Adam Doverspike thinks Oklahomans are ready to take the bus.
OK, maybe not any bus. And maybe not all the time.
But offer a little luxury, throw in reliable Wifi, and guarantee daily service to the state’s two largest cities, and folks might just think about putting their keys away and jumping onboard.
“Our goal is to be Oklahoma’s modern alternative transit company,” says Doverspike, owner of MotherRoad Travel, “(so) that if you want to get between the cities — and you don’t want to drive yourself — you’ve got an option.”
It’s a bold idea. Oklahoma is not exactly celebrated for its mass transit options. And buses, they don’t evoke the romantic notions of travel one might associate with trains, for example.
So why buses? And why now?
Because buses are cheaper than trains, and the time is right, says Doverspike, who estimates four luxury buses would cost approximately $2 million.
That’s peanuts compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars it would cost to get train service up and running between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Then there’s timing.
“One of the big things that made us think this was the right time for this was the combination that both downtowns (Tulsa and Oklahoma City) have had a boom,” Doverspike says. “More people are living, working and playing in both downtowns.
“I really think it’s a story about the urban revival in Oklahoma and how people want to go downtown again.”
People want to go to these downtowns, preferably uninhibited by the responsibilities that come with driving there themselves, Doverspike says.
That’s where the luxury bus comes in. But Doverspike says it’s Uber — and similar ride-share programs — that have closed the loop by providing a cheap, reliable way to get around town once a person steps off the bus.
“The circle of what you can do without a car is much bigger,” he says.
MotherRoad Travel won’t have its commuter bus service operating until it can raise the needed capital to purchase buses.
In the meantime, the company has a pilot program in place to test the waters — and a cool pilot program it is.
For months, Doverspike, an attorney by day, has served as concierge for chartered bus service to Oklahoma City Thunder basketball games and other events, including the OU/OSU football game.
On Feb. 11, his wife and business partner, Jennifer Doverspike, will play host to a trip to the Thunder’s final contest before the NBA All-Star game. Folks wishing to skip the game and enjoy a night in the capital city are also welcome.
Tickets for transportation are $39; add a ticket to see the Thunder play the New Orleans Pelicans and the price increases to $69 per person. Passengers can bring their own food and drinks. The only requirement that comes with the purchase of the ticket is that passengers be back on the bus a half hour after the game ends.
The bus picks up passengers at Foolish Things at the intersection of 10th and Main streets in downtown Tulsa and at the Tulsa Hills shopping center and drops them off outside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We thought 41 home games was a good trial run to see if we could start with low ridership and build ridership over time,” Doverspike says.
So far, results have been mixed. Average ridership to games has been about 10, Doverspike says, with the number increasing significantly for big games or when work groups or other organizations decide to road-trip to a Thunder game.
“If we get our own buses, our break-even point gets to be about 20,” Doverspike says. “Right now, it’s more like 30 to 35.
“Our goal, if this goes well, if we show ridership increases — breaking even by the end of the season — is that we can go to investors and try to get our own fleet of three or four buses.”
Doverspike acknowledges that with plummeting gas prices, the cost for three or four people to drive to a Thunder game together is less than it would be to take the bus — but the trip, and what one could do along the way, would be different, too.
“Once you get three or four people, it’s going to cost you more but you are going to socialize on the bus, you get to have food and drink, including alcohol, on the bus,” he says. “Or, as we say, ‘You can tailgate to the the game.’ And if you’re like me, you hate driving home after the game.
“We hope we add value and it’s not just cheaper but because you’re getting something out of the experience.”
When it comes time to start the commuter service, the plan is to initially offer weekday service from Tulsa and Oklahoma City departing at 6 a.m, 8 a.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. In Oklahoma City, passengers will be picked up and dropped off near the Devon Tower.
Tickets are expected to be $19 one-way with company discounts available.
Eventually Doverspike would like to run buses between the cities every two hours during the week, and he’s even exploring a “tilt option” that would allow customers to arrange their own trips.
“The idea will be to leverage people to say that there is enough demand for this and we’ll help you get the word out,” Doverspike says.
The true test for MotherRoad Travel is whether the company can begin to change the way people think about public transportation. That, Doverspike knows, will take time.
“Changing behavior is definitely one of the hardest things,” he says.
But the 34-year-old father of two believes it can be done. He notes, for example, that companies — and government entities, for that matter — can easily spend $120 per trip to reimburse employees for mileage and tolls when they drive themselves to Oklahoma City and back. And with the payment comes at least three hours of lost worker productivity.
“Like any good start-up, it only works if you’re providing a service that people want — even if they don’t know they want it,” Doverspike says. “Knowing a lot of the young professional community, knowing a good chunk of the transit community, at this point, we just think we’re at the right intersection of the groups that have an interest in this.”
Doverspike has leaned on James Wagner, principal transportation planner with the Indian Nations Council of Governments, for advice as he’s worked to get the company off the ground.
Wagner said MotherRoad faces two major challenges: marketing its service to the right people and ensuring that it can provide those potential customers with the service they will demand.
“There has been a lot of discussion of how you tap into that market,” Wagner said. “People won’t use it (bus service) unless it’s frequent enough that you don’t have to wait all day to get on the bus.”
Who starts a bus service?
Adam Doverspike is smart enough to know what he is up against. The man graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1999, then went off to Georgetown University to study international relations and later picked up a law degree from Duke University.
When he’s not tending to customers’ needs on a bus, he’s an attorney at GableGotwals.
“The other guys at my firm write all the contracts,” Doverspike says, “… And then when they blow up, someone gets mad, they call me and I do the arbitration and mediation and litigation.”
The idea to start a bus company goes back to Doverspike’s days in Washington, D.C., when shuttle bus service between the nation’s capital and places like Chinatown in New York City was on the upswing.
When he moved back home in 2012, he joined Tulsa’s Young Professionals and was soon immersed in discussions about the feasibility of setting up train service between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
That got him thinking about buses again, and after encouraging his TYPros colleagues to help bring an established commuter bus service to town, he decided start a company of his own.
With a little prodding from his wife, that is.
“(She) got sick of me talking about it and so she finally said, ‘What do you need to make this happen?’”
A plan, Doverspike told her.
“So she put together a business plan, and I talked her into running the company,” he says.
Doverspike’s father, Terry Doverspike, was a Tulsa city councilor from 1996 to 2000. Adam Doverspike, for his part, says his desire to contribute to his community is one of the main reasons he decided to start the bus company.
“It (the bus service) is, frankly, about making Tulsa and Oklahoma better,” Doverspike says. “One of the reasons we moved back is I wanted to be somewhere where I could be civically involved.”
To learn more about MotherRoad Travel or to book a seat to an Oklahoma City Thunder game, go to motherroadtravel.com