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Changes to LATS pondered

The City of Lawton has the plan. Now it needs the funding to implement changes in its citywide mass transit system.

LSC Transportation Consultants finished a route analysis of the Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) months ago and formally presented its findings last week to two transportation advisory groups, winning approval for a plan crafted after the first major analysis of LATS and its bus routes since the system began operations in 2002.

Those findings: The current five hour-long routes should be expanded to 10 routes; the existing downtown transfer center should be built on a new site, what is now Lawton Police Department; and a new transit hub should be built in west Lawton, at Northwest 52nd Street in Wayne Gilley Park, to link new routes intended to enhance transportation on the city's west side.

While some recommendations have been implemented (Saturday hours were cut almost eight months ago and a contractor was selected to make design plans for the downtown transfer center and west hub), it will be years before the most significant proposals are implemented because the city must find the funding for them.

LSC Transportation Consultants' A.T. Stoddard, outlining his firm's findings and recommendations for the Lawton Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Transportation Technical Committee, said his firm cast the widest possible net to collect the data on which it based recommendations.

Deborah Jones, the former city planner who was instrumental in launching LATS in 2002 and who is the city's liaison to system operator McDonald Transit, pointed to the accuracy of the original analysis as it calculated the areas of Lawton that most needed mass transit. Jones and Stoddard said the recent analysis supported keeping bus routes in those same areas.

"There are very little changes," Jones said.

West Lawton routes

What would change is the number of bus routes serving fixed routes, largely because of enhanced service in west Lawton (which would receive two half-hour routes and routes linked only to the west Lawton transfer hub) and a route that directly serves Fort Sill via North Sheridan Road.

Stoddard said the recommendations were based on a series of surveys done with various groups, including LATS riders. A survey conducted over a two-day period brought a 36 percent response rate from the 1,559 riders who boarded buses those days, something Stoddard called very representative. He said that rate of response from those who most need the service proves Lawton is offering a community service to those who need it.

The survey found that half of LATS riders have incomes of less than $15,000 a year, while 62 percent have no vehicles. Almost half of respondents ride LATS five or six days a week.

Popular stops

The most popular stops include the downtown transfer center at Southwest 4th Street and B Avenue, Sam's Club/Wal-Mart on North Sheridan Road and Comanche County Memorial Hospital/Cameron University on West Gore Boulevard. The least popular  with the fewest number of riders  passed through Fort Sill, the reason McDonald Transit changed the Orange Route in mid-July to remove Fort Sill stops. The post route was replaced with a demand service that allows those who need rides to arrange for a van to pick them up at the transfer center.

Stoddard said stop sites that serve more than one passenger are scattered throughout Lawton, with a concentration in the city's central region. He said that reflects one of the quirks of the system: Passengers may flag down buses anywhere along the routes, rather than using specific bus stops. He said while LATS could build a better base with bus stops, that would be difficult to do in Lawton because the city lacks the sidewalks that make it easier for those with limited mobility to get to bus stops.

The Lawton Constitution

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