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Embark expands evening service

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People waiting for their various buses, at the Embark downtown transite station, 11-20-15. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • People waiting for their various buses, at the Embark downtown transite station, 11-20-15.

Oklahoma City’s Embark employees often receive rider surveys requesting expansion of the public transit system’s evening and Sunday bus services.

The results are no surprise to Jason Ferbrache, Embark director. He agrees with the feedback and understands that for many, workdays don’t end at 7 p.m.

“We’ve been able to get people to work, but we haven’t been able to get them home,” Ferbrache told Oklahoma Gazette. “Now, we are making pretty good strides in solving that challenge.”

The first stride came in January 2015 when two Embark bus lines launched hourly departures between 7 p.m. and midnight from its downtown transit hub and another hub on the city’s west side. The No. 023 route travels to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center before moving west along NW 23rd Street. The No. 011 route takes riders to the southside and travels through Capitol Hill.

Since public transit was nearly nonexistent for more than three decades in Oklahoma City, Embark leaders wondered about the long-term success of evening routes. June 2015 data alleviated their concern. During the night shift, Embark averaged close to 10 riders per service hour, about half the number of daytime riders.

“We had already proposed expanding the (evening) route to two other routes,” Ferbrache said. “Looking at our data through June, it was evident that people were using and embracing the evening routes rather quickly.”

Jan. 25, Embark added two more night bus lines. No. 013 travels north and south along Western Avenue between Interstate 240 and downtown. It also stops at Oklahoma City Community College.

No. 005 covers northwest OKC and travels north and south along Classen Boulevard.

The routes connect riders to health care at Mercy Health Center and Integris Southwest Medical Center.

Now, Embark operates four lines 7 p.m.-midnight Monday through Friday. The buses run at an hourly frequency with stops every 30 minutes. Community response to the transit system’s night service mimics its daytime response. For 18 consecutive months, Embark ridership grew year-over-year and averaged around 12,000 passenger trips per day.

During that time, Embark also launched service enhancements, including system changes, increased frequency and upgrades to technology, such as installing Wi-Fi hotspots and real-time data tracking to give riders the most accurate information on when buses will arrive.

To launch night service in 2015, the council provided $420,000 in additional funding to Embark. Last fall, City Manager Jim Couch called for a hiring freeze as the city coped with lower tax revenue.

City staff predicts a difficult budget year for fiscal year 2016-17. Departments, including Embark, are preparing for possible cuts.

“There is a chance we may have to delay further night expansion,” Ferbrache said. “We’ve been on a pretty good role of frequency enhancements and expanding the night service. This might be the year we have to delay or not move as quickly.”

Print headline: Evening lineup, Embark further expands evening bus routes as it continues to enhance its public transit services.

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