Tyler transit gets an upgrade

Tyler transit has existed since before World War I. Can it keep pace with a growing city?

The City of Tyler will expand and restructure its existing bus network with the addition of new routes and more efficient schedules coming this October. 

Transportation planners from the city and consulting firm Toole Design created a transit master plan that aims to shorten headways — wait times in between buses — while revamping the bus network’s routes, communication with riders and overall image among Tylerites. 

A Tyler bus circa 1950 sits at the northeast corner of East Ferguson and North Broadway, the current location of Regions Bank. 📷courtesy Smith County Historical Society

“Obviously the new routes and our current routes are really designed for the people who need transit to do their daily lives,” Bryan Mulrooney, assistant manager of Tyler Transit, said. “But what we’re trying to do with this new one is include those people, but also include people who might not necessarily have to take transit — making transit much more of an option rather than a burden to use.” 

The updates will add around 60 new stops across the city, a new route through South Tyler along Jacksonville Highway and Grande Boulevard and a new south transfer station on Donnybrook Avenue. 

Studies of the existing Tyler Transit network found that, on average, riders faced headways longer than an hour on many routes, the longest being an hour and 35 minutes between buses on the Green route. The new plan aims to reduce headways to an hour or less on all routes by taking more direct paths to target destinations. 

Tyler’s current Green route has the longest headway of an hour and 35 minutes between buses. The new plan aims to reduce headways to an hour or less. 📷 courtesy City of Tyler transit map and schedules

Riders may see lower headways, around 30 to 40 minutes, on stops serving multiple routes with alternating buses. 

With all these new updates, riders may find it hard to navigate the bus network they once knew. 

Toole’s master plan included recommendations for more digital communication between Tyler transit and riders to boost use of the bus network. The Tyler Transit network will add bus routes to the transit trip planning feature of Google Maps to help riders get acquainted with the system.

“With the implementation of the new routes and then moving forward, we’re going to look into integrating live tracking in transit as well,” Mulrooney said. “Those figures for when a bus is going to show up at a stop are updated by the second, so people know if their bus is running a little ahead or a little behind.”

Tyler Transit intends to roll out expansions to the new network in phases if demand and funding allow. Subsequent phases would include additional busses placed on the Broadway Express and Campus Connector routes. 

Planners said the phase 1 updates coming in October will not affect the city budget, thanks in part to new federal funding initiatives for public transit. 

The upcoming reforms have some Tyler Transit riders excited to see more efficient bus services, especially those who use the network as their main method of transportation like former TxDOT worker Susan Linnard. 

“On the route I take normally, it’s an hour and a half before that bus comes back through again,” Linnard said. “And if I miss it by five minutes, that can be a deal breaker depending on where I’m trying to go… A lot of the people riding the bus do need to be able to be picked up every 30 minutes.”

Linnard attended the first of three meetings put on by Tyler Transit to inform the public on system updates. While the promise of faster headways encouraged Linnard, the detailed maps presented by Tyler Transit representatives at the meeting showed potential service gaps that would affect her future trips. 

“I really looked at that map and went, ‘Whoa, my world is gonna be affected by this,’” Linnard said. “Not just me, but everybody in my little area along Jacksonville Highway will be affected because there’s no more service there.”

Tyler Transit’s new focus on reduced headways and direct paths to destinations without changing operating hours seems to reflect public input data gathered by Toole during the design process.

Toole Design and Tyler Transit gave citizens a chance to comment on bus services in two open house events and a survey conducted in late 2020.

In the survey of 182 people composed of Tyler Transit riders and non-riders, 75 percent of respondents said they preferred more frequent service to longer service hours. 

However, almost 70 percent of survey respondents said they prefer shorter walks to transit stops over faster service. 

Transit planners like Tyler Transit intern Omar Padron also frequently visited with system bus drivers for their input on route design. 

“We basically tweaked everything that Toole Design gave us,” Padron said. “This was all based on the drivers because obviously they’re on the road every day and they know where traffic is going to be. We wanted to make the routes as easy and as smooth as possible.”

Padron said his work redesigning Tyler Transit inspired a greater appreciation for the service, which sometimes goes overlooked by citizens and officials.

“Change is risky,” Padron said. “But what people don’t realize is we could reduce traffic congestion if we would get more people on these buses. Until people start being more vocal with our elected officials, it’s gonna be very hard to invest more in public transit.”

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