Transit Action Network (TAN)

Advocates for Improved and Expanded Transit in the Kansas City Region.

Mayoral Candidates Transit Forum at Union Station 1/25/2011

Posted by Transit Action Network on January 27, 2011

Transit Action Network will conduct a blog-site transit forum for Kansas City mayoral candidates starting January 31, 2011. We asked the candidates 6 questions and we will post the answers to one question each day for six days. There are three questions specific to Kansas City, two regional questions and one state/federal question.

Following is a report on the transit forum that took place Tuesday.

Mayoral Candidates Transit Forum at Union Station

On January 25th, seven candidates for the Mayor of Kansas City presented their views of public transit in the Metropolitan Area, with a focus on Kansas City. This forum was hosted by the Regional Transit Alliance (RTA) and intended to garner responses to a set of questions directed to each candidate separately. As the morning advanced, some of the earlier topics appeared to fold into more generalized questions and candidate responses became less specific.

Five of the more important topics of interest include (1) current and future status of transit in Kansas City; (2) funding problems and solutions; (3) public/private sector aspects of transit development; (4) the mayor’s role in transit development; and finally (5) the short-term planning for future spikes in gasoline prices and the probable impacts on existing transit service.

Summary of responses to noted questions

In all cases the seven candidates view the current status of transit as less than ideal, some calling it “anemic” and others “inadequate” and nearly all said that transit will be a high priority when elected mayor.  Mayor Funkhouser suggested that transit paled somewhat because his future mission is to drive down the crime rate in KC. Although all agreed that transit needs improvement and expansion into a regional system, the solutions varied between vague ideas to more specific proposals, such as Henry Klein’s suggestion of small modifications to the existing system with added diversity of  modality (such as zip cars which are rentable on an hourly basis) as the way to begin this process. Others turned to more studies to identify the means to improve transit.

Funding is the elephant in the room and all candidates identified the sadly undeveloped relationships at local, county, state and federal levels as being the major barrier to success. City, county, and state leadership have failed to build the networks and project the common goals that will be required if funding is to be realized. Thus far, transit agencies and entities have relied on lobbyists to do the basics in Jefferson City. Little has come from that effort and expense. Of major concern to all candidates is the potential for shrinkage of federal funding for transit needs and the possible loss from Kansas City’s E-tax revenues. All candidates promised a dedicated role to build coalitions, resolve governance issues and secure long-range transit development for the city, county and region.

Most responses to the public/private sector involvement in transit were both similar and bland in scope and substance. One of the more interesting and complete answers was proffered by Candidate Sly James who suggested reinstatement of the Citizens Commission on Municipal Revenue, a once active coalition of private sector/business community and public sector interests directed to secure optimal outcomes.

The question of the role of the mayor brought out the most animated responses of the morning and all replied that they would use the office as a bully-pulpit for improving public transit in the city and beyond. Again, the current mayor suggested that it is the responsibility of existing agencies (KCATA, MARC) to present a completed plan and it is not the obligation of the mayor, but support can be given after the plan is devised. This was the least assertive response as most of the candidates claimed that they would actively participate in building key relationships to structure the final plans and secure the means to fund and implement expanded transit in the region. All agreed that the role of the mayor would include a high degree of effort to educate the public about the area’s transit needs and future plans, particularly when public approval of funding revenues would be required.

David Mitchell, TAN, submitted the final question of concern regarding a short-term plan for anticipated spikes in the cost of gasoline, hence the increased use of public transit, at least during the period of costly fuel. Little or nothing has been done to prepare for this problem since the last spike in fuel costs approximately three years ago, and it was equally clear that the candidates had given little or no thought to the problem. Deb Hermann did cite a possible use of dollars from the City’s Contingency Fund (recently reinstated by the Council). No one else offered a suggestion.

Reported by Sharon Pendleton, TAN

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One Response to “Mayoral Candidates Transit Forum at Union Station 1/25/2011”

  1. Tim Lawler said

    I guess it’s no small surprise that Transit isn’t in the center of the radar for any of these candidates what with serious budget shortfalls looming and the potential threat of e-tax deprivation- Even Henry Kline, who’s probably one of the more interested candidates in the topic, won’t have much to say until gas shortages and corresponding price spikes provide the needed focus.

    Normally, you’d expect local government to be able to recognize the major issues and take steps to plan for and prioritize responses but, anymore, it doesn’t seem any level of government has the will, smarts or popular backing to really address these big issues.

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