More expansive, expensive bus system proposed to City Council

City Council members got a glimpse into the proposed future of the city’s bus system Tuesday.

Wichita Transit officials presented a stair-stepped vision plan for public transit that could double the city’s cost if implemented in full. The plan, which officials say is driven by public input, has a price tag of $25.7 million annually, almost twice the current $13.6 million budget.

Its centerpiece is a plan to grow the system by bringing riders closer to the places they live, work, play and seek medical attention.

“Public transit means freedom for a wide variety of people,” Ron Terzian, the transit advisory board chairman, told the council. “It saves energy and enhances our quality of life.”

Terzian said the current system “isn’t acceptable for a city of our size and our ambitions for economic development.”

The transit program, propped by by loans from City Hall, will run out of money in 2015 unless a dedicated revenue source can be found.

Some council members say improving public transit should be one of the projects included in any community sales tax vote. Council members are considering a long-term sales tax for a bundle of projects that could be taken to voters as soon as next fall.

The transit plan includes:

• More frequent peak-hour service on existing routes.

• Extension of routes east and west to respond to community growth and development, targeting medical facilities, workplaces, apartment complexes and major shopping destinations.

• Crosstown routes in a grid system to reduce travel time.

• Longer operating hours, including evening and Sunday service.

• Growing the system to serve Sedgwick County, including the possibility of express routes to Wichita suburbs, and regional connections to neighboring counties.

Transit director Steve Spade said the plan is the results of two years of community input.

“We had two basic questions: What do people think of our service – how can we make it better? – and how does transit fit into our community,” he said. “The improvements here are a product of that input process.”

Because of a three-year, $2.4 million grant, Spade is at work already, extending west-side service to NewMarket Square and preparing a March launch for west-side “neighborhood connectors,” or smaller buses that will ferry residents from low-traffic areas to main bus routes.

He has other goals: extend regular routes to keep up with city growth, improve bus frequency to 15 to 20 minutes during peak times, introduce crosstown routes to create a grid route system and expand ADA service coverage across the city.

Beyond that grant, the council was presented with a piece-by-piece plan that can be implemented in total, or gradually. Spade proposes:

• A baseline sustainable system, including the new routes, that will cost about $4 million more annually, about $17.9 million.

• Peak hour service, an additional $1.9 million annually.

• Expanded evening service, primarily to allow riders to work second- and third-shift jobs, an additional $2.7 million annually.

• Sunday service, an additional $1.8 million annually.

• Regional express and local bus service to outlying communities, an additional $1.4 million annually.

None of the options are doable without a stabilized annual funding source, Spade said as he urged the council to launch those talks – an idea immediately endorsed by council member Janet Miller.

“We need the bucks. That’s what it all boils down to,” Terzian told the council. “With Steve’s management and expertise, he’s putting together a system based on the funding he has. We have a long-term vision of what transit should be. It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take dollars.”

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