Expanding bus routes and giving disabled riders new options were two reasons the Johnson County Commission approved a property tax increase last year. Now Kansas City transit officials are asking for opinions on some of the service changes they hope to have in place by July.
The Overland Park Chamber of Commerce recently began holding forums for employers to talk about how expanded connections on Metcalf Avenue and 95th Street can reach the most workers at the best times. Those forums are by reservation with the chamber.
And this month, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is holding a series of public meetings for the public.
The route expansions are part of a package presented to the Johnson County Commission that transit officials said would make for more efficient links between the county’s main traffic corridors and Missouri.
Some bus system changes not included in the tax increase proposal already have taken place. The transit authority recently opened an extension of its 107 route that links KU Hospital and medical center with northern Johnson County at its Mission transit center on Martway. And earlier this year, officials went to a new areawide fare system that reduced fares for Johnson Countians to $1.50. Previously they had paid $2.25.
The transportation authority is still working out the details of other changes that were proposed when the tax increase was being voted on, said Dick Jarrold, vice president of regional planning and development with KCATA.
For instance, the 575 route that runs on Quivira Road and 75th Street and connects with MAX stops in Missouri. The timing of that route, which runs once an hour during peak times, will need to be changed to make a better connection with the 556 Metcalf Avenue route, which runs every half hour during peak times, Jarrold said.
Another big route expansion would connect bus service along 95th Street from the Cerner Innovation Campus near Bannister Road in Missouri to Renner Road. That route might not be finished until fall, however. For one thing, planners will have to work out how to get around any remaining bridge work at the Interstate 35 overpass. That bridge is closed through through August.
Fixed bus routes are not the only thing changing. Public transportation increasingly involves new multi-modal arrangements with private companies, said Chuck Ferguson, chief planning officer for KCATA.
In Johnson County that means Special Edition riders — those 65 or older, disabled or who meet low-income guidelines — may have more transportation options through taxi vouchers. The new program would allow riders to buy a booklet of vouchers to pay for cab fare, with some mileage limits. This will give those riders more flexibility than the traditional paratransit bus service, which requires a day’s notice to reserve a trip, Ferguson said.
The changes are all due this year with one exception. A proposal for longer hours on the Metcalf route, with the service day ending at 9:30 p.m. rather than 7 p.m., is still being studied and does not have a timeline for when it will begin.
Planners want to take more time to study riders’ needs before committing to the extended hours, Jarrold said. “We would like to do it but want to do it right,” he said.
Bus ridership for Kansas City is down 5 to 6 percent compared with the same time last year, because of plummeting gasoline prices, Jarrold said. However there’s been a slight uptick in Johnson County, with ridership increasing about 2 percent over one year ago.
Public input is the next step in the planning. The Chamber of Commerce forums are meant to find out from employers how many people might use the service and what the best hours would be, Jarrold said.
March 8: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Hudson Auditorium (second floor of the Nerman Museum) at Johnson County Community College;
March 24: 5-7 p.m. at Oak Park Library, 9500 Bluejacket St., Overland Park;
March 29: 5-7 p.m. at Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty St., Overland Park;
March 30: 5-7 p.m. at the Mission Transit Center, 5251 Johnson Drive, Mission.