A new executive director is getting settled in at Rock Region Metro. Charles Frazier says he hopes to expand the role of public transit in central Arkansas. Frazier comes to Little Rock from Palm Beach County, Florida where he was an assistant director at Palm Tran, the transit agency there.
Two weeks into his new position, Frazier and Rock Region Metro's Director of Public Engagement Becca Green sat down with KUAR's David Monteith to talk about first impressions, new directions, and to answer questions that had been posted on KUAR's Facebook page. You can hear the full interview above.
Comparing Rock Region Metro with his recent experiences in Florida
Palm Beach County, it's a very large area geographically. You're talking about, just about 2,000 square miles of area to cover, population 1.4 million, so significantly larger than this region. And then interestingly, West Palm Beach, Florida, you have a lot of retirees there, and so our paratransit service in Palm Beach County was significantly larger than it is here. But the two services, if I'm comparing and contrasting a little bit, Rock Region Metro is about one third the size of Palm Tran, but [is] made up of the same services. The fixed route here is a tremendous service to the community from what I can see, providing access to opportunity for the citizens.
Early impressions of the challenges facing Rock Region Metro
I am new to Little Rock and so everybody that I meet, it's a new name, the streets are all new and I hesitate to draw any specific conclusions about what our challenges are yet. I do know that certainly the industry as a whole, across the nation, we are seeing some decreases in ridership, heavily due in part to low gas prices and ridesharing. The communities that are not seeing those decreases in ridership are investing in their public transportation. So without fully knowing the situation here, we are consistent with the rest of the industry. The ridership is down a little bit. Opportunities for us in the future – I think that if the community is ready to invest in public transportation, I certainly believe that that's a good investment. We do a lot more than just move people. We provide access to opportunity.
On whether to ask for a dedicated sales tax for transit
Before we go to the public with a discussion about any type of potential sales tax, they want to be sure, I want to be sure, that we are being as efficient as we can be with the resources that we have. Before we talk about the opportunity for a sales tax, I want to know that the system is running safely. I want to know that we're being efficient. The third thing that I'm going to be looking at is customer service.
Will Frazier consider expanding routes and extending service hours
All of those questions are critically important to what we want to do here at Rock Region Metro. Service out west is certainly a possibility. Later hours of service to help people get to and from their jobs – critically important. Weekend service: this is an area that we have tremendous opportunity. A lot transit agencies, you'll see that they, as a budget saving strategy, reduce hours of service in the evening and then they cut weekend hours, which really baffles me because that's when so many of the people that ride our service need it. So yeah, there's absolutely the possibility for extending service on the weekends. And frequency equals freedom. If you know that a bus is coming every 10 or 15 minutes, the schedule really becomes not that important.