Supporters of Saturday bus service speak

For Michael Uhrich, riding the bus is the way he says he can shop and visit friends on Saturdays.

The bus is also the way he got to City Hall on Thursday to voice his opinion about the city's proposal to cut Saturday service.

"Saturday is the only day when we have our own time," he said.

Uhrich's point of view was repeated many times Thursday night at the public hearing on the city's proposal, which also calls for raising fares from $1.25 to $1.75.

In a filled room, more than 60 people spoke as others listened and cheered loudly for the statements they agreed with. About 200 people attended the meeting, including several City Council members.

Many Wichitans who use public transportation raised concerns about the city's proposal even before the meeting, causing the city to develop three alternative proposals, said Michael Vinson, director of Wichita Transit.

"We were so overwhelmed by these boos and other comments, so we needed to look at how to keep Saturday service," he said.

The city designed the proposal to meet a $1 million budget shortfall caused in large part by increased fuel costs. After Wichita Transit officials met with the city's finance department, they developed three alternative options, which all keep Saturday service:

* Option 2: Raise base fare to $2.25 and charge 25 cents for transfers.

* Option 3: Raise base fare to $2 and charge 75 cents for transfers.

* Option 4: Establish a flat rate base fare of $1.65 for each bus boarded and eliminate transfers.

Those attending the meeting could vote on a paper ballot for one of the four options, which included the initial proposal. Vinson said his staff will tabulate the ballots and present a recommendation for the City Council to vote on in July.

After the meeting, Vinson said he thought he knew which item on the ballot people didn't pick, based on the number that spoke about Saturday service.

"Option one is probably not going to be the option," he said.

In addition to Saturday service, many speakers wanted extended bus hours during the week and service on Sundays.

For Matthew Wilson, who stood up to speak, the bus hours don't work with his third-shift job, so he borrows a neighbor's vehicle to get to work.

He said he hasn't seen the city do anything to advertise its transit system and build more business.

"I'd like to see some more action to promote ridership," he said.

The initial proposal also called for a dollar increase for paratransit fares for people with disabilities. Vinson said that a paratransit increase is probable with the other proposals.

Michael Byington, who works as an orientation and mobility instructor at Envision, said one of the things he does in his class is teach blind people to use the bus.

He said the city has to address its long-term funding process and how it views public transportation. He said city officials won't shut down Kellogg or stop using traffic lights because they're too expensive.

"Public transportation is just as important to the infrastructure of this city," he said.

Many of the people who spoke said they wanted the city to respond to the public transit problems, which have lasted for decades.

"We've been reacting to this for a long time.... Let's be proactive," David Neal said as he addressed the crowd.