.D.E. 2020 transit network cost-neutral design was the former METRO funding partner contribution formula, which was established in 1986 and had unintended consequences for the overall design of the network today. The interlocal agreement that created the agency in 1986 dictated that any service miles within the system must stay within the jurisdiction that funds them. For example, up until a recent approved change, service miles could not be added in the City of Little Rock without removing service miles from another Little Rock location. In other words, the agency could not add service miles to one jurisdiction by removing them from another jurisdiction. (Moving service miles from one jurisdiction to another could also be achieved with establishment of a dedicated public transit funding source, which is outside of the agency’s control.) To address this funding challenge, the R.I.D.E. 2020 project also delivered a funding formula recommendation that stabilizes funding partner contributions in the event of recommended service changes from year to year, recognizes the benefit of transit service to the funding jurisdiction, promotes regional growth and protects fixed expenses from service fluctuations.
Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when METRO is experiencing an unprecedented number of employee absences and is taking extraordinary precautions to protect public health, a new long-term funding formula recommendation was needed to adequately plan for future public transit service. In anticipation of reduced city, county and state revenues during the pandemic, METRO is moving forward with cost-neutral service change recommendations, while using the models based on additional funding to plan for future service.
Public comments were taken into consideration at the review’s onset and continue to influence the recommendations. Technology tools also played a role: METRO uses transit planning software to make more precise calculations to create proposed route changes, taking into account jurisdiction boundaries, which change on an irregular basis. Automated passenger counters provide accurate data as to how many riders are boarding and alighting at each bus stop in the 1,600-stop system.
Field work performed by METRO vendors and staffers yielded information on trip generators (places to which riders travel), rider behavior patterns (such as when riders are traveling and why: work and school commutes, travel to health appointments, grocery stores, etc.) and factors that could affect proposed route schedule times (at-grade railroad crossings, school car rider lines, etc.). This field work also included a 2019 rider survey and input from the public during the January 2020 R.I.D.E. 2020 public outreach.
“With the approval of the entire proposed cost-neutral model, the big wins for riders include an increase to 75 percent of riders having access to 30-minute service, up from 22 percent under the pre-COVID-19 network model, and the extension of Route 5 to Chenal Parkway, which is easily the No. 1 rider service request we have received for the last few years. These are pretty big wins for a cost-neutral design,” said Becca Green, director of public engagement. “We continue to look for ways to improve the service and network for riders.”
Following a 30-day public comment period the METRO Board of Directors approved the plan Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, with some modified plans for Routes 4, 5 and 13 based on public feedback. The network changes are slated to begin in Spring 2022 and will be phased in, taking into account METRO’s COVID-19 response and related service modifications, with phase timing subject to change as needed.
Rock Region METRO Hosted Three July 2020 Public Information Meetings
Rock Region METRO hosted three public information meetings in downtown North Little Rock in July 2020.
The events allowed community members to discuss proposed annual service enhancements, including proposed changes to 24 bus routes.
Meeting attendees were limited to 44 (20 attendees for the July 9 meeting), first-come, first-served to engage in social distancing; all proposed changes were posted online following the July 8 meeting, kicking off a 30-day comment period. Attendees were required to wear face coverings that fully covered their noses and mouths for the entire length of the meetings.
Meeting dates, times and locations were:
Tuesday, July 7, 2020, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (Doors open at 11 a.m.), Simmons Bank Arena, 1 Simmons Bank Arena Dr., North Little Rock (Lower Box Office entrance along Washington Street, street-level; parking is available across Washington Street.)
Wednesday, July 8, 2020, 5:30-7 p.m. (Doors open at 5 p.m.), Simmons Bank Arena, 1 Simmons Bank Arena Dr., North Little Rock (Lower Box Office entrance along Washington Street, street-level; parking is available across Washington Street.)
