Tulsa Transit, city bus service, called lousy, waste of money for passengers

TULSA - At 5.25 a.m. 10-year-old Devon Williams and his grandmother, Raelynn Light, are out the door.

In the predawn darkness they head for the Tulsa Transit bus stop to catch a city bus to get him to his school. The bus stop is more than a half mile down Sheridan Road from their north Tulsa house.

"We catch the bus 100 at 6 o'clock," said Light.

Once on board it's another 25 to 30 minutes to the downtown bus station. During the trip they go over homework. Sometimes Devon has a quick snack or catnap.

If the bus runs on schedule they arrive downtown at 6:30 a.m. It's just enough time to get on another bus -- the 105 Peoria bus heading south.

It takes almost two hours from the time they leave their house to the time Devon arrives at Wright Elementary.

Devon rides Tulsa Transit so he can attend Wright because it's next door to the Tulsa Ballet, where he's a fourth-year scholarship student. Devon and his grandmother depend on the bus to get them across town each day so he can keep his scholarship.

They are not alone. Tulsa Transit estimates people took three million trips on its buses last year. It has seen ridership increase 24 percent over the past two years. However, some riders say the system doesn't get people where they need to be in a reasonable amount of time.

We took their concerns to Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum.

He says the bus system is lagging in time because it's lagging in funds.

"Really where we've been for several decades now is that our public transit system is really funded at a level where it is by design a mode of transportation of last resort," said Bynum.

Taxpayers pay for most of that funding. Of Tulsa Transit's $17 million annual budget, nearly $14 million is funded by tax dollars.

Forty-four percent comes from the city, nearly $8 million a year. The rest is state and federal funds. Passenger fares account for only 19 percent of Tulsa's $17 million annual budget.

"We're wasting millions of dollars to provide a lousy service," said Bynum.

Tulsa Transit has 18 bus lines running through parts of Tulsa, Jenks, Sand Springs and Broken Arrow. Fifty buses run weekdays, but only seven run late into the evening. Weekday ridership averages 12,700 passengers.

On Saturdays just 28 buses are on the road. On Sunday there is no service at all, which means you can't take a city bus to church or to run errands.

"There are a lot of people in Tulsa that would use public transit if it arrived more frequently," said Bynum.

Meeting that goal is what's behind the idea of forming new "express" lines on the busiest route, but it doesn't come cheap. Just one "express" line along Peoria, the bus system's busiest route, will cost $15 million. It also takes two years to build.

Tulsans voted for the Peoria Bus Rapid Transit Project as part of  Proposition 2 and 3  Tuesday night (http://bit.ly/18qeN8Q). City leaders say more funding and express routes on the busiest routes are the only way to fix the lengthy time it takes to ride a bus in Tulsa.

Getting home for Devon and his grandmother sometimes takes three and a half hours. The 105 Peoria northbound is supposed to pick them up at 45th and Peoria between 5:59 p.m. and 6:11 p.m.

"If the 105 bus isn't on time, we miss our connection downtown at 6:30," said Light.

If they miss that connection, "Then we don't get home until between 9 and 9:30."

On the night we followed Devon and his grandmother the bus arrived at 6:17. It was five minutes too late to make their connection to transfer buses at the downtown station.

The day 2NEWS Investigators spent with Devon and his grandma, he waited for or rode city buses for more than five hours just to get to school and home.

Tomorrow they'll wake up at 5 a.m. and do it all over again.  

Print this article Back to Top