Incredible things are happening in every corner of Oklahoma City, but — despite the new restaurants, revitalized neighborhoods, art festivals and more — our community comes up short in one vital aspect of city life: public transportation.
In my work as president and CEO of NewView Oklahoma, formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind, I work every day with residents for whom public transportation isn’t an option, but a necessity.
A proposal currently before the Oklahoma City Council would provide funding for bus service on Sundays. The plan would cost $1.5 million out of a $950 million proposed budget. That investment of less than 1 percent of the city’s budget could make a dramatic difference in the lives of many.
Oklahoma City was designed and built around the automobile. Most of us drive cars everywhere. Many residents may not know that METRO Transit and METRO Lift (curb-to-curb paratransit for wheelchair users and others) are unavailable on Sundays.
But if you are unable to drive — because of age, disability or economic circumstances — you do know that the buses don’t run on Sunday, and you build your life around that fact. A recent passenger survey conducted by the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority found that Sunday service is the improvement most desired by bus riders.
If Oklahoma City truly aspires to be a big-league city, public transit must be a part of the equation. Ours is one of the only major metropolitan areas in the nation without Sunday bus service. You can find at least limited Sunday bus service in Little Rock, Ark.; Fort Worth, Texas; Austin, Texas; Omaha, Neb.; and Salt Lake City. San Antonio — where the Thunder has been competing for the Western Conference crown — offers 75 bus routes on Sunday, not to mention park-and-ride service for major sporting events.
Beyond competing with our neighbors or spurring economic development, Sunday bus service is about fairness. Those great dining, shopping, entertainment and cultural opportunities that we might enjoy on a Sunday afternoon are beyond the reach of residents who depend on public transportation. Even buying groceries or attending church could be out of the question.
City residents have celebrated our community’s resurgence with the same excitement and optimism that greets a Thunder playoff run. As our community continues to progress, we must ensure that all our citizens have the opportunity to move forward together. Many depend on public transportation to get to the places and do the things we take for granted. Don’t leave them waiting for the bus.
Branch is president and CEO of NewView Oklahoma.