Thursday, July 9, 2020, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (Doors open at 11 a.m.), Central Arkansas Library System Main Branch, Darragh Center, 100 Rock St., Little Rock
- 30-Minute All-Day Service on Several Routes
- Expanded Service Hours
- More Weekend Service
- Simplified Local Service
- More Direct and Faster Service
- New Service on Chenal Parkway
- Expanded Microtransit Zones
Route 5 West Markham
To fulfill the No. 1 rider service request and improve frequency, METRO staff recommends aligning Route 5 West Markham along Markham Street on its east portion of the route and expanding the route to serve Chenal Parkway. Staff also recommends improving frequencies to 30 minutes on weekdays, Saturday and Sundays as one of METRO’s perennial Top 5 routes. This change will provide consistent transit service along Markham Street, a major Little Rock arterial road serving retail outlets, residences and health providers, with one route. Following public feedback for this recommendation, METRO is launching a 15-minute UAMS Circulator route that will share stops with Routes 5 West Markham and Route 1 Pulaski Heights serving the UAMS/VA campuses so riders can connect to locations within the campuses.
2020 Route 5 Approved Recommendation – Cost Neutral Section Only
2020 UAMS Circulator Approved Recommendation
Map of Approved Markham Corridor Network
2020 Route 5 Approved Recommendation Map
Route 1 Pulaski Heights
To reduce duplication along Markham Street and provide a new, second north-south midtown Little Rock connection within the transit network, METRO staff recommends realigning the eastern portion of Route 1 to Pine and Cedar Streets between Hillcrest and Asher, near the intersection of Roosevelt. This alignment offers connections to Routes 3, 5, 14 and 16, alleviating the need to travel to the downtown area to make those connections and reconnecting the neighborhoods north and south of I-630. Three of those connecting routes – Routes 3, 5 and 14 – are in the Top 5 highest-ridership routes in the system, so this is an especially meaningful connection. The weekday frequency will improve to service every 30 minutes, and the new proposal provides Sunday service, which is currently not offered to Route 1 riders. METRO will work with the city, private developers, UAMS and the VA hospital to establish an accessible connection to the hospital campuses. Additionally, this alignment and the route connections it offers strengthens the effectiveness of a developed midtown transfer hub, which is already needed, for the future. Following public feedback for this recommendation, METRO is launching a 15-minute UAMS Circulator route that will share stops with Routes 5 West Markham and Route 1 Pulaski Heights serving the UAMS/VA campuses so riders can connect to locations within the campuses.
2020 Route 1 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved Markham Corridor Network
2020 Route 1 Approved Recommendation Map
Routes 17 Mabelvale/Downtown, 22 University Ave./Mabelvale and 23 Baseline/Southwest
To reduce redundancy along University Avenue, Geyer Springs Road and Baseline Road, improve the customer experience for transfers, improve the area’s span of service and improve frequencies on a key connector route, METRO staff recommends the following Southwest Little Rock service adjustments modifications: Staff recommends eliminating Route 17, which shares most of its route with Routes 22 and 23. Simultaneously, staff recommends modifying Route 22 to serve the Midtown Avenue shopping and health centers at its northern terminus and the Baseline Walmart at its southern terminus, replacing the one-way loop along Mabelvale with bidirectional service along Geyer Springs Road and Mabelvale Cutoff Road. Weekday and Saturday frequencies will be improved to every 30 minutes, and Sunday frequencies will be improved by more than half, transitioning from current 90-minute service to 40-minute service. The elimination of one-way service should greatly improve the rider transfer experience and will aid LRSD students accessing the newer Southwest High School near the route’s southern terminus. In tandem, staff recommends increasing the Route 23 span of service on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., offering employees the ability to work Sunday shifts at the Outlets of Little Rock, Amazon and other area retailers.
