Correction: Steve Spade is the transit system director. His first name was incorrect in a previous version of this story.
Wichita needs to find a way to come up with another $2 million in permanent revenue starting next year or there will be fewer transit buses on the streets, city officials said Thursday.
Starting in January, Mayor Jeff Longwell said, the transit system will be $2 million short of the funding it needs to operate the current system. Officials plan a series of meetings “so the community can fully appreciate the importance of transit in this community,” he said.
A strong transit system is “critical to the vitality” of Wichita, Longwell said.
“Certainly, one of the things we have to do is expand our transit system and make it more convenient,” he said.
But that will take money, officials say, and where that money will come from is unclear.
“If we can’t find a funding mechanism, transit is going to have to undergo some pretty significant changes,” Longwell said.
Those changes would almost certainly result in reduced services, said Steve Spade, transit system director.
“There aren’t a lot of things you can do to save money without taking a bus off the street,” Spade said.
Officials are hoping to avoid that, and they pointed to ridership gains as signs of the transit system’s potential.
Ridership in March was up 4 percent over a year ago, Longwell said, and the first quarter of 2015 was up more than 3 percent over last year.
New routes in west Wichita “that get people where they need to go” are up 11 percent, he said.
A federal grant that helped pay for the west-side bus service is expiring, Spade said, and that’s contributing to the revenue shortfall.
“We have to figure out how to prop up transit in a different manner,” Longwell said.
That will take a permanent funding stream, he said. Officials want feedback from residents on what that stream should be.
A timetable for those feedback meetings has not yet been set.