Wichita residents called for sensible solutions Monday night for closing a $540,000 budget shortfall facing Wichita Transit: Bring on a sales tax increase, eliminate the buses’ Wi-Fi service, change to a grid busing system, and cut funding to other city-funded projects.
Just don’t take away the vital services that get us to our jobs.
That was the overwhelming response from bus riders and non-riders alike to recent recommendations by the Wichita City Council to further cut the city’s public transportation, which includes eliminating two bus routes and reducing peak-hour service on most others.
“You are the employees, and the boss is a little upset,” Wichitan Curt Cotton, 45, said during a passionate speech Monday night at City Hall, where city officials, including council members and Mayor Carl Brewer, heard public feedback on the proposed changes. Cotton said he’s been riding the bus daily for six years – currently on the West Maple-to-Meridian loop so he can get to his job at Aircraft Quality Instruments.
“Jobs are being put into jeopardy because of what’s being suggested here today,” Cotton said.
Others, such as Emily Schlenker, were also concerned about the fate of ill and disabled people who depend on the bus service.
“I feel like it’s already a sparse service,” said Schlenker, who is the secretary of the South Central Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. She is vision-impaired. “And it’s going to get sparser.”
The fate of the Westside Connector was of special concern to Tom Phillips, a longtime Wichita resident. He takes the bus daily to his job at Mid-Continent Airport. Walking or riding a bike to work isn’t an option for the 53-year-old, who had a heart attack in February.
“I’m not sure my heart is up to six miles of walking or bike riding to and from the airport,” Phillips said. “Not to even mention, what am I going to do in extreme weather conditions?”
The City Council is considering eliminating the route, which serves northwest Wichita and Mid-Continent Airport. Monday, Wichita director of transit Michael Vinson cited low numbers of riders on the Westside Connector – an average of 52 a day compared with 430 on other routes – as the primary reason for cutting the service.
A second route called the “Goodwill Bus,” a twice-daily trip to Goodwill Industries on Oliver and 37th North, will be eliminated if the council supports the proposal.
The city is looking for alternatives to serve the Goodwill riders, but Vinson offered no concrete alternatives at Monday, saying only: “We will take care of those Goodwill riders so they can get to and from the facility.”
Under consideration is the elimination of twice-hourly stops during peak service times along all but the city’s two longest routes – South Main and East Harry. Those two must maintain 30-minute intervals to meet shorter routes at the Transit Center on time.
Peak hours are 5:45 to 8:45 a.m. and 3:45 to 6:45 p.m. – usually when people are headed to and from work.
The suggestions are backed by the Wichita Transit System advisory board, Vinson said Monday night. The City Council is expected to take formal action on the proposals on May 15. The changes would take effect June 9, if approved by the council, he said.
“They have to do something very quickly if we’re going to save enough money to meet our budget this year,” Vinson said, addressing the media outside of the council’s chambers, where the forum was held. “ … Without the implementation of these proposals we would not be able to make budget.”
Some residents, including 57-year-old Vicky Keys, left City Hall without being heard after city officials cut the forum short an hour into public comments because of a tornado watch. Keys, who lives in downtown Wichita near the Lord’s Diner, said the council’s best bet to avoid the cuts is implementing a grid system.
“You put a bus a half-mile going north and south and east and west, the furthest the person has to go is a half-mile, quarter-mile to get to a bus,” she said. “… You’d hit all of the communities in the city, not just the major shopping areas.”
Wichita Transit is accepting public comments in writing or by phone through mid-May. Mail concerns to: Wichita Transit, 777 E. Waterman, Wichita, KS 67202. Residents may also voice opinions at 316-265-7221 or e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.