The idea of bringing free public transit to Kansas City, Missouri started like any other annual budget planning session and grew into something more.
“And it gets you to dream a little,” is how Mayor Quinton Lucas described the origins of the idea at the American Public Transit Association’s (APTA) TRANSform conference. last month.
He explained how the review of budgets brought to the fore some achievements on fare collection – and the many complexities surrounding it, such as acquiring new equipment, counting money and the interactions between bus operators and passengers.
“Those of you who start with a budget every year, I think it’s enough to be honest,” Lucas told the gathering of transit officials.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s (KCATA) decision to eliminate fares started with “removing small bites,” Lucas said, which meant removing fares for certain groups like homeless residents, school children and Veterans. In 2020, the city’s transit service then scrapped fares for everyone, in an experiment watched anxiously by other transit agencies, city officials and opponents.
“You saw the ‘parade of horribles’ that people predicted first, which didn’t happen,” Lucas said.
The project worked, in part, because public transit in Kansas City was structured so that only about 8 percent of the agency’s annual budget came from the fare box; but also because the project was part of a much larger narrative around housing, transportation, economic development and equity.
“It wasn’t just a discussion about transit or a discussion about transportation. This is a discussion about fairness. It’s a discussion about income. This is a discussion about fairness. And I think that’s how you do these things in the long run,” Lucas said, speaking during the panel titled “Cities and the Ever-Changing Mobility Ecosystem.”
If public transit is to have a future – which all the thought leaders say it must do for cities to have a future – it must be part of a larger narrative, a larger vision of what cities can be.
“We know that if we’re going to make public transit and cities work, it’s not just a DOT conversation,” Christopher Coes, assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said in some of his comments on the panel. “You have to provide accommodation. We need to bring in entrepreneurship. You also need to bring in our rural counterparts.
The United States DOT has since increased funding for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) projects, which help develop both housing and commercial development alongside public transit.
“Because we believe in cities and we believe in the power of fair TOD in communities,” Coes said.
“The reason I love being on this panel is because you solved the issues my family and I have faced for so much of my life,” said Lucas, affectionately known as Mayor Q. We were bus drivers, I come from a family that was displaced due to a highway that ran through the heart of our community.
“And I think right now we’re using public transit, really like the core, for how we fix cities,” he added.
In Seattle, the city is investing in streetscape improvements to make public transit faster, more comfortable and safer. There are also “rate support” programs for residents in places like social housing, youth and seniors.
“We are very proud to invest city tax dollars in public transit,” said Greg Spotts, the new director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, who went on to outline a bus rapid transit project. , known as the RapidRide G Line, which will run from downtown to Madison Valley with a bus every six minutes during peak hours.
But it’s more than just an investment in public transit. It’s an investment in Seattle’s life, Spotts said.
“What is exciting, yes, is bus rapid transit with central boarding. But it’s also a redesign of a 100-year-old water main and it’s a diagonal street that has five-way intersections that were very dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists and school children,” Spotts said. .
These intersections are reconfigured to make them safer.
“When you get this alignment all the way for federal funds, you can actually turn a 100-year-old street into a ‘complete street’ where all of your modes are channeled beautifully and work in harmony. And then imagine the economic development you’ll get from refreshing a hallway like that,” Spotts said. “So I want to do more.”
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