Transit Action Network (TAN)

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

It’s Time For Regional Discussion Of Transit

Posted by Transit Action Network on May 24, 2012

Transit Action Network doesn’t usually reply to items in the press, but we think Steve Rose’s column in yesterday’s Kansas City Star warrants a response.

The column, “Talk of Regional Transit Is Just Wasted Breath,” bears reading, even though we find it quite disappointing.

“Wasted breath?” Really?Johnson County, the richest and most populous county in Kansas, could find itself without a meaningful transit system of any kind in the next couple of years, falling behind Wichita and Topeka.  Yet instead of expressing concern, Mr. Rose dredges up 30-year-old biases and frames the current transit situation as Johnson County against the City of Kansas City. That involves a misconception: KCATA was created by the two states and Congress, and is independent of Kansas City.  Lacking taxing authority of its own, it provides transit service under contract with nearly a dozen municipalities.  Kansas City happens to contract for the most service.

Describing the transit cutbacks that Johnson County seems poised to impose on its citizens, Mr. Rose writes:

Where [Johnson County Transit Director] Alice [Amrein] is unrealistic is she told me she is contemplating recommending to the county commissioners that, along with the cutbacks, it may be worthwhile to contract some routes with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, otherwise known as the ATA.

Furthermore, Steve Klika, a member of the Johnson County Transportation Council and a representative on the ATA board, was reported in The Star [Mike Hendricks, May 13, “Deep cuts could mean drastic changes for The Jo bus system] as saying, “The only way transit is going to succeed in Kansas City is if it’s regionalized.”

These statements attributed to Ms. Amrein and Mr. Klika are not at all unreasonable. Indeed, prudence indicates that all options be explored. Mr. Rose goes on to quote Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert as saying, ““We would not turn over any funds to ATA. … Furthermore, we would not give up funding or operational control.”

Nobody is suggesting that. If KCATA were to operate (or even manage the operation of) transit routes in Johnson County it would be under a contract resulting from a competitive bidding process involving other potential transit operators.  That hardly constitutes “turning over” funds to KCATA, and it’s hardly a novel idea. In fact, the possibility of JCT once again contracting with KCATA has been under consideration for years, and KCATA has submitted bids to operate Johnson County transit routes as recently as just a couple of years ago. JCT elected to stay with its current contractor, First Transit.

Furthermore, Mr. Rose (and Mr. Eilert) might not be aware that KCATA already performs some basic transit support services under contract to Johnson County Transit.  These include operation of a Regional Transit Information Call Center and maintenance of a number of bus shelters and other facilities. The two agencies are currently working together to get basic information about The JO’s routes and schedules posted at key stops in Kansas City, and KCATA now accepts monthly passes issued by The JO on nearly all Metro routes including MAX.

Mr. Rose then quotes KCATA Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Makinen as saying, “I consider this a real opportunity to rekindle the seamless, regional transit discussion.”

Discussion? That makes perfect sense to us. We don’t know what Mr. Rose thinks seamless regional transit is, but we think it means transit that’s easier to understand and use.  That’s important not just in Jackson and Wyandotte counties, but even for Johnson County because thousands of people hold low-paying service jobs in Johnson County but can’t afford to live there. Others travel there to shop or pursue educational, recreational, cultural, and other opportunities.

Improving and expanding public transit service in the Kansas City region is Transit Action Network’s purpose for being. To accomplish this goal we need informed discussion of the current situation. Bringing up perceptions of how things may have been 30 years ago is simply not helpful.

Mr. Rose’s column could be just the thing that’s been needed to re-ignite serious dialog among public officials of the region to move us toward a public transit system that seamlessly serves the region’s citizens. If it does, then we’ll be among the first to say, “Thank you, Mr. Rose.”

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3 Responses to “It’s Time For Regional Discussion Of Transit”

  1. Rick Leidig said

    The most visionary definition of “seamless regional transit” I can think of would be a multi-modal, five-county network of public transportation alternatives with a zone-based fare structure that allows users to change from one zone to another and one mode to another, all managed by a single operating authority Modes could include light rail, commuter rail, express bus and bus rapid transit services as well as future expansion to include short-haul, single-trip subscription,2-3 passenger mini-electric road vehicles and charging stations and bike rentals.

    On KCPT’s “Imagine KC” program this evening with its focus on the potential of the 2.5 mile starter streetcar line to promote economic development,Chrsitopher Leinberger from the Brookings Institution commented that Kansas City, Mo. has “already been lapped” by similar cities in planning or installing public transit corridors. His comment suggests that it is now more than ever prejudicial to this region’s economic future to invoke past history.

  2. tom said

    the thing i dont understand about the ” The Jo ” is yes the ATA does accept the monthly passes from the “The Jo” but they DO NOT accept the monthly passes from the ATA WHY? and also the ” The Jo ” bid and got the City of Independence bus contract but the “The Jo ” does not have the drivers to take over the routes that was was suppose to take over back in April and now again they are suppose to take over the City of Independence in July but again they are not going to do so because they dont have the drivers if they did not have the drivers wonder why they even placed a bid to take over those routes?

    • Janet said

      Hi Tom,
      1. The ATA accepts the $67 Jo pass and they share the revenue. The Jo does not take the ATA $50 pass because of the price difference. The two passes aren’t equal.
      2. The Jo (Johnson County Transit-JCT) contracts with a bus company called First Transit to operate the bus routes.
      First Transit won the Independence contract to operate their local routes. The Jo is not going to run the Independence service. First Transit will operate bus service in both areas.
      3. I haven’t heard anything about First Transit having difficulty getting drivers, but I will find out next week..

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