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Norman City Council approves agreement with city bus provider Embark

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CART bus (copy)

A CART bus driving through the intersection of Asp Avenue and Lindsey Street June 13. The city approved a contract with Embark to take over operation of city bus routes, which will take effect Aug. 3. OU will continue operation of four routes on and near campus.

Norman City Council approved a contract with Embark, the government entity operating Oklahoma City's public transit system, to operate the Norman transit routes.

The agreement, which was approved at a special session of city council Tuesday evening, sets Embark to begin operation of city bus routes on Aug. 3, according to a city press release.

“Great cities provide quality public transit options for their residents. While this change was unexpected, we were successful in maintaining service throughout the transition,” Mayor Breea Clark said in the release. “I look forward to working with my council colleagues and Norman residents on improving the current service and creating a public transit system that better serves our community’s needs going forward.”

OU's Cleveland Area Rapid Transit told the city in fall 2018 that it was no longer interested in operating city routes, and both parties began negotiating a transition. CART has operated Norman bus routes since its creation in 1980.

Kris Glenn, OU director of Parking and Transportation, wrote in a July 10 email that OU will continue to operate four routes on or near OU's campus ⁠— the Lloyd Noble Center shuttle, the apartment loop, the campus loop and research shuttle routes.

According to the release, CART will continue to operate paratransit service until Oct. 1, when the city will assume responsibility for its operation. 

Paratransit service is a shared-ride public transportation service for people who are unable to utilize local bus service due to a medically documented disability, according to the release.

Fares will not be collected on either fixed-route or paratransit service throughout the Aug. 5-Oct. 31 transition, according to the release.

“Our top priority throughout this transition process has been to ensure that Norman residents who depend on the bus system would not see a change to their level of service,” said Shawn O’Leary, city director of public works, in the release. “We are pleased that we’ve been able to work out an agreement with the cooperation of CART and EMBARK to achieve that goal with no gaps in service.”

The city's agreement is renewable if both the city and Embark agree to renew it, according to the release.

The council also voted to approve the purchase of 28 public transportation vehicles from OU for $327,274.51 in total, according to the release. The vehicles include four large used buses, 17 small used buses and vans, five used supervisor vehicles and two new large buses.

The council also approved an agreement with OU to lease office space, service bays, fleet storage and garage space for the operation of the public transit system.

O'Leary told The Daily in June that the city intended to negotiate with the university to lease and operate out of OU's Theta Dempsey Transportation Center for the "foreseeable future."

"It’s really a beautiful new facility that is very well equipped to run a major bus transit system," O'Leary said in June. "As we’ve negotiated in recent months, we’ve concluded that it wasn’t in our interest as a city, nor was it really feasible, to go out and build our own facility or rent another facility when that CART facility there on campus is right there and will be effectively vacant for awhile."

This story was updated at 11:22 a.m. July 31 to describe Embark as a government entity, rather than a company, as it was described in the city's press release.

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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