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Metroplan Study: Financial Commitment Key to Conway-LR Bus Service

4 min read

A feasibility study released by Metroplan on an express bus service between Conway and Little Rock found that capital costs, funding sources and operating responsibility would be obstacles in the implementation of the route.

The study, prepared by Gresham Smith & Partners of Nashville, found the total capital cost would be between $1.2-$2.2 million. The start-up phase would cost between $635,000 and $1.3 million, and the build-out phase would incur another $600,000 to $900,000 in costs. Annual operation costs, including maintenance, would cost between $218,000 and $267,000 in the start-up phase and between $435,000 and $511,000 in the build-out phase.

More: View the entire study here (PDF)

The study, initiated by officials in Faulkner and Pulaski counties, found the bus service should be implemented through the two phases with the start-up phase lasting four years and the build-out phase after five years.

“The phasing approach to the service will depend on ridership trends, the extent to which the express bus service can be integrated into local transit routes, the overall performance and productivity of the service and the availability and productivity of the service and the availability of local capital and operating revenue sources.

The start-up phase would establish routes with 11 revenue vehicle hours that would require two vehicles to operate between 6-9 a.m. and 3:30-6:30 p.m. on weekdays at 60-minute frequencies.

The build-out phase would increase the bus frequency between Conway and downtown Little Rock to 30-minute frequencies as demand increases. Four vehicles would be required to complete the stops. During this phase, stops may also be added to a new interchange in Conway and the I-630 medical district.

The study’s estimates show between 75 and 90 riders a day, or between 18,750 and 22,500 a year, would use the service during the start-up phase for an annual revenue between $90,156 and $136,000. During the build-out phase, the daily ridership would increase to 150 to 200 passengers, or 37,500 to 50,000 passengers a year, for an annual revenue between $180,313 and $303,000.

Based on survey results, a one-way fare would cost $3 for standard buses and $4 for motor coach buses. A monthly pass would be $50 for the standard buses and $60 for motor coach buses.

The Bus Route

The study considered two routes for the bus service. One route ran along I-40 from Conway into west Little Rock on I-430, and into downtown Little Rock on I-630. 

The alternative route, which was selected to have better balance between travel time and destinations, ran along I-40 from Conway into North Little Rock and downtown Little Rock on I-30. The route would run 32 miles and begin with stops in Conway at Skyline Drive and Dave Ward Drive exits on I-40. It would continue south on I-40 and onto I-30 and exit on West Broadway in North Little Rock. 

Then, the bus service would continue on West Broadway, turn south on Maple Street, cross the Main Street Bridge into Little Rock, turn left onto Fourth Street and make a stop at the River Cities Travel Center. Then, the bus would leave, turn right onto Scott Street, then left onto Third Street and travel to the state Capitol. The bus service would then travel across the Broadway bridge to a stop on Main Street in North Little Rock before traveling north on I-30 and I-40 to its original two stops in Conway. 

The study said existing Central Arkansas Transit Authority bus routs would serve as feeder bus routes for the express bus service at the stops in North Little Rock, the River Cities Travel Center and the state Capitol.

A reverse commute from Little Rock or North Little Rock to Conway is not feasible at the time, due to Conway’s lack of a local transit, the study says. 

The study area encompasses a total population of 305,000 and 234,450 jobs, according to data from 2010. 

The bus service would target “choice riders.” It’s different from traditional local bus services in that the express service limits pick-ups and drop-offs and transports passengers from an origination point, possibly a park-and-ride lot, to a major destination point. 

Funding the Service

Funding for the bus service could be jumpstarted with money from capital programs during the start-up phase, but over time, local and regional sources will need to step up. 

The study examined three management scenarios — private operator, joint agency from Conway and Faulkner County, and CATA — for the bus service. The first question that must be addressed is whether CATA or Conway and Faulkner County will become the project sponsor and assume the responsibility for the service, or if a private transportation company would operate the service based on service revenues.

If the service is not to be implemented from private funds, the acceptance of publicly subsidized service using federal transit funds is possible. 

“If so, then other local or state resources must be determined,” the study says. “In summary, the cost of the express bus service will not pay for itself through farebox revenues, thus, the implementation of the service will be dependent on local, state and federal subsides, and the willingness of the project sponsor and/or partnering organizations to pursue funding for the new transit service.”

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