City may hike bus fares, cut service

Wichita's transit system proposes to fix a million-dollar budget shortfall by raising fares by 50 cents, hiking paratransit rides for people with disabilities by $1 and eliminating bus service on Saturdays.

The moves could affect the personal budgets of hundreds of people who already struggle financially and could create problems for people who depend on city buses to get to work on Saturdays.

City buses provide 182,000 rides a year on Saturdays —and, last year, gave 2.2 million rides overall.

City officials have said they have few options. The city faces a $1.5 million shortfall this year in addition to the transit system struggles, making it unpalatable to transfer money to the transit system from other funds.

City transit officials invite people to a public hearing on the proposed fare increase and service changes at 6:30 p.m. June 23 in the City Council chambers at 455 N. Main. They will also accept input by mail at Wichita Transit, 777 E. Waterman, Wichita, KS 67202 or by phone at 265-1450.

Ultimately, the Wichita City Council will have to vote whether to raise fares. Transit officials suggest making the hikes effective Sept. 3.

The proposed increases come as federal stimulus dollars that helped pay for buses disappear and as fuel prices have climbed, straining bus systems across the country.

Wichita Transit hopes to eventually move away from its funding structure, which depends on, federal cash (35 percent), local money (34 percent), fares (17 percent), state money (12 percent) and other funds (2 percent).

City Council members will vote today whether to hire a consultant to conduct public outreach sessions to hear what Wichitans want from their bus system. Previous surveys have shown people want more frequent service that reaches more places.

But that will likely prove impossible without new revenue, such as a dedicated half-cent sales tax.

The $87,000 contract would go to Olsson Associates, a planning firm with offices in northeast Kansas and across the country.

The city would pay about $17,451 from its transit budget. A federal grant would pick up the rest.

Wichita already has an extensive transit plan created by the University of Kansas, which recommends a grid network of bus routes to cover more ground with more frequent pickups, extended hours of service and other options.

But the city thought it hadn't focused enough on gathering public opinion from riders and other taxpayers about what they're willing to do to create a better bus system.

Olsson's work would involve reviewing prior plans, studies and surveys; meeting with transit officials; surveys of riders and nonriders; developing concepts for a revamped bus system and public meetings.

Its final report and presentation would come sometime in December.

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