2020 Route 17 Approved Recommendation – Cost Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 22 Approved Recommendation – Cost Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 23 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved Southwest Little Rock Network
2020 Route 22 Approved Recommendation Map
2020 Route 23 Approved Recommendation Map
Route 8 Rodney Parham
To improve frequency and reduce redundancy along Markham Street, METRO staff recommends streamlining Route 8 by removing its portion east of University Avenue and eliminating its route deviation to Mississippi and H Streets. Frequencies will improve to 30-minute service on weekdays and Saturdays and 40-minute service on Sundays. Improved spans of service on Saturdays will aid employees heading to jobs in the Midtown area’s retailers and restaurants.
2020 Route 8 Approved Recommendations Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 8 Approved Recommendations Map
Routes 2 South Main, 14 Rosedale, 11 Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Drive and 16 UA – Little Rock
To improve the customer experience and offer transit access to more locations along major arterial roads with more transit destinations, METRO staff recommends the following modifications to Routes 2, 11, 14 and 16, which primarily serve locations south of I-630. Routes 2 and 11 will be interlined to create more streamlined bidirectional service and are complemented by a realignment of Route 14 to turn north from Roosevelt onto Main Street and the reduction of one-way service for Route 16. The result is a streamlined grid of connected transit service with more even stop spacing for access to more places. Route 2 South Main, which will undergo a name change to Broadway, will primarily operate along Broadway Street and will enjoy an expanded span of service, connecting residents to Sunday worship services and weekend job shifts. It will be interlined with Route 11 Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Drive, which means Route 11 riders will benefit from the elimination of a long one-way service loop and will also enjoy a greater span of service to connect to Sunday worship services and weekend job shifts. Route 14 Rosedale, which will be renamed South Main/Rosedale service will be realigned to Main Street to improve weekday and Saturday frequencies to 30-minute service, as well as serve Roosevelt, a major Little Rock arterial road, east of Schiller to Main Street. Route 14 will also continue straight to 36th Street rather than deviating to Colonel Glenn Road, which is already served by the METRO Connect John Barrow Road on-demand service zone. Route 16 UA – Little Rock will see reduced one-way service and will serve the perimeter of the UA – Little Rock campus, including transit destinations along University Avenue, offering a more direct transfer opportunity to Route 22.
2020 Route 2 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 14 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 11 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 16 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved South Little Rock Network
2020 Route 2 Approved Recommendation Map
2020 Route 14 Approved Recommendation Map
2020 Route 11 Approved Recommendation Map
2020 Route 16 Approved Recommendation Map
Route 6 Granite Mountain
To improve the customer experience, Route 6 Granite Mountain will be streamlined to a more direct alignment. This will improve the weekday frequency to a 40-minute frequency, add Sunday service (which Route 6 does not currently have) and improve the span of service on Saturdays for improved jobs access. The route will also offer bidirectional service along Barber between 21st and Roosevelt, in order to more directly serve Kroger.
2020 Route 6 Approved Recommendation Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved South Little Rock Network
2020 Route 6 Approved Recommendation Map
Routes 19 Hensley Express, 26 Maumelle/Oak Grove Express, 36 Sherwood/Jacksonville Express and 25 Pinnacle Mountain Express
To streamline the overall transit network and improve service where riders use it most, including adding the No. 1 rider service request to the network design, which is to serve Chenal Parkway up to Rahling Road, a major jobs corridor, the METRO staff recommends eliminating the four express routes, which are the lowest ridership routes in the 23-route system and which are the most expensive to operate. To realign staff and bus resources to higher ridership routes at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, METRO suspended Routes 26, 36 and 25 on March 20, and METRO suspended Route 19 a few weeks later. The very minimal rider feedback METRO received in response to these suspensions is indicative of the declining express route ridership logged over a multi-year period. While there is still a need for transit service in some of these areas, the need is minimal and has changed in nature since these routes were implemented more than 30 years ago. To address existing transit needs, METRO is exploring new and different services, such as limited on-demand weekly shuttles, to reach outer suburban areas with some level of transit demand. METRO is also encouraging Route 19, 26, 36 and 25 riders looking for jobs access to explore the new METRO Pool shared-rides-to-jobs service, which provides groups of four riders or more to a new-model vehicle (SUV, crossover, van, etc.) to ride together from nearby areas to jobs sites that are located close to each other. Various transit service solutions for residents in these areas are being explored. Any potential new service model for these areas would be implemented in Fall/Winter 2022, pending approval from the respective jurisdictions to re-join the METRO system under its new funding formula and invest in such service.
