The dream of a regionally funded, seamlessly connected public transit system hasn’t come true yet for tens of thousands of people who use buses — and soon streetcars — in the Kansas City area.
But major transit operators are taking positive steps toward a more effective way of moving passengers around, even across the state line.
This week the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority unveiled some of its newly painted buses — blue ones will carry people on regular routes and red ones will travel along the Troost and Main MAX routes.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority recently announced a partnership with the ATA and the city, all to help support a “world-class regional transit system,” as Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend said. The 2.2-mile system is expected to open in 2016, connecting with many bus lines.
All of these agencies will share the same new branding: RideKC. And the website RideKC.org, not yet fully operational, will soon serve passengers of all the systems.
In another positive move, passengers already can buy a $3 pass that allows them to use the buses for a single day.
Supporters also know they need to make the systems link better to one another, as they help move people in the urban core to jobs in suburban areas, for example, as well as students to educational institutions.
Finally, perhaps most important for long-term success, crafting a regional tax or system of fees to support public transit must be a priority at some point.
Think that won’t happen? Check out just one of the recent major shifts in the world of regional transit.
Three years ago, Johnson County officials were looking at making deep budget cuts to The Jo. County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert was adamant that a regional bus system was not in the cards. “We would not give up funding or operational control” to the ATA, he said.
Yet in late 2014, Eilert and the commission approved turning over management of The Jo to the ATA. The move eliminated county jobs and should save up to $500,000 a year. “I think it offers excellent possibilities, not only for Johnson County but the metropolitan area,” Eilert said, adding that renewed trust in the ATA was one factor.
Eilert this month received the ATA’s annual “Regional Excellence Award.”
These encouraging steps also were made possible after the departure of longtime ATA general manager Mark Huffer last summer, and the hiring of former Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon as ATA president in early 2015.
ATA Chairman Robbie Makinen, another tireless worker for this cause, said Reardon was “uniquely qualified to advance the new vision of the ATA, which is to create an integrated transportation system and for the ATA to become the regional transit authority it was meant to be.”
Those are tall marching orders. They will take time to accomplish. But strong and effective voices on behalf of drastically improved transit are now in place.