Kansas City’s MAX rapid bus system is 10 years old and still moving on Main Street and Troost Avenue as planners try to expand the system to Prospect Avenue.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will celebrate the MAX’s birthday Monday through Wednesday, with surprise giveaways to passengers at stops along the Main Street route.
The Main Street MAX launched July 24, 2005, and was billed as a new era for mass transit in Kansas City after multiple failed votes to bring light rail to town.
Rapid transit meant faster, more comfortable buses using designated lanes and making fewer stops, with sleeker bus shelters and electronic signs showing real-time arrival.
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“MAX really helped change the perception of transit in Kansas City,” said Cynthia Baker, ATA marketing director. “I like to say it’s a low-cost, high-results system.”
The Main Street MAX, which runs from City Market to the Country Club Plaza, cost about $21 million to build, with 80 percent of that money coming from the federal government.
Weekday daily ridership rose from 3,100 on the old No. 56 Country Club bus to 5,400 average daily MAX riders in 2013, before dropping a bit to about 4,800 this past year.
On Twitter, several people posted that the Main Street MAX was their introduction to riding Kansas City buses and that they’ve been committed riders ever since.
The Troost MAX, which runs from downtown to 75th Street, opened in 2011 and cost $31 million, with about the same percentage of federal funds. Its daily ridership on weekdays rose from 5,600 in 2011 to 6,100 in 2012 before dropping back to about 5,600 in 2014.
Baker said ridership is down a bit systemwide in the past 18 months as gas prices have dropped. All the construction for the downtown streetcar system has also cut into MAX ridership, but Baker said the ATA hopes it will rebound after the streetcar opens to the public next spring.
“We think there’s a lot more ridership to come,” she said.
Planners hope to expand the system to Prospect Avenue between downtown and 75th Street in the next few years. Prospect is the overall bus system’s second-most heavily traveled route after Troost.
That Prospect MAX route is estimated to cost $40 million to $50 million, and the funding sources have not yet been identified.
Baker said an advisory committee meets regularly and is seeking public input on exactly where the route should run from downtown. Final design and construction are probably at least two or three years away.