Call for expanding bus service as many are driving less

At a time when many are driving less and using more mass transit, Kansas City struggles to provide basic bus service.

A special city council committee studying funding for transit heard a presentation Thursday from Kansas City Area Transportation Authority officials.

The council committee was formed to study and recommend how funds from a city sales tax would be allotted among transit options like buses, the coming streetcars and road maintenance.

No matter if the KCATA gets 95 percent of the tax for buses or the current 87 percent or so, projections are grim, said Mark Huffer, KCATA general manager.

The sales tax revenue grows at maybe 1 percent a year and bus expenses increase by 2.5 percent and a reserve fund that helps keep the buses running will be gone by about 2018.

And already, he said, “There’s more demand than what we currently provide.”

Transit advocates testified that the city should be looking at how to expand bus services – not how to limply maintain them.

Meanwhile, Huffer says riders from 20 to 35 are his fastest growing demographic.

“That’s the next generation of leaders and they’re going to be looking for cities with viable transportation,” he said in an interview.

He told the committee, “Every time there is a study Kansas City is at the bottom in terms of access to jobs by transit.”

National studies show that from 2001 to 2009, the average number of miles driven a year dropped 23 percent for people ages 16 to 34.

At the same time, people over 55 – a growing number of the boomer generation – tend to drive less and use more public transportation.

Kansas City contracts with the KCATA to operate buses, provides 92 percent of its local funding and is the only governmental entity that has a dedicated tax to pay KCATA.

Yet Kansas City has only three representatives on the 10-member KCATA board.

Councilman Ed Ford said, “I think that has always been a sore point among elected officials of Kansas City.”

At the same time, Ford said, KCATA would be the logical entity to coordinate transit operations area wide involving buses, streetcars and other options.

Huffer agreed that some such coordination is needed.

In an interview, he also said it would be make sense for Jackson County and other counties to use county taxes to help fund a coordinated bus system throughout the area.


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