Wichita Transit Debuts New Bus Routes, Fares
Wichita Transit has rolled out changes to its bus routes and fares. The new system is meant to help buses run on time and get riders to their destination quicker, despite a limited budget that won’t allow service at night or on Sundays. KMUW’s Sean Sandefur reports on the new normal for Wichita’s bus riders.
A line of idling buses waits outside of the Wichita Transit Center building downtown. Several signs are posted nearby to notify riders that bus routes are changing.
Cassie Allen has used public transportation to get to work for about two years. She says she’s still a little confused on how the new system might affect her.
“My bus driver has been helpful, but still I don’t really understand them. They’re really complicated,” Allen says.
Each of the city’s 17 bus routes has been modified in some way, and they’re now known by numbers, rather than street names.
Stephen Moosick is another regular transit rider. Despite losing the bus stop that’s right outside of his house, he welcomes the new transit fares. Monthly passes used to be $90; now they’re $55.
“People will just have to get used to it,” he says. “I think they’ll like it, as long as they can still get where they’re going.”
The City of Wichita held public forums last year to hear from people who use Wichita Transit. The most popular request? For buses to run later at night and on Sundays.
A proposed one-cent sales tax would have provided that back in 2014, but the referendum was lumped together with other needs, like road repairs, expanding the city’s long-term water supply, and job creation.
It was defeated by voters, and without that additional funding, Wichita Transit had to look at efficiency in order to better serve its riders.
They’ve added a route on Grove Street, and have extended other routes, such as 13th and 21st Streets, which will reach popular destinations like Target and Whole Foods.
But the city has also had to cut down on some of its routes.
Shawn Thackery uses the bus to get to his landscaping job in Wichita's Oaklawn neighborhood. The bus that he takes on Saturday doesn’t travel out there anymore, meaning he’ll miss a day of work, or have to pay for a cab.
“I make almost $300 a week,” Thackery says. “Now, it will maybe drop me down to $250, or $275 a week.”
Thackery says he understands that city officials are simply trying to serve more people with a limited system.
Wichita Transit Director Steve Spade says the city is only realigning the routes, not expanding the service.
But he says that doesn’t mean Wichita Transit hasn’t been improved, and the city has come up with a few ways to accomplish that.
First, the long loops that buses used to take towards the end of their routes have been shortened, allowing them to get back to the center of town more quickly. The city has also added “designated stops.” In addition to current bus stops, thousands of street signs have been added along routes so riders can flag down buses closer to home or work.
Transit is also eliminating the need to switch buses when going from one side of town to the other.
“The system used to start downtown, go to the end of the route and then turn around and go back,” Spade says. “Now, you’ll be able to ride a route from one end of the city to the other, coming through downtown, and not changing.”
There are also minor tweaks, like requiring exact change when purchasing fares on buses. The previous system turned bus drivers into cashiers—Spade says removing these transactions will help keep buses running on time.
Transit is utilizing a mobile application, too.
“You’ll be able to see where your bus is in real time on your phone,” Spade explains. “It will also have is a trip planner. You can put in your home address and the address of where you want to go, and the app will tell you where to go to catch the bus, when it’s going to be there, and how long it will take you to make the trip.”
He says that serves two types of transit riders: those that use frequently and want to see if their bus is on time, and those who are exploring public transportation for the first time.
Spade says these changes are a step in the right direction, but knows the system is still not on the level it should be.
“Our budget problems still have not been solved,” he says. “These [changes to the bus system] are being provided within the same operating budget. As a result, we’re not running the kind of frequencies that we ought to be running: night service and Sunday service.”
Spade says that Wichita Transit has had some big accomplishments over the past couple of years, most notably the routes that go through Wichita State University and out west to the large shopping center at New Market Square.
“We’re carrying probably 75 people a day out to New Market Square,” Spade says. “So, we’re real pleased with the way it’s worked.”
He admits that the city isn’t content with the current bus system, and will continue to look at broader changes in the future.
Until then, he asks that people take the time to test out the new routes. Transit is offering unlimited free rides this week so people can learn more about them.
Follow Sean Sandefur on Twitter @SeanSandefur
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