Editorials

Here’s how to improve KCATA’s Uber-style on-demand service

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, led by CEO Robbie Makinen, refuses to disclose how much it paid to settle a whisteblower lawsuit, citing a new policy that exempts it from open records laws in Kansas and Missouri.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, led by CEO Robbie Makinen, refuses to disclose how much it paid to settle a whisteblower lawsuit, citing a new policy that exempts it from open records laws in Kansas and Missouri. The Star

Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s app-based service RideKC Freedom On-Demand is an innovative approach to paratransit.

But as the Uber-style on-demand service approaches its one-year anniversary, transportation officials must fine-tune the pilot program to make it more affordable for riders with disabilities.

The service is a more appealing option than the dated ride share formerly known as Share-a-Fare, which requires 24-hour notice. With an average of 7,000 passenger trips per month, the demand for the new service has multiplied since last May. That’s far more than the 2,600 monthly trips officials anticipated.

The spike caused the agency to raise fares for the service, causing financial hardships for riders with fixed incomes. Naturally, complaints followed.

“One complaint is one too many,” KCATA President and Chief Executive Officer Robbie Makinen said.

Advocates for the disabled believe, as they should, that the increase shouldn’t come at the expense of society’s most vulnerable. But high demand for service is a good problem to have.

To limit fare increases for RideKC Freedom On-Demand, KCATA must find ways to diversify its revenue stream. Any long-term solution should include strategic partnerships to raise transportation-specific funds to augment the agency’s city-subsidized $98 million budget.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions to address customer concerns in the on-demand service’s second year:

▪  Empower KCATA’s liaison who works directly with the disabled community. That person must have the means, tools and access to engage concerned citizens.

▪  Create a more robust, accessible system for comments and complaints. Advocates for the disabled say the current system hinders communication. Advocates say KCATA officials are not getting legitimate feedback on services.

▪  Allow Share-a-Fare drivers to contact passengers for scheduled pickups. An untold number of passengers have been stranded or left behind because of the no-contact policy.

Makinen made the right decision to fast track on-demand service when he became agency chief in 2015, but improvements are needed.

“I applaud Robbie for starting this innovative program,” City Council Member Alissa Canady said. “It is an answered prayer for many in wheelchairs, or visually impaired.”

However, as Canady says, the city — and the region — should have a collective interest in resolving the issue.

“RideKC solved a good problem,” Canady said. “Now we need to find a way to make it efficient and affordable,” she said.

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