Nathan Cunningham just wants a job.
And without an expanded city bus system, the Wichita man who was laid off two years ago says he can’t get one.
Cunningham was one of several Wichita Transit customers who crammed four-deep around tables Tuesday afternoon at the downtown bus center to tell city transit and planning officials they need a better bus system.
After the engine went out of his car, the bus system became Cunningham’s only route to a job, he said. Being laid off is a vicious circle, he said: no money to fix the car without a job, no job without transportation.
“Right away after I was laid off, I got some temporary work, and they were ready to put me into a third-shift job, but I lost the compression in a valve in my engine,” Cunningham said. “The buses don’t run late enough for third shift, so I had to say no. So, yeah, the bus system is pretty important to me.”
The system currently operates from 5:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Saturday.
Tuesday was the first of two meetings to gain public input on Wichita’s transportation future and, specifically, on changes proposed to west-side bus service.
New transit head Steve Spade wants to tie the city’s bus routes closer to important destinations – jobs, doctors, social services, shopping, apartments. So Cunningham’s story hit home for him.
“That’s just sad,” Spade said. “It’s all about jobs and the other things to help people have a better life in Wichita.”
“We need to run deeper into the day, more frequently, on Sunday, at key hours,” said Ron Terzian, chairman of the city’s transit advisory board. “It’s important. And obviously, as you’re hearing today, the ability to do that just isn’t there.”
Wichitan Bob Moore, a retired truck driver, also relies on the bus to get around town – sometimes an all-day affair of transfers and rides out of the way of his destination, he said. He’s a big supporter of Spade’s initiative.
“The bus system isn’t very good right now,” he said. “My doctor is out at 2626 N. Webb, and they don’t go out there. So the only alternative I have is the Red Cross.
“So, yeah, I’m all for routes that tie the system to medical folks, shopping and things like this. Because I’ll tell you right now, this system stinks.”
The transit meetings this week are part of a community engagement process as the Wichita City Council weighs how to stabilize and expand the financially embattled transit system. The system is projected to run out of money in 2015 after obtaining an estimated $1.8 million line of credit from the city to stay afloat until then.
City officials have said transit revenue must be increased; one option is to ask voters to approve a tax initiative.
The meeting Tuesday gathered feedback on MOVE 2040, the region’s long-range transportation plan, and the Westside Service Improvement Project, which would extend the West Central and West Maple bus routes all the way to New Market Square in northwest Wichita.
The proposed improvements in west Wichita include:
• West Maple route: Extension of the West Maple route from its current end point of West Maple and Tyler to serve the New Market Square retail area at 21st and Maize.
• West Central route: A new West Central route that would operate from downtown Wichita via Central and 21st to the New Market Square shopping area.
• West-side neighborhood feeders: Small buses that circulate through neighborhoods to pick people up close to their homes and transport them to the nearest bus stop.
Spade has said the changes will go before the City Council late this year.
City planners with Move 2040 handed out 10 fake $1 bills and asked survey participants to place at least a dollar in the box of issues that they think are crucial. Topics ranged from alternative travel to education to technology, safety and bottlenecks.
Spade said the surveys are another look at what services the public wants from its bus system.
“The comments we receive today and tomorrow will be used to tweak what we’ve already designed,” Spade said.
Any comment about Wichita transit will be welcome as the city works to shape the system’s long-term future, he said.
Another transit meeting is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in Northwest High School’s Commons Area, 1220 N. Tyler.