Save Saturday service

City officials seem to have concluded that Wichita Transit’s budget problem, bad as it is, may not justify eliminating Saturday bus service. Good for the public for speaking out, and good for City Hall for listening.

With their numbers and comments, the 200 people who attended last week’s meeting on the proposed cuts signaled that Saturday service is worth fighting for. Wichitans who participated in a new SurveyUSA poll, sponsored by KWCH, Channel 12, said likewise, with 73 percent opposing the proposal to end Saturday service.

Without Saturday buses — and because buses don’t run in the evenings or on Sundays as it is — riders who work weekdays but don’t own cars would find it difficult to buy groceries and run other errands.

And 37 percent of bus riders told SurveyUSA they don’t own a car, with only 28 and 6 percent of riders, respectively, citing gas prices and concern for the environment as their reasons for riding.

Still, the system’s $1 million budget hole isn’t going to fill itself. Cutting Saturday service would save the city $550,000 in 2012.

So when the staff proposal comes to them in July, Mayor Carl Brewer and the City Council will need to raise fares as of September beyond the current $1.25, with an additional 25 cents for a transfer.

And the newly proposed alternatives to ending Saturday service would cost riders significantly more: Raising base fare to $2.25, with 25 cents for a transfer; raising base fare to $2, with 75 cents per transfer; or charging $1.65 for every ride, without a break for transfers. Higher para-transit fares for people with disabilities also are proposed.

Higher fares won’t invite more ridership, which was 2.2 million passengers last year.

Other numbers in the SurveyUSA poll reveal a disconnect between the public’s expectations for a bus system and willingness to use it:

-- 88 percent said they “almost never” used public transportation.

-- 50 percent said they wouldn’t be more likely to ride if the city expanded routes and times.

-- And 69 percent said they don’t ride the bus because they prefer to drive themselves.

With Wichita continuing to risk violating national air-quality standards, leaders should be looking at the bus service as a means to get more cars off the streets and pollution out of the air. One way would be to invest in a grid-based network proposed in a University of Kansas study last year.

Instead, a larger, more comprehensive bus system seems far into the future for Wichita, if not out of reach forever. But at least it’s now clear that axing Saturday service would be one cut too far.