City Council passed a resolution for a funding request in the next fiscal year budget to make fixed route public transportation fare fee within Kansas City MO. Dec. 5. Kansas City Area Transportation Authority has also launched a Prospect Route and this will be no fare for 90 days Dec. 9. Kansas City will be one of 27 cities in the nation to have free bus fare.
Although the resolution passed recently, CEO of Kansas City Area Transportation. Authority Robbie Makinen states that it wasn’t something that happened overnight. It is something they have been testing out in different groups.
“The city has been methodically and strategically been testing this out with veterans, school kids and safety net providers, and because of that we feel as if we are ready to take the next step,” Makinen said.
According to Makinen, Kansas City has provided 2.3 million free rides for veterans in Kansas City. Makinen believes that free bus fare provides people with better access to opportunities and services in Kansas City.
“You can talk about affordable housing, job training and all these other services, but if you can’t get there, then what’s the point?” Makinen said. Makinen also suggests that free bus fare will increase productivity and save people time.
“Right now, if you go down to the bus station, it would take five to ten minutes to get everybody on the bus and loaded because people have to find their money and their pass,” Makinen said. “Without that we can open both doors and people can just get on. It will make our system more efficient.”
However, one concern of Zero Fare is people taking advantage of the free fare system, but Makinen says that there will be rules in place to prevent this from happening.
“Just like at the end of the streetcar, when you reach the end of the line you have to get off, so there are not going to be people just getting on the bus and riding it all day,” Makinen said.
Another concern is that since there is no fare, people will ask for handouts on the bus rather than on the street. If this is the case, critics worry that it could compromise the safety of the system. Makinen argues that this will not be a problem.
“We have one of the safest public transit programs in the nation,” Makinen said. “Less than 1% of over 15-16 million rides an incident happens, and 90% of anytime anything happens on the bus it is because of a fare dispute. So eliminate the fare, eliminate the dispute.”
Senior Murphy O’Dell took the city bus four times a week during freshman and sophomore year, and agrees with Makinen that the majority of disputes she witnessed were fare related.
“When people would come up to you they would ask you, ‘do you have any money for the next bus’ and I would be like no I just spent all my money on this bus so I don’t know what to tell you,” O’Dell said.
The biggest issue for Zero Bus Fare Service is funding. According to chair of the finance committee Katheryn Shields, Kansas City is expected to have a $65 million shortfall over the next five years. The Zero Fare program is expected to cost around $8 million, something that Shields argues the city may not afford without affecting other services like street resurfacing.
“One of the reasons the city has no money is because we keep saying, ‘Oh, this is a good idea, let’s do this,'” Shields said.
Makinen argues that Zero Bus Fare will save the citizens of Kansas City money and help the local economy. Makinen also believes that it is unfair for citizens to pay the $1.50 bus fare.
“I believe that by paying $1.50 to ride public transit you are getting taxed twice,” Makinen said. “You pay taxes, but then if you have to get on the bus and pay another $1.50 then you are getting taxed twice.”
Despite the cost of Zero Fare, Makinen believes that it will be well worth Kansas City’s money.
“Our mission is to connect people to opportunity.” Makinen said “Something that I often say is talent has no zip code, but opportunity is meaning you have to be able to get talented folks to the opportunities.”