Rock Region Metro micro-transit option sparks debate in North Little Rock
NORTH LITTLE ROCK – For transit agency Rock Region Metro, convincing riders that the economy fleet of Uber and Lyft-style vans is running on time is a challenge.
Last week, North Little Rock City Council questioned new Rock Region General Manager Justin Avery about the transit agency’s move from traditional buses to the agency’s new micro-transit option. transit system called Metro Connect.
Due to pandemic-related cost reductions, Rock Region has reduced some of its traditional bus service in favor of cheaper and more high-tech micro-transit, a system where people order a ride on their smartphone that can take them anywhere within a specially designated area.
But in the two years Rock Region implemented the micro-transit system, it hasn’t worked for many North Little Rock commuters who rely on buses, city and community officials said. .
“You’ve just been in place for six months, so you may not be aware of all the issues that have taken place, but people have been unhappy,” said Linda Robinson, a member of the Council for Ward 2, in Avery, which has been named Rock Region. CEO in June after serving as the agency’s acting head.
Many passengers said the bus system worked well for them, with buses arriving regularly. But amid the pandemic, with lower ridership and fewer drivers, Rock Region announced cuts to its traditional bus service, some of the city’s poorest communities where many don’t own a car.
Rock Region has operated a micro-transit area in the Shorter College area of North Little Rock for about two years, but has expanded in recent weeks. The Rock area also has micro-transit areas for Little Rock’s Riverdale, Barrow Road and East Side areas, with plans to expand to the towns of Jacksonville and Sherwood.
In June, Rock Region launched two additional micro-transit zones in North Little Rock – the McAlmont and Levy-Amboy zones, where a commuter can order a ride to pick them up but only take them elsewhere in the zone or to a big as the River Cities Travel Center in downtown Little Rock.
Among the cuts was the Rock area’s Shorter College bus line, which provided traditional bus service to the working-class communities of Dark Hollow, Sherman Park and Dixie. Instead, zone passengers have been encouraged to download the Rock Region app to order rides that can take them to a transfer station to catch another bus.
“They were used to the regular bus,” Robinson said. “They knew the bus would come every hour or two hours.”
Belinda Burney, a resident of Dark Hollow and leader of her neighborhood association, said residents, many of whom are elderly, have struggled to adjust to the change. Figuring out how to adjust between taking the bus and ordering a ride on a smartphone or making an appointment in advance online or by phone can be a difficult adjustment.
“For the people of Dark Hollow it’s very confusing, they don’t understand how this new program works and they were never told how it works,” Burney said.
Representatives from the Rock area attended the neighborhood association‘s last meeting in June as part of an awareness campaign and are expected to come the next Tuesday to answer questions from residents. Robinson said the transit agency’s poor outreach explaining to customers how Metro Connect works is one reason many are upset.
Robinson asked Avery to return to North Little Rock council in August to answer more questions and submit a report by 2023 on Metro Connect.
When Robinson asked the new Rock-area CEO if the transit agency’s service was running after two years, he replied “it’s undetermined at this time.”
“I would say I think we need to get out there and raise awareness in this area,” Avery said.