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Old Posted Aug 28, 2019, 4:42 PM
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Could Kansas City Become the First Major US City with Totally Free Public Transit?

Kansas City Considers Doing Away with Transit Fares Citywide

AUGUST 28, 2019


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It costs only $3 a day to “RideKC” buses to and from work. A monthly pass good for riding anywhere in Kansas City, Mo., and its neighboring communities in Missouri and Kansas costs $50. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but residents of the city’s poorer East Side say that’s a large enough sum to affect their ability to apply for and hold jobs if they don’t own a car.

- Meanwhile, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority buses are seldom packed. Even at rush hour, many are less than full, and some buses run almost completely empty in the middle of the day. But in downtown, thousands of residents and visitors each month gladly hop on and off the Kansas City Streetcar Authority’s Main Street streetcar line. Cost to ride the streetcar: zero. Put these facts together and it seems like it might be a good idea if public transit everywhere in Kansas City became free to use.

- The costs of operating the streetcar are covered entirely by sales and property taxes levied in a special taxing district that extends for about a half-mile on either side of its route. A similar mechanism covering a much larger district will finance a planned southward extension of the streetcar to the Country Club Plaza and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Paying for the streetcar this way, it turned out, was more cost-effective than collecting fares from riders.

- The good news? Making transit free would take only a very small bite out of the KCATA’s annual operating budget: $8 million of the $105 million the authority spends each year to run the buses comes from fares. It would represent an even smaller share of the city’s annual budget of $1.7 billion. --- Robbie Makinen, the KCATA’s CEO, has already made bus riding free for veterans and students since taking charge of the agency in 2015, and the KCATA has also recently entered into a partnership with social-service providers that lets them give their clients free rides.

- As of now, 25 percent of all KCATA riders pay no fare. While the bulk of the KCATA’s routes operate in the city itself, it also runs service into neighboring Independence, Mo., and to Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, all of which run their own bus systems as well. The regional bus pass is good for travel on all of these systems. --- Also on board with the idea: newly elected Mayor Quinton Lucas. In his inauguration address this month, he said, “We will still have important work to do … to ensure we’re continuing our steps toward free public bus transit for all in our city.”


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