2020 Route 19 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 25 Approved Recommendation – Cost Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 26 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 36 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Express Route Service Area with Potential Microtransit Areas
Route 10 McCain Mall
To streamline service, METRO staff recommends maintaining Route 10 McCain Mall service along McCain Boulevard to serve the McCain Mall campus and streamlining the terminal loop (the bus will turn south onto Richards Road, loop through the Baptist Health campus, then turn right onto Stockton Drive, and left/north onto Richards Road again).
Route 13 UA – Pulaski Technical College
To provide more direct service and improved connectivity, METRO staff recommends modifying Route 13 UA – Pulaski Technical College to use Pike Avenue and Pershing Boulevard to access the UA – Pulaski Technical College and Fort Roots VA destinations. This is a modification of the route change recommendation initially discussed (that plan would have changed north of 18th Street to use Percy Machin Drive, 22nd Street and Willow Street to access Pershing Boulevard) but will allow the bus to operate without interruption from a railroad crossing in the area. The route will meet the current route pattern along Pershing Boulevard at the Memorial Drive intersection. To provide a shorter trip for riders, the terminal loop at UA – Pulaski Technical College would not deviate north of Pershing to Scenic or south into the Sarah Daisy Apartments. This modified route offers the first east-west North Little Rock transit connection in the METRO system, city and county history – a boon for riders looking for connection to jobs and shopping along the JFK and McCain corridors and to better access the UA – Pulaski Technical College campus from residences in the midtown and east areas of North Little Rock.
2020 Route 10 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 13 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved North Little Rock Route 10-13-18 Areas
2020 Route 10 Approved Recommendation Map
2020 Route 13 Approved Recommendation Map
Route 18 McAlmont
To provide a more direct and therefore shorter travel time for riders, METRO staff recommends modifying Route 18 McAlmont to operate bidirectionally along Broadway between Main Street and Glenview Lane to provide more transit access to areas north of Broadway; to no longer deviate to Sam Evans Drive and to no longer deviate to one-way service and Sunday-only service.
2020 Route 18 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved North Little Rock Route 10-13-18 Areas
2020 Route 18 Approved Recommendation Map
Routes 4 Levy/Amboy
To improve access to transit and the rider experience, METRO staff recommends replacing Route 4 with a METRO Connect microtransit zone. This change will provide convenient, on-demand, nearby transit service to more residents and eliminate a large, one-way transit loop with a termination point that riders find confusing for accurate schedule prediction. This change would include placing a transit stop for the Levy/Amboy microtransit zone at Willow & Pershing for connections to Route 13 UA – Pulaski Technical College and Route 10 McCain Mall. Following public feedback for this recommendation, METRO will operate a Route 4 Levy/Amboy express bus during peak morning and afternoon commuting times. This route will operate on the same neighborhood loop as the existing route and will operate along I-40 and I-30 to reach the downtown Little Rock bus station for transfers to the larger network.
2020 Route 4 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved Route 4 Express and Levy/Amboy and Shorter College Microtransit Zone
2020 Route 4 Approved Recommendation Map (Focus on Route 4 Area of Entire Zone)
Route 7 Shorter College
To improve access to transit and the rider experience, METRO staff recommends replacing Route 7 with a METRO Connect microtransit zone. This change will provide convenient, on-demand, nearby transit service to more residents and eliminate confusing, one-way service loops that make it difficult for riders to know where to catch inbound and outbound buses. This change would include placing a transit stop for the microtransit zone at Willow & Pershing for connections to both the Levy and Amboy neighborhoods, Route 13 UA – Pulaski Technical College and Route 10 McCain Mall.
