LATS officials assess effects of changes
Adjustments made to Lawton's mass transit system are helping to reduce wear and tear on buses, but managers say they want more time to fully assess the effects of the changes.
McDonald Transit Associates made the adjustments on LATS routes July 19, trimming service on Saturdays and changing access to Fort Sill from a fixed route bus to an on-demand van as part of its efforts to lessen strain on the system's aging fleet. Officials said earlier this year that unless changes were made it was possible aging buses could break down and go out of service, forcing cuts in Lawton's fixed bus routes.
LATS is remedying some of the problems with three new fixed route buses added this fall and will add three more buses in spring 2018. In the meantime, system manager Ryan Landers received permission from the City Transit Trust to make changes on fixed routes, based on the system's lowest passenger days and times.
On Saturdays, the Green, Red and Blue routes have only one bus per hour rather than the clockwise and counterclockwise buses that run each route on weekdays (the Orange Route has only one bus per hour every day it operates). In addition, Saturday's operational hours end at 6 p.m. rather than 9 p.m.
The largest change came on the Orange Route, which was reconfigured to remove Fort Sill stops and expanded to bring it to more north Lawton neighborhoods. To make up for the loss of bus service on post, a Fort Sill shuttle service was created to allow residents who need transportation to and from post to call for a vehicle to serve them, a system similar to the paratransit service that provides curb-to-curb service for qualified riders.
As a condition of their approval to those changes, City Council members (acting in their capacity as the City Transit Trust) directed LATS to bring a report back in 90 days highlighting the effect of changes.
LATS officials acknowledge the changes decreased ridership and revenues paid by passengers. While maintenance costs have dropped significantly in the three months the changes have been in place, operational costs have increased because of additional drivers needed to meet the demand of the Fort Sill shuttle.
Sill shuttle proves popular
Landers said the post shuttle has been more popular than anticipated.
"It's a very needed service," he said, explaining the shuttle started out providing rides to about 10 passengers a day and now carries 25 to 30 passengers a day, meaning at least two pickups every hour.
The analysis indicates riders are happy with the on-demand service that is being provided by a new paratransit vehicle that LATS acquired as part of its fleet upgrade. Because the vehicle (which takes passengers to the downtown transfer center so they can catch buses to get home) is new and smaller, maintenance and fuel costs are less, Landers said. But LATS labor costs have increased because the system needs more drivers to run the popular shuttle service.
Revenues take dip
The change is reflected in revenues: while the system generated $351 in August, that figure increased to $423 in September.
Landers acknowledged that while the Fort Sill shuttle service has regained some riders lost when Fort Sill was removed from the Orange Route, the system hasn't regained all the riders it lost by implementing the change to the fixed route.
"But it's up there," he said, of total ridership numbers. "We think the shuttle (ridership) will increase when word gets out. And, people like the new Orange Route better."