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Free bus rides for paratransit users offered under new RideKC Transit program

RideKC Transit will offer free bus rides for paratransit users

The Kansas City Transportation Authority will launch a new pilot program that will offer free bus rides for qualified paratransit users. Robbie Makinen, president and chief executive officer of the agency, explains how it works.
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The Kansas City Transportation Authority will launch a new pilot program that will offer free bus rides for qualified paratransit users. Robbie Makinen, president and chief executive officer of the agency, explains how it works.

People with disabilities and seniors who qualify for paratransit services will be able to ride fixed-route bus service for free in the Kansas City area.

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority on Monday will announce a pilot program for people who already are riders of RideKC Access that will let them ride all local bus services in the region, including the RideKC MAX rapid bus.

“We think that this is going to break down barriers,” said Robbie Makinen, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. “It’s going to give folks with disabilities, like myself, more options. It’s going to allow them not to worry about coming up with fares.”

All of the transit providers under the RideKC brand — KCATA, Johnson County Transit, IndeBus and Unified Government Transit — have agreed to provide the free rides.

To qualify for the free rides, RideKC Access riders must apply for the RideKC Access photo identification card. Once they receive their card, they can begin riding the bus routes for free. Customers must be qualified to ride IndeAccess, Dial-A-Ride or Share-A-Fare. Paratransit users not familiar with riding a bus will be provided training.

One the biggest missions for Makinen, who lost his vision a few years ago, was to break down barriers for people with disabilities who use Americans with Disabilities Act-complementary paratransit services.

“I can’t see county lines, state lines, municipal lines, and neither should anyone else, especially when it comes to transit,” Makinen said.

“We have been working very hard the last couple years region-wide developing a brand identity for transit not broken down in modes but all one public transit system … all under the RideKC brand,” Makinen added. “We don’t think in modes any more. We think connections. We think breaking down barriers.”

Regionally, about 10,000 people are eligible for ADA paratransit services, which allow those eligible to arrange rides to any location within a service area. Transit agencies provide about 33,000 trips per month.

“Part of what we are trying to do is make things easier to access service and get where they need to go,” said Jameson Auten, chief of regional service delivery and innovations for the KCATA. “One of those ways is opening up our fixed-route services.”

People who rely on the ADA paratransit service do not have an easy existence.

“You have to call a day before to schedule your trip,” Auten said. “You have to give a 30-minute window and wait for your bus to arrive. On top of that, it’s generally a shared-ride trip. You usually are not going to go directly to your destination, so your trip can be a little longer.”

By using fixed-route buses, paratransit riders can catch a bus as they are scheduled.

“When an ADA paratransit user gets on a bus to ride with their ID card, they are going to swipe their card at the fare box and take a seat like everybody else,” Auten said. “There isn’t any special production or anything the operator has to do in terms with equipment on the bus. It’s a seamless ride.

“That starts to take away the boundaries and gives people regional access,” Auten said.

Robert A. Cronkleton: 816-234-4261, @cronkb

How to apply

Applications for RideKC Access are available online under the Mobility Services section of www.ridekc.org or by calling 816-842-9070. Riders will need to submit a photograph or schedule a time to have a photo taken. Once they receive their identification card, riders can ride the local bus routes for free.

For free training on how to ride the bus, call 816-346-0809.

For trip planning and general information, call the Regional Call Center between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays at 816-221-0660.

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