Folks in downtown Oklahoma City and Bricktown will soon see a new public transportation vehicle rolling through the streets. The Downtown Discovery buses will hit streets this month in place of the Downtown Spirit Trolleys.
The Downtown Spirit trolleys are now 13 years old and were implemented in 1999 as part of the first MAPS program. The Trolleys carried nearly 85,000 downtown visitors and employees in 2012, a 41 percent increase since 2009.
“We loved the nostalgic look of the trolleys, but they have reached the end of their economic useful life and are no longer manufactured,” said Erick Zaage, fleet manager at METRO Transit. “Because of the height of the trolleys, they required passengers to climb stairs or use wheelchair lifts that presented maintenance issues.”
In their place, METRO Transit will roll out six new, 30 foot buses that are much more passenger-friendly. The buses are lower to the ground, feature a wheelchair ramp instead of a lift, have padded seats, bike racks and enhanced air conditioning. The new buses also feature a state-of-the-art emission system which meets 2013 EPA mandates.
The new buses, being dubbed the “Downtown Discovery,” will be free to riders through a private-sector sponsorship and will maintain the same route and schedule as the trolleys. The Downtown Discovery destinations include the central business district, Bricktown, the Oklahoma City Memorial, the arts district, downtown transit center and the boat house district April – December.
During the most recent rider survey conducted in 2012, METRO Transit found 55 percent of downtown trolley riders were visitors and 45 percent were Oklahoma City residents. While a majority of the visitors were riding for recreational and sightseeing purposes, the trolley is also used to shuttle people to work, school and for shopping and dining.
“Downtown public transportation definitely has an impact on our visitors and even residents,” said Jeannette Smith, executive director of the Bricktown Association. “Anything we can do to make their stay more enjoyable helps the city and local businesses. People who ride in on the Heartland Flyer or valet their cars can just hop on the bus and go to the Memorial or the River. It’s very important to have that kind of transportation.”