EMBARK, formerly Metro Transit, has made major changes and achieved several milestones over the last decade.
Since initiating a rebrand in 2013, the agency has continued to serve the Oklahoma City region as part of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority trust.
Jason Ferbrache, administrator/director of EMBARK, spoke with METRO about the agency’s rebranding, latest projects, major milestones, and more.
EMBARKing on a Rebrand
The agency began its rebranding in September 2013. The process didn’t take too long as the change was effective on April 28, 2014, and also included a new bus route system.
Even though EMBARK became EMBARK almost 10 years ago, Ferbrache says the agency is still experiencing the benefits of the rebrand.
“I'd say the majority of people asked in surveys, they know exactly what EMBARK is, and they will even tell us the way they learned about us or know who we are,” Ferbrache says. “We really transformed the look and feel of our bus stops with consistent signage.”
EMBARK’s rebranding efforts have paid off in terms of customer satisfaction, according to Ferbrache.
The agency's most recent customer satisfaction survey from the summer of 2022 revealed 78% overall satisfaction, which is about 20 percentage points better than the national average.
The culture within EMBARK has also changed dramatically.
“There's been a tremendous amount of emphasis on culture since about 2020,” Ferbrache adds. “We rebranded our agency and rolled out a lot of different services and service improvements. The next logical step was also to have that complementary culture to go along with it.”
EMBARK’s culture has seen changes through improved communication with its employees through a series of videos, electronic message boards, and a weekly newsletter.
“The most exciting thing for me is we're involving our frontline employees and helping guide kind of the direction of our culture,” Ferbrache says.
Alternative Fuel Fleet
A couple of years following the rebranding, EMBARK began its investment in alternative-fueled vehicles and operating facilities.
In 2016, COTPA approved the agency’s plan to replace its entire bus fleet with CNG or electric buses by 2025.
EMBARK added 21 CNG-fueled buses to its fleet by 2021.
“We have been integrating electric buses, and we've now got two electric buses, and many CNG buses,” Ferbrache says. “With our next order of buses that we do next year, we will have 100% alternative fuels on our fixed-route bus fleet.”
EMBARK is also learning the best way to deploy EVs.
“We're still learning different maintenance aspects of the electric buses,” Ferbrache says. “On the flip side of that, our operators seem to really like the electric buses. And, we've also received some positive feedback from our customers.”
Ferbrache adds the agency is also looking at alternative fuels on its paratransit fleet.
EMBARK met with its transportation committee recently and discussed a request for proposal to see what the market can offer for CNG and electric paratransit vehicles.
EMBARK’s upcoming BRT system launching in late 2023 also plans to use CNG vehicles.
EMBARK’s RAPID Growth
Among the recent announcements from EMBARK is the agency’s first RAPID BRT service line.
The first RAPID line is planned to have 32 stops, stretch 9.5 miles each way, and integrate into the larger EMBARK transit network. The RAPID Northwest line travels through the OKC downtown core, connecting downtown OKC to Classen Boulevard and along Northwest Expressway to Meridian.
The service is expected to open in fall 2023, and Ferbrache says the agency is “fortunate that, at this point, the project is still on schedule.”
EMBARK has received six of its BRT vehicles, and the remaining three will be delivered before the service opens.
Challenges arrived during the process of the service’s construction, but EMBARK had an idea of what to expect.
“There are always challenges when you start digging into the dirt and finding utilities aren't quite where he thought they were,” Ferbrache says. “We've also got a couple of pending right-of-way acquisitions that are getting pretty close to the deadline. We need to get these little pieces of property acquired, so we can build platforms and keep them on schedule.”
In June 2022, officials from EMBARK, the Federal Transit Administration, and the City of Oklahoma City celebrated the groundbreaking for the region's BRT system.
Milestones and Miles Ahead
The agency had another reason to celebrate, as its OKC Streetcar reached its one million rider milestone in September 2022.
“It meant a lot to our agency and our community because, in Oklahoma City, we don't really have any type of comparable service,” Ferbrache says. “The service has been an opportunity to elevate the status of use of transit in Oklahoma City.”
EMBARK said the OKC Streetcar aims to strengthen community connections, support economic growth, and enhance mobility for residents and visitors.
OKC Streetcar construction was completed in October 2018, and the service officially launched on Dec. 14, 2018, with fare collection beginning in February 2019.
EMBARK’s ridership has been “very encouraging” over the last two years, according to Ferbrache, as he expresses excitement about other initiatives the agency has planned.
EMBARK is in the process of implementing OKC Moves, which will introduce major bus service changes:
- Combining Routes 003 and 005 to connect the northeast side with the Memorial Road corridor, including the Quail Springs area and Mercy Hospital.
- Extending Route 008 to N.W. Expressway and Council Rd.
- Streamlining Route 024, which is the express service between Norman and downtown Oklahoma City.
The agency has also bought 11 acres of land next to its headquarters with a plan to build a new administration facility and an expanded fleet facility. Additionally, EMBARK has added more than 100 positions in the last nine years.
“It can be difficult to be part of a fast-growing organization, especially when you're bringing new services online, and you're doing bus studies that are changing bus routes, but we just have some of the best transit professionals working for us. That's really what makes it possible,” Ferbrache says.