- METRO MAESTRO: Central Arkansas Transit Director Jarod Varner with one of the new natural gas-powered buses.
CATA in Little Rock has quit pussyfooting around: The Rock Region Metro has rolled out, with 15 snazzy new compressed natural gas buses and the entire fleet of 58 equipped with free Wi-Fi. Plus, starting in September, you'll be able to text the Rock Region Metro or download an app to let you know when the next bus will pull up to your stop. New bus stop signs will tell you more than you're standing at a bus stop: They'll show route maps — what a concept! — and information on how text to get your schedule.
Trolley stops showing the new Rock Region Metro branding have been unveiled and the new buses hit the streets Tuesday. Jarod Varner, CATA director, is aiming for bigger improvements: He wants a bus system with a "hierarchy" that fits the needs of Little Rock commuters. That means a bus rapid transit (BRT in CATA-speak) routes that would shuttle people between downtown and points west with pickups only 10 to 15 minutes apart, stopping at stations instead of shelters; "flex zones," where travelers could schedule pick-ups on smaller buses from mini-hubs to the larger transit system; and more buses in North Little Rock so that people trying to travel from east to west — say from Pulaski Tech to McCain Mall — don't have to go to Little Rock first. "It's all about modernizing," Varner says. If RR Metro can "put the service where it needs to go in a format it needs, we will generate more demand."
Varner also believes that an improved public transit system would have a positive impact on economic development, and the transit authority board agrees: It has approved a plan to seek a referendum on a ¼-cent tax that would provide $23 million for the new plan. CATA's new website will reflect the new name: rrmetro.org.