The following recap of the background and progression of the MOVE Central Arkansas project links to various information and reports, all of which may be found, sans recap language, on the Plan Documents webpage. #tldr? Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell:
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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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. 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, Nelson/Nygaard will complete 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.