When looking for inspiration on communities that have embraced the evolving future of public transportation, one would be amiss not to look to Oklahoma City. The public transit system there, called Embark is one of a growing number of transit systems that offer multi-modal traveling as well as fare payment; through its Embark offers a mobile ticketing option for its fixed route, demand-response, and street car riders, powered by Token Transit.
On December 14, 2018, Embark launched its new Oklahoma City Streetcar (or OKS Streetcar for the locals) running on two loops: a 4.8-mile downtown loop and the smaller 2-mile Bricktown loop serving the area near the OKC Dodgers stadium and the Riverwalk. The service ran fare-free for its first 6 weeks; in the first month, over 95,000 rode the system. On February 1, regular fares kicked in at $1 for a single ride and $384 for an annual pass; a monthly pass is also available. Embark has implemented signal prioritization at two intersections and will expand it to the entirety of both loops in the near future. The streetcar seems to be a good way to connect to major tourist stops, the colorful downtown library, government buildings, and the transit center
The “Spokie’s” (Spokes + Okies – get it?) bikeshare system in downtown offers active travelers another option. It was pleasing to see some brightly painted bike lanes, something that my hometown of Washington, D.C. could use, as it discourages cars from using bike lanes as an additional turn or travel lane.
Embark is also partnering with CTAA on a Transportation Innovation Grant funded by the Arnall Foundation focused on improving transportation for families in Oklahoma County who have children in the foster care system. CTAA, in partnership with Embark and the Oklahoma Transit Association, is developing a pilot program that increases parent-child reunifications in Oklahoma County through innovative transportation delivery. As the on-the-ground partner, Embark is supporting the roll out and implementation of the program. They recently hired a Mobility Manager to support the program. Along with the new staff addition, they are working on developing and will be providing, free trips on its fixed-route system to reward participants who meet monthly progress benchmarks.
In June, CTAA staff Amy Conrick and Alex King visited Oklahoma City to kick off the joint work on this exciting new opportunity. During the four-day visit, CTAA and Embark staff completed interviews with parents who will be served by the new program, Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) case workers, and other key stakeholders, in order to gain a better understanding of the ins and outs of the foster care system, and how the proposed transportation program can best serve biological parents working towards reunification with their children.
The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.