Rather than idly wait for the bus system to go bust, forecast as an alarming possibility for 2015, city officials are eyeing improvements and seeking public comment now. Both are crucial, positive steps toward the goal of sustaining and strengthening Wichita Transit for the long term.
Current and would-be bus users alike should consider joining the conversation, as they did in a big way when a proposal to eliminate Saturday service was floated last year.
Meetings will be held at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Wichita Transit Center, 214 S. Topeka, and at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Northwest High School.
The choice of the second site is key, because of the big ideas that Wichita Transit director Steve Spade has to better serve west-side Wichita starting in March.
An underused west-side connector would be scrapped, as service was added to link downtown with NewMarket Square at Maize and 21st Street via West Central, and also extend a current West Maple route north to NewMarket Square’s shopping sites. The proposal includes adding small buses to circulate through west-side neighborhoods and transport riders to the nearest bus stop. The changes, funded for three years by Federal Transit Administration grant funds, would afford more people in car-reliant west Wichita the opportunity to get around via public transportation.
If such service improvements led to fewer cars and less traffic, that would mean less air pollution and less wear and tear on streets.
Better bus service also could be good for Wichitans’ health and well-being, according to Kansas Health Institute research presented to the Wichita City Council last week.
The researchers found that “longer operating hours, higher frequencies and change from a hub-and-spoke to a grid system” not only would be more efficient for users but would increase access to health care, employment, food sources, educational and recreational resources, especially for low-income residents in southeast Wichita.
That outstanding idea looks less so if the price of a grid system is considered – $23 million to $56 million a year to operate, according to a 2010 study – when the city already has reluctantly committed $1.8 million to sustain the transit system through early 2015.
But it sounds as if the grid system’s principles apply to the “origin- and destination-oriented” transit system that is Spade’s goal. The community discussion will need to assess the public willingness to devote more property tax, a higher sales tax or some other revenue stream to public transit.
Even Wichitans who don’t ride the bus want a strong bus system. And a stronger system surely would attract more riders and generate more revenue. How Wichita gets from here to there is a crucial question that the public will need to help answer in the coming days.