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Bus route changes will help homeless access services, city officials say

Oklahoma City this week was awarded a federal grant to develop a bus rapid transit line between downtown and the northwest side. [The Oklahoman archives]
Oklahoma City this week was awarded a federal grant to develop a bus rapid transit line between downtown and the northwest side. [The Oklahoman archives]

Oklahoma City transit officials are considering a plan to redraw two bus routes to offer homeless and low-income residents better access to services they need.

The move comes amid an ongoing conversation about how the city's transit system can better serve residents who don't have cars of their own.

Under the new plan, EMBARK, the city's public transit service, would reroute bus route 008 to provide stops at the Homeless Alliance's northwest Oklahoma City campus. Bus route 009 would be altered to include stops near NorthCare, a community mental health facility; ReMerge, a jail diversion program; and Positive Tomorrows, a school for homeless children. The transit authority's board of trustees is expected to consider the plan at its Dec. 7 meeting.

“It's huge for our clients," said Dan Straughan, executive director of the nonprofit Homeless Alliance.

The bus stops closest to the nonprofit's campus are a few blocks north, on Linwood Avenue, and a few blocks south, on Main Street. Many of the nonprofit's clients have mobility issues, Straughan said, so those three blocks can be a challenge for some people who need to access the nonprofit's day shelter or meet with service providers on site.

George Dortch, 57, said the move will make a big difference for him and many others. Dortch, who has been homeless for about seven months, goes to the Homeless Alliance's day shelter most mornings. To get there, he takes a bus to a stop on Linwood Boulevard and walks a few blocks south.

Dortch suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it difficult to get around. Although the distance from the bus stop to the day shelter isn't far, it's a difficult trek for him, he said, especially during cold weather.

"That three blocks is like miles to me," he said.

James Cooper, a member of the transit authority's board of trustees, said city officials and advocates were wise to establish centers like the Homeless Alliance and Palomar, which works with victims of domestic violence. Both nonprofits pull together several service providers at single sites, making it less difficult for people who need those services to navigate those systems.

It is the city's responsibility to make sure residents who need those services can get to those locations, said Cooper, who is running for the Ward 2 city council seat. Placing bus stops nearby is a part of that goal, Cooper said, as is Sunday bus service, which the Oklahoma City Council voted earlier this year to begin. But the city's buses also need to run more frequently and later into the evening, he said.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said the city for decades did not invest enough in public transportation. Until recently, Holt said, the city's transit system wasn't a major priority for city leaders. That is partly because the people who rely on buses for transportation haven't had much political power, he said.

Also, Oklahoma City sprawls across 620 square miles, making it a challenge to provide adequate bus service to every area, he said.

“It's a historic result of a city built around the automobile," he said.

Over the past decade, the city has put more money toward the transit system in years in which the city saw revenue growth. Although the city's transit service has come a long way, it has a long way to go, he said.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›