City holiday disrupts Wichita bus riders’ schedules

11/23/2011 6:43 AM

11/23/2011 6:43 AM

If you were planning to take the bus to go to work or shopping on Black Friday, you might want to make other arrangements.

Because of budget problems, Wichita Transit has canceled all service for this Friday.

And some bus riders are not happy about it.

“That’s kind of crazy,” said Theo Stallings, a student at Old Town Barber and Beauty College, who was waiting for a bus Monday.

While the day after Thanksgiving is an official holiday for city employees, “I have to go to school,” Stallings said. He’s arranged for a ride there, but added, “As well, I would have hoped to get out and look at a few shopping deals.”

Mike Vinson, director of Wichita Transit, said cutting off Black Friday service was a decision the department didn’t want to have to make.

But facing an estimated $1 million deficit at the beginning of this year, plus a contract that requires workers to be paid effectively double time and a half for city government holidays, he said Wichita Transit had no choice but to drop service on four days when the buses traditionally ran.

In addition to the Friday after Thanksgiving, this year there was no service for Martin Luther King Day, Veterans Day and Presidents Day, he said.

Typically, the bus service served about half as many riders on the day after Thanksgiving as on a typical weekday. With the overtime, it cost a lot more to operate, Vinson said.

But he said he can “totally understand” the customers’ frustration.

“I wish we could continue to operate,” he said. “But based on the budget situation, we had to make the cut.”

Bus rider Tony Davis said as far as he’s concerned, shutting down bus service on one of the busiest shopping days of the year would make things worse because if people can’t shop, they won’t be paying sales taxes.

“That isn’t helping the economy,” he said. “The merchants … they’re the ones who are missing out. As bad as the economy is, how would the bus service not know this?”

Shane Thomas, another frequent bus user, said the lack of service this Friday “is going to take a toll on a lot of staff people getting to their jobs.” He added that bus riders have already been stung by fare increases earlier this year.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Tim Norton, who managed the east Wichita Target store before leaving that job for full-time public service, said he recalled that only a few of his employees rode the bus.

But the bus stop was in front of his store and he recalled seeing a lot of shoppers disembarking to avoid the traffic and parking headaches of the busy shopping day. He also said a lot of employees of the Towne East Square mall across the street rode the bus.

City Manager Robert Layton said he’s not sure how the day after Thanksgiving came to be a city holiday.

“It’s my understanding it’s been that way quite a while,” he said.

The city observes 10 holidays a year, and Layton said the post-Thanksgiving day may have been a trade-off for another holiday that city workers used to get.

That’s the situation at Sedgwick County, where employees gave up Columbus Day to make Thanksgiving a four-day weekend. Friday’s also an official holiday for state government.

As for bus system holidays, Vinson said that could be addressed as part of a larger community outreach survey to find out what the customers’ priorities are.

People can give their ideas for improving the system at the website wichitatransittalks.com. The survey is expected to be completed by February.

“If we can find additional revenue, we’ll certainly look at restoring the holidays,” Vinson said.

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