2020 Route 7 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved Route 4 Express and Levy/Amboy and Shorter College Microtransit Zone
2020 Route 7 Approved Recommendation Map (Focus on Route 7 Area of Entire Zone)
Route 3 Baptist Medical Center
To improve service, METRO staff recommends increasing frequencies on Route 3, which is one of the perennial Top 5 most popular routes in the METRO system and one of Little Rock’s perennial Top 3 routes, to every 30 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays and increases the span of service to 10 p.m. on weekdays, 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 7 p.m. on Sundays.
2020 Route 3 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 3 Approved Recommendation Map (No Route Pattern Change)
Route 21 Riverdale/METRO Connect Riverdale Microtransit Zone Pilot Project
To improve the customer experience and make efficient use of agency resources, METRO suspended Route 21 Riverdale in March 2020 to begin a 1-year microtransit pilot project. METRO staff recommends permanently removing Route 21 and continuing to offer Riverdale residents microtransit service.
Routes 12 Clinton Center/Airport and 20 Hanger Hill/College Station
To improve access to transit and the rider experience, METRO staff recommends replacing Routes 12 Clinton Center Airport and 20 Hanger Hill/College Station, the two lowest ridership non-express fixed routes in the bus system, with a METRO Connect microtransit zone that covers Hanger Hill, East Village, College Station, the airport and the port. This change will provide convenient, on-demand, nearby transit service to more residences and job sites. This change would include adding Sunday service to Route 20, which it has not previously enjoyed, and placing a transit stop at the River Cities Travel Center for connections to 11 other routes and various microtransit zones.
2020 Route 12 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
2020 Route 20 Approved Recommendation – Cost-Neutral Section Only
Map of Approved East Little Rock Microtransit Zone
2020 Route 12 Approved Recommendation Map (Focus on Route 12 Area of Entire Zone)
2020 Route 20 Approved Recommendation Map (Focus on Route 20 Area of Entire Zone)
The overall network design does have an impact on the Links service area, but most of the riders affected have access to the accessible METRO Connect on-demand ride-sharing service, which offers same-day service and is the same fare as the fixed route system.
Specifically, this METRO Links paratransit service map – adjusted for all the accompanying route change recommendations for Spring 2022, with timing subject to METRO’s ongoing COVID-19 service response (or beyond, depending on the implementation phasing) – details areas of impact: The teal color on the majority of the map represents proposed paratransit coverage, all of which is currently in service. The yellow-green color on the map represents areas that currently have paratransit service that would not be covered by paratransit service in Spring 2022 (or beyond, depending on the implementation phasing). Most of these areas, such as the Levy/Amboy neighborhood in North Little Rock and the airport and port/Hanger Hill and College Station neighborhoods area in East Little Rock will instead enjoy microtransit service, which operates with accessible vehicles and offers paratransit riders something regular paratransit service cannot: Same-day service without up-to-30-minute pickup windows, with fixed-route service fares (which are half the cost of paratransit service). The areas in blue, which are a small residential area in Southwest Little Rock and along the proposed Route 5 West Markham extension along Chenal Boulevard to the Chenal Promenade shopping center, represent new paratransit service coverage. These changes are dependent on all existing route recommendations going into effect beginning in Spring 2022. METRO’s ongoing COVID-19 response will require phased implementation of the plan, and phase timing adjustments will be made as necessary.
Map of Approved METRO Links Service Area
There was a 30-day public comment period July 8-Aug. 7 for the 2020 proposed annual service enhancements, followed by by a Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 approval for the proposed changes, with modifications to Routes 4, 5 and 13, by the METRO Board of Directors. Changes will be implemented beginning in Spring 2022, with timing subject to METRO’s ongoing COVID-19 service response and phase timing adjustments made as needed.
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