Transit Action Network (TAN)

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

We Rank 90th of 100 – Is Anybody Surprised?

Posted by Transit Action Network on May 22, 2011

Last week the Brookings Institution released a report, Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America, examining the ability of America’s 100 largest cities to get people to work by transit. It should come as no surprise to residents of the Kansas City region that we came in 90th.

Click on table to enlarge

MARC has posted a preliminary response in their online newsletter, Transportation Matters

KCATA General Manager Mark Huffer has also responded to the study on the KCATA website.    KCATA Responds To Brookings Institution Report

The Brookings report is not about quality, as Huffer notes. The KCATA customer satisfaction is over 90%, its buses are on time over 92% of the time and the cost per mile is significantly under the national average.

This report is about quantity of transit service. We don’t have enough transit in the region to get people to work. This problem directly relates to a lack of transit funding. Our region provides very little money for transit compared to our peer cities. Mr. Huffer cites the need for a regional funding mechanism, and TAN agrees wholeheartedly.  MARC proposed a regional transit concept and funding strategy over 10 years ago with Smart Moves. Some parts of that plan are gradually being implemented, like the MAX buses, but funding has remained elusive. Nothing major can change without more money.

The big question is how the region will respond to being ranked 90th.  Will the region’s leaders shrug and proceed with business as usual?  Or will they take the ranking seriously as a challenge to our viability as an urban region, roll up their sleeves, and confront the problem.

We have an abundance of ‘good intentions’ already in place including MARC’s new policy direction regarding future development, a new Long Range Transportation Plan, the recent HUD Sustainable Communities Planning grant, the First Suburbs Coalition, Imagine KC, multiple Alternatives Analysis studies, multiple phases of Smart Moves, and even a broad-based regional commitment to being America’s Green Region. But are they enough?  Will good intentions translate into actions?

We have not developed a transit system relevant to our region’s population or our situation. The Kansas City region has sprawled out in every direction, and therefore lacks the density needed for some of the more capital-intensive transit infrastructure investments. Unfortunately, jobs have sprawled along with residents and retail, and “job sprawl” is especially hard to serve by transit. Even better transit to downtown would address only part of the problem since fewer than 14% of the region’s jobs are now located in Kansas City’s Central Business District.

Getting people to jobs that are dispersed all over the region makes for a daunting task for our underfunded transit agencies.

What do we do?  The Brookings Institution makes three main recommendations, but will we move to implement them?

  • Transportation leaders should make access to jobs an explicit priority in spending and service decisions, especially given the budget pressures they face.
  • Metro leaders should coordinate land-use, economic-development, and housing strategies with transit decisions to ensure transit reaches more people and more jobs efficiently.
  • Federal officials should collect and publicize standardized transit data to enable public, private and nonprofit entities to make more informed decisions and maximize the benefits of transit for labor markets.

Transit Action Network offers the following preliminary recommendations for MARC and the region:

– Evaluate the methodology used by Brookings to be sure it doesn’t misrepresent us.

– View this low ranking as a challenge to improve public transit and, at least as important, assure that most of the region’s future development is accessible by transit.

– Accept that we have not provided a realistic transit choice for getting most people to work, and increase our efforts to get broad-based transit funding, perhaps county-by-county.

– Acknowledge the “good intentions” that the region has in place, but carefully examine whether they are enough, and then adopt new policies and actions as necessary.

– Adopt and implement a set of measures to track our progress toward improving our ranking. If we measure it, we have a lot better chance of making progress.

The Brookings report and a regional response will be the major issue for discussion at the June meeting of MARC’s Transit Committee.  TAN will be there and actively participating in the discussion.


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