Transit service reviews options for route tweaks

Overpass closing looms in LR

A Rock Region Metro bus makes its way through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus in this 2017 file photo.
A Rock Region Metro bus makes its way through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus in this 2017 file photo.

Proposed adjustments to a handful of Rock Region Metro bus routes won generally positive feedback from riders who attended a public hearing Tuesday at the Central Arkansas Library System's main branch in downtown Little Rock.

Among the proposed route changes is one to address the pending closing of a bridge carrying South Hughes Street over Interstate 630, which is used by Route 3, and one to modify Route 7 in the Dark Hollow area of North Little Rock to include a loop circulating through downtown.

The Pulaski County transit agency's proposals also involve the bus route servicing the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock. Rock Region wants to switch its Arkansas River crossing from Main Street to the Broadway bridge to restore some service to the area of the new bridge that was halted when the old bridge was closed.

That change will throw off Amber Tweh's carefully calibrated bus-riding routine. She was among a handful of riders who attended Tuesday's hearing, the second of three the transit agency is holding to garner feedback. The third hearing will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. today, also at the Central Arkansas Library System's main branch at 100 S. Rock St.

While Tweh said she understood the rationale for adjusting the route, the North Little Rock resident said it narrows the two-hour window she now enjoys to get errands done on the south side of the river.

"If I can get around in that two hours, I can manage my life," said Tweh, who is retired, has disabilities and no personal vehicle. "I'm going to have to employ my feet a little bit more."

She needs just a 4-minute walk to catch the bus from her home. It is 12 minutes to catch buses on two other routes. It also may cost her more in transfers because she doesn't use buses frequently enough to justify a monthly pass.

"I try to make the most of my transfer potential," Tweh said.

Rock Region officials also considered adding southbound service into the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus. The current southbound route on South University Avenue takes riders just west of the campus.

But Donna Bowers, the agency's operations director, said adding southbound service into the campus would cause frequency to suffer. If a southbound route into the campus is added, the time between buses at each of the route's stops would be up to 45 minutes, from the current 35 minutes.

Wayne Robinson, a U.S. Air Force retiree who uses several bus routes daily, including "riding the bus to eat something special," was among the hearing's attendees. Robinson said he wanted to get details on the proposed changes, which he said he could manage.

Robinson, in particular, questioned Bowers about the two proposed options for Route 3 to avoid the South Hughes Street overpass. One option would have the route continue to use Sandpiper Drive off South Hughes Street and circulate in the midtown area. The other has it continuing north on South Hughes Street, west on West Markham Street and south on South Mississippi Street before continuing on West 12th Street.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department's planned replacement of the South Hughes Street overpass on Interstate 630 as part of a project to widen the interstate in that area will require the overpass to be closed for six months or more.

Under Federal Transit Administration rules, the route must be permanently changed any time part of the existing route is closed for more than six months.

Robinson said he also noticed that the change to Route 7 would put it farther away from a Burger King restaurant he likes to frequent in North Little Rock.

"That's why I'm here -- to listen and to learn," he said. "Why complain when you can be involved. You might not change anything, but you can be abreast" of the changes.

None of the proposed changes affect routes that were adjusted after a route review last year. Bowers said they are still being evaluated even though preliminary reviews suggest ridership increased on the adjusted routes.

Rock Region Metro formally launched modifications to 13 of its 26 bus routes on Oct. 31, 2016.

The changes, which also included the removal of a 14th route, were the result of an annual service review focusing on what agency officials described as no-cost or low-cost improvements to make the system more efficient.

The changes include new stops in high-traffic areas, the elimination of low-use stops and other changes designed to reduce delays.

Victoria Wright of Little Rock, who is a caregiver for Care Link, also attended to better understand how the latest changes might affect her bus use.

"I'm a daily rider," she said. "The bus is my life. It's my everything. Overall, it's a good way to get around. It would be a lot better in a car. My clients could be all over the city. It's important to have reliable transportation."

Metro on 07/26/2017