What a system redesign might look like for Wichita Transit
At a recent advisory board meeting for Wichita Transit, director Mike Tann announced that the organization will be issuing a “request for proposal” for a system redesign. For this month’s En Route, Beth Golay sat down with Tann to find out what that means for Wichita and its transit riders.
Wichita Transit’s redesign will begin with a comprehensive study looking at how to improve and expand the current transit system.
“This has been something that we've had budgeted for about three or four years now, but really had no particular reason to use it,” Tann said. “And now that we do with our new building that's going in on the riverfront, and we also have a number of system changes that we've done with our relationships with USD 259 and WSU that have created a situation where we're looking to create a system and a staggered increase in service that makes sense, that incorporates best practices, takes advantage of our new facility, our new electric buses, and a renewed interest in public transportation as a whole in Wichita.”
Tann emphasizes that one of the main focuses of this redesign is that it’s planned with the future in mind and not a reaction to current transit issues.
“There's a tremendous amount of public input that we've received about improving transit system as a whole for the entire community. We're doing that as much as we can with the budget that we have, but there's also constraints that come with the current budget and also the current system. And we know that better than anyone, we need to improve our headway times. We need to improve our service times. We need to extend our service days further so that second and third shift employees can reach their destinations and also get home from where they're at. So we're hoping that this system redesign will actually create a roadmap that the community can embrace and understand and support. And that's what we're hoping as the end result of this, probably a year long study. And with our new facility opening up in the spring of 2025, we thought that this was a great opportunity to take advantage of all those synergies.”
To talk about a system redesign, it’s important to understand the current set-up. Wichita Transit routes are on a pulse system, taking riders from the Transit Center, out to the far reaches of the city before returning to the Transit Center.
“There was a lot of discussion a number of years ago about what's called a grid system. All your routes go up and down north, south, east, or west, and they intersect at certain points within the community. And that's where transfer points occur. There is no transit center. If we went to a 100% grid system, we're looking at quadrupling our cost. And that's unacceptable to us, and it's unacceptable to the community.”
Tann says the best system for Wichita is a combination of the two. “We feel strongly that if we propose a staged system that is Wichita-based, we should have things that Wichitans want and they're willing to support. So for lack of a better term, I would call it a hybrid, where you would have routes that would run direct from places where people live, to where people need to be school, work, medical appointments, things like that, that are tied into those major locations and to, and to get them in the most direct way.”
With this hypothetical hybrid system, the current transit center would no longer serve as the pulse, but the new multimodal center near Douglas & Sycamore in Delano would factor into the system.
“There's still gonna be routes that go through our new multimodal center. If there's people that live in Delano that wish to go to WSU for night classes, or wish to go to WSU Tech to learn how to be a car mechanic, they should be able to walk to that facility and get right on a bus. Same thing if they want to go to WSU Tech out on Webb Road. So it's not a one thing fits all type scenario. And that's where we think that we've right sized the facility from the transit side. But we can also create those synergies where people can get on a bus at one side of town and take it immediately to the other side of town.”
With the system redesign, Tann says the plan is not to take away services, but to create a roadmap to growth.
“We've been faced with many downward turns in the last 25 or 30 years in transit service. And it reflects that we're now in a position to take steps to increase. And I think those steps should be well thought out, well accepted and adopted with the community in mind. And also where we think those expectations may be in the future, but not worry about what we think transit services gonna be like 15 years from now. Let's worry about what it wants to be in the next two or three years, and how do we fund it and how do we run it and then be adaptable enough to be able to change.”
Beth Golay goes En Route with transit riders across Wichita. Her conversations are featured monthly on The Range. Follow her on Twitter @BethGolay, or you can probably track her down on Route 21.