Wichita bus riders: Don’t cut transit service

Wichita’s bus riders had a clear message Tuesday for the City Council: Anything, from higher fares to other project cuts, is better than further cuts to the city’s transit program.

The city unveiled a series of transit cuts Tuesday to bridge a $540,000 budget shortfall in 2012. Among the proposed changes: eliminating a west-side connector route, eliminating a transport to Goodwill Industries and making hourly instead of half-hour stops during peak service times, from 5:45 to 8:45 a.m. and 3:45 to 6:45 p.m.

City officials will take comments on the proposed changes during a 6:30 p.m. meeting Monday in the council chambers at City Hall, 455 N. Main. Proposed changes, which require council approval, would take effect on June 9.

“Absolutely raise the rates, or keep it the same period. That’s what I think,” Jon Lott said “If it wasn’t for the bus, I wouldn’t have a job, probably.”

Lott works at Coleman at 37th Street North and Hydraulic, coming from Ninth and Minnesota for his second shift job that already requires about 40 minutes on the bus both ways.

“I’d encourage them to look at cutting other things and keep their minds on the things that matter to us, rather than cutting transportation,” Lott said.

The proposed cuts would not affect half-hour stops for two routes, South Main and East Harry, which are the longest routes and must run 30-minute frequencies to meet buses with shorter routes at the Wichita Transit center.

Proposed service reductions include the elimination of a transport to Goodwill Industries at 37th and Oliver, generally one morning and one evening trip during peak hours. City officials are exploring an alternative, but didn’t elaborate in a mid-morning news release. Also proposed is the elimination of the west-side connector route due to low ridership; that route provides service in northwest Wichita and at Mid-Continent Airport.

Vice Mayor Janet Miller said Tuesday the council has no good options to balance the 2012 transit shortfall, and the system’s long-term future is even darker without a new infusion of cash.

“We are forced to choose among a lot of alternatives that are painful,” Miller said. “The advantage, if there is one, is that the proposed cuts in most cases keep the routes in place. It just makes the time between them increase, which I know is an inconvenience and a hardship”

Any change to transit services is a huge hardship, said one Wichita woman who uses the bus to get exercise every day that is crucial to her health.

“It’s just awful,” said Angela Childers, who comes downtown from Central and West to exercise six days a week for a disability. “It gives me something to do during the day because of my disability. If anything, still raise the rates. I’ll find the money. I’ve got to have a ride.”

One council option that isn’t on the table, Miller said, is another rate increase. The council’s 50-cent increase last fall sent ridership plummeting, the vice mayor said, and is partially responsible for the current budget shortfall.

“Apparently there were a silent number of people who couldn’t afford that increase,” Miller said.

One Wichitan said his education depends on bus access.

“I ride every morning to go to school,” said Aaron Childs, who attends classes at Wichita Technical Institute on Meridian. “It’s terrible to eliminate the west route, but hopefully I’ll be able to find a ride to get to school.

“If you live on the west side or go to school on the west side, you’re going to be in serious trouble if you can’t find a ride.”

The future of Wichita transit will likely fall into the hands of citizens who don’t use it, Miller said, through the approval of a new dedicated tax on sales, motor fuels or property.

“We recognize this is an absolutely critical part of some people’s existence, every bit as much as streets, police, fire or any other essential service government provides,” she said.

“I just hope others who don’t rely on the transit system can come to realize how important it is to a significant portion of our population in Wichita.”

Related stories from Wichita Eagle