Politics & Government

Wichita City Council approves transit routes, bus fare changes

People get off buses at the transit center downtown on Tuesday. New bus routes will focus on areas that have historically had higher ridership.
People get off buses at the transit center downtown on Tuesday. New bus routes will focus on areas that have historically had higher ridership. The Wichita Eagle

New bus routes and fare options are coming to Wichita’s struggling transit system next spring.

The changes unanimously approved by the City Council on Tuesday are an effort to improve the system to make it more usable and less confusing to riders.

But the changes likely won’t affect the budget shortfall the system faces. Earlier this year, the council approved a one-year stopgap funding measure for the transit system, which faced a $2 million shortfall in 2016.

Transit’s operating budget is about $13.5 million annually, said Steve Spade, transit director.

New routes will focus on areas that have historically had higher ridership, based on studies and recommendations from Boston-based firm Nelson-Nygaard. The city spent about $99,000 on the firm’s services, Spade said.

“They got us information on how the system performs and broke it down route by route and almost trip by trip to analyze where ridership was or wasn’t,” Spade said.

“We need to invest resources in areas where we’re going to get the most bang for our buck.”

There also were several town hall meetings and meetings with neighborhood associations about transit services and needs.

Here’s a breakdown of the changes:

Route changes

▪ Changes would go into effect March 26, 2016.

▪ New routes will focus more on central corridors and bigger streets.

proposed transit route map
Courtesy of city of Wichita

▪ Under the new system, 36 buses will run during peak hours, up from 35.

▪ The total number of routes will be 17, up from 16. Services are being removed from less than 10 percent of areas.

▪ Feeder services will be increased on the west side. Feeders are smaller vehicles that carry up to 15 people. They have to be reserved a day in advance.

▪ Monthly pass holders will have discounted feeder service.

Fare changes

▪ Wichita’s base fare of $1.75 a ride will stay the same. Day passes will continue to cost $5.

▪ But several variations in fares, including a 20-ride, 10-ride, 30-day and three-day pass, were too complicated, the study found. Now, there will be single ride, day, monthly and weekly passes.

▪ Transfers will be eliminated, meaning every time someone boards the bus they will need to have a pass or a cash fare.

▪ Prepaid fares will be discounted on weekly and monthly passes.

▪ Monthly passes will have a steep discount – $55 instead of the regular $90 – that will encourage people to buy them upfront.

▪ People will be able to buy a day pass (in cash) on the bus. They couldn’t do that before. Passes can still be purchased with cards at the transit center downtown. People will need to pay on the bus with exact change.

Costs to the system

The route and fare changes are designed to stay within the current budget.

If service hours change, there could be an additional cost of about $140,000 a year.

“We’re re-designing the system for the future and long-term and not for short-term budget benefits,” Spade said.

Transit ridership distribution and current routes
Courtesy of city of Wichita

▪ Ridership is expected to drop by about 4 percent, or 60,000 rides, in the first year, as people get used to the changes, and is expected to increase by double digits after that.

▪ Revenue is expected to increase by about 3 percent annually.

▪ It will take 12 to 18 months to see how the system is doing after implementation.

▪ The changes will not mean an increase in bus drivers.

▪ The anticipated budget shortfall for 2017 is 3 to 4 percent, more than the $2 million from earlier this year since operating costs generally increase year over year.

Next steps

▪ Relocate and add bus shelters at new locations.

▪ Install new bus-stop signs.

▪ Promote free rides to kick off the changes.

Kelsey Ryan: 316-269-6752, @kelsey_ryan