RTCC Tackles Big Transit Issues – Funding and Paratransit
Posted by Transit Action Network on March 21, 2014
The Regional Transit Coordinating Council (RTCC) was formed last September (see New Transit Coordinating Council Off To A Good Start), but it is already tackling some of the region’s toughest transit issues: Getting more funding for transit projects, and coordinating paratransit in the region.
ONE: Funding: Transit is always plagued with insufficient money to do everything that needs to be done. So when some of the region’s most influential public officials — mayors, council members, public administrators — put their heads together with MARC and the transit agencies to get additional transit funding, it can be a formidable group.
What money are they going after?
Other than the diminishing federal money that goes from the Federal Transit Administration directly to transit operators, there are three major sources of federal transit money currently available to be “programmed” (allocated to projects) at MARC.
- The smallest amount is $17.1 million from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). This is most often used for bike and pedestrian projects.
- $18.2 million is available from the Congestion Mitigation / Air Quality (CMAQ) program. The RTCC will allocate the transit portion of these funds.
- The largest amount is $77 million from the Surface Transportation Program (STP). This money is programmed by the Missouri and Kansas STP committees, and is typically used for road and bridge projects, even though transit is an eligible use. Last year was an exception when $16 million of STP money was allocated to purchase four streetcars for the Kansas City Downtown Streetcar project.
What’s new this time?
With staff of MARC and the four transit operators working together, RTCC has created a list of eleven projects to submit for funding. Such a large group of transit projects has never been submitted for STP and CMAQ funding before, but with the transit operators working closely together and influential regional public officials involved, the projects will carry more weight than when transit operators submitted projects independently.
See the complete list of projects identified by RTCC. RTCC_Priorities_List_March_2014 These projects will be submitted to MARC, evaluated and “scored” by MARC staff, and then forwarded to the appropriate programming committees. TAN appreciates the extended list of well-thought-out transit projects and supports them being funded.
TWO: Paratransit: If there is one transit issue in the region that especially needs coordination, it is Paratransit. [Note: Strictly speaking, “paratransit” isn’t just for the disabled. Think of it as specialized or flexible transit service for people who can’t get to a bus stop, or who have other special transportation needs.] People with disabilities have to deal with an extremely difficult and complicated set of eligibility rules along with restricted transit options to get around the region. Many parts of the region don’t have any public transit options for the disabled. Each transit system operates independently and differently.
Special-needs riders need a coordinated, easy to use system to get the transportation they need. Barriers to paratransit need to be eliminated to make this type of transit more functional.
RTCC Co-Chair Robbie Makinen, who is also Chairman of the KCATA Board of Commissioners, lost his eyesight last year and has become largely dependent on paratransit. As a long-term transit advocate, Makinen has always been concerned with this issue, but now as a user, he really understands and suffers from the dysfunctional nature of the state of regional paratransit. Makinen is championing the effort to coordinate the regions fragmented paratransit services.
Jameson Auten, the head of KCATA’s “Share-A-Fare” paratransit program, and Tyler Means, transit planner at MARC, put this presentation together to describe the paratransit service offered by the four transit agencies: KCATA, The JO, Inde Bus and UGT. In his presentation, Auten pointed out the different hours of operations, eligibility requirements, reservation hours, and fares. RTCC Paratransit Coordination
One of the biggest issues for paratransit in the region is the lack of paratransit services in Johnson County.
Although Johnson County Transit has provided bus service for over 30 years, it does not have any Complementary ADA Service: i.e., no paratransit service that “complements” their regular transit routes. Their bus service is configured as commuter routes, which means they don’t have to comply with this part of the Americans With Disabilities Act The special transportation service they do provide, called Special Edition, is not available to anyone living outside of Johnson County. People with disabilities living outside of Johnson County but wishing to travel to Johnson County — even for medical appointments or other serious purposes — are denied access. In Johnson County there is already such a big backlog of residents needing this type service that they cut off eligibility each year and there is a waiting list.
RTCC understands that tackling this issue is a long-term project. Although the most recent meeting focused on paratransit services supplied by the four major transit agencies, everyone acknowledged that there are a large number of additional organizations supplying transit to the disabled. In order to supply enough transit to the growing number of people in need, they hope that every provider will be involved in this coordination effort. As RTCC Co-Chair Mayor McConwell put it, “ there are 10,000 people a day in the US turning 65. We can’t wait another 20 years before addressing this issue.”
In addition to these two very important issues, RTCC is still working on their initial list of “Quick Wins.” Currently a Regional Fare Study is underway, and we expect to get results on that in early summer.
The next Transit Stakeholders Forum is scheduled for March 27, 5:00 to 6:30 pm, at the Kauffman Foundation. Please help spread the word about this meeting, especially to riders. This Forum is designed to work in conjunction with the RTCC. The previous meeting was December 17. The March forum will focus on creation of a regional “co-branding” strategy for the Kansas City region’s transit system.
The next RTCC meeting is May 14 at 1:30 pm at MARC.