Chairman: Sales tax for bus system won't be on ballot

Wichita voters won’t be deciding in November whether to support a possible sales tax increase for city transportation, and it’s unclear when they will get that chance, said Ron Terzian, chairman of the Wichita Transit Advisory Board.

Terzian was one of the featured speakers Monday night during a meeting of the Wichita Independent Neighborhoods, a grassroots nonprofit serving local neighborhoods. About two dozen people attended.

“I can say with certainty it won’t be on the ballot,” Terzian told the group. “But we want to make sure transit is part of the conversation and considered for future planning.”

The meeting, in downtown Wichita, was a chance for neighborhood leaders to learn the condition of the city’s transit system.

Wichita has 49 buses, six trolleys and 24 para transit buses, which provide transportation for Wichitans with specific needs. Of the 49 buses, 30 are 10 years old or older and approaching 350,000 to 400,000 miles on each, said Tom Stolz, deputy chief for the Wichita Police Department and, as of July 1, the acting transit interim director.

“We operate on a hub-and-spoke system, meaning we have a transit center downtown and our buses go to the far reaches of the city,” Stolz said. “Our transit system is extremely cumbersome. It is unreliable. If you had to depend on our transit system to get you to work or to the doctor, don’t count on it. It is terrible for a city this size.”

A quarter-center sales tax – proposed by the city’s transit advisory board – could potentially generate at least $14 million annually to support the system, helping fund a shift to a grid route system.

This spring, the transit system was struggling under a $500,000 deficit for 2012, and the Wichita City Council was forced to cut some city programs to help bridge the deficit.

“We need to make a decision in Wichita of what kind of transit system we will have in the future,” Stolz said. “Are we going to stay with this same model, which is hit and miss, or are we going to try and upgrade?”