In Oklahoma City, more people are relying on public transit options than ever before. Bus service, in particular, continues to serve a diverse group of needs for residents across the metro. Whether you ride the bus personally or not, chances are public transportation impacts your life in some way. Steve Willingham, owner of Clarity Coffee in Oklahoma City, talked to us about why EMBARK - Oklahoma City’s public transportation system - has been so important for his business. Steve and his wife, along with many of his employees, have integrated public transportation services into their daily routines.
According to a recent survey, EMBARK rider satisfaction is at an all-time high, showing 70% of riders are satisfied with the EMBARK bus service. The survey also found that the majority of EMBARK’s customers use the bus service to get to work, making public transportation essential for many OKC residents and businesses just like Steve’s.
Tell us about how Clarity Coffee came to fruition.
Clarity was started by my wife and I. We launched in 2015, and we’re coming up on our 4-year anniversary in just a couple of months. My wife and I met in a coffee shop, and we worked in coffee shops for almost a decade before we started Clarity together, so starting a coffee shop has always been the dream for us. We’ve always wanted to start something like this that is very customer-forward, while still elevating the quality of coffee. We want to provide the best coffee in the world and show customers the complexities of what a cup of coffee can be.
Why is public transportation important to your business?
We’re right next to a bus stop, so being on the route is important to us for bringing customers in. We do try to highlight on our social media pretty regularly that it is a very easy walk from the bus stop.
From an employee standpoint, public transportation is really important in getting them to and from work. We have a staff of seven, but four of them are married and in a one-car household. If they need to get around and their spouse has the car, public transportation is the first thing they think of.
Have you seen an increase in the number of employees that use the bus or the streetcar over the last few years?
We have always had a lot of employees who choose not to drive to work. Since getting here on the bus, walking, taking the streetcar, or biking is becoming more of the norm in OKC, it’s something that a lot more people are choosing to do.
How do you think your business would be impacted if public transportation wasn’t available?
A lot of my employees would have trouble getting here. They live all over the city, and public transportation is the best thing for them. It would be a big hurdle if they didn’t have access to it. And of course, having people from out of town not being able to take the bus really limits their ability to discover us. If they look on their phone and see that we’re close to the route- that’s a big decision-maker for people to choose to come here.
How has public transportation impacted your own lifestyle?
My wife and I were able to save hundreds of dollars a month by moving to Midtown because we can take public transportation. My wife takes the streetcar to work every day. We’re a one-car household, but we still leave the car at home more than 90% of the time. Since we are in the business district, anytime we park it costs money. And of course, there is wear and tear and fuel costs that come with a car, so we choose not to drive as much for that reason. We feel like taking public transportation and biking contributes towards making the city what we want it to be, which is a multimodal city.
Public transportation contributes heavily to the health of a city, and its residents, by providing affordable, sustainable transit for all, creating jobs, and supporting a healthy business ecosystem. Increasing mobility across the metro moves Oklahoma City forward together. Public transit improvements are included in the December 10 MAPS 4 ballot. To learn more about MAPS 4 and transit initiatives, visit www.okc.gov/maps4.