With the National World War I Museum and Memorial in the background, the Kansas City Area Transportation on Monday announced a partnership with veteran groups to provide free bus rides for all area veterans.
The KCATA, in partnership with the Kansas City Veterans Administration and the Veterans Community Project, said the free fares are a way to honor veterans.
The free rides are made possible through a sponsorship of the Greater Kansas City Labor Unions/AFL-CIO.
“Anytime that we can honor those who have served by putting their lives on the line to protect our freedoms that we enjoy today, it’s always a bright day,” said Sam Desue, chief operating officer for the KCATA and who is also an Army veteran.
The new program allows an estimated 115,000 veterans living in the Kansas City area to use RideKC transit for free with a RideKC Veterans Pass or other photo identification that shows their veteran status.
Valid ID include those from the Department of Veteran Affairs, active military service ID cards and a Missouri ID that shows veteran status. Identification cards will also be available through the Veterans Community Project at 8900 Troost Ave. in late April.
The program is open to all veterans, and they can start riding the bus for free on Tuesday. It includes all RideKC bus service in the Kansas City area.
The KCATA also unveiled a newly illustrated “Honor Our Veterans” bus that will travel the streets in Kansas City to raise awareness of the program. The bus is wrapped in an American flag design.
On the windows at the back of the bus are the military service seals for the five branches of the military — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
“Today we are going to do something tangible,” said Robbie Makinen, president and chief executive of the KCATA. “You fought for our freedom … and we are going to give you some freedom back. That freedom is to be able to ride public transit at no cost to help break down those barriers for employment, for our homeless vets and for everybody else.”
The KCATA’s transit partners — Johnson County, Unified Government and Kansas City and Independence — are evaluating the possibility of expanding the program to paratransit services and hope to have an announcement later this month.
The program is hoping to prevent homelessness among veterans by improving access to jobs and health care, said Chris Stout, chief executive officer of Veterans Community Project.
“This will just honor their service in the most passionate way that’s there,” said Stout, whose organization tries to make a difference in the lives of veterans by linking the community to those in need.
When he heard about the project, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said he was excited about it. Calling Monday’s announcement a big deal, Cleaver said the program is a small token of appreciation for what veterans had done.
“I thought it was something we desperately needed to do,” said Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat. “That is to do everything we can to support the veterans who did everything they could to keep this nation free and put their lives on the line.”