It was a big year in local transit news: elections, streetcar construction, new amenities, and a makeover of our only bi-state transit agency. Here’s the recap:
1. Election defeats
Voters said no to transportation ballot questions multiple times in 2014 — some good (streetcar & MAX expansion), some mediocre (Missouri Amendment 7), and some just plain bad (Clay Chastain’s latest underfunded petition initiative).
City Hall says wait until the streetcar starter line is up and running (early 2016) before attempting expansion again. Statewide transportation funding will likely resurface sooner (Gov. Nixon’s push for tolling on I-70 is the first attempt). Meanwhile, Clay Chastain is running for Mayor (yes, he qualifies) and claiming he will dismantle the starter line if elected.
2. Downtown starter line
The starter line officially broke ground in May and by Dec. 19 had laid 7,165 feet (33%) of the mainline track. A major component of construction was replacement and modernization of utilities, which caused impacts to linger far longer than just installing tracks. The pace of redevelopment along the line also exceeded expectations, with new residential, job, hotel, and retail announcements arriving almost weekly. Also in 2014: Operating hours were announced, branding was approved, and a new Executive Director took the helm.
3. KCATA reorganization
A flurry of activity from within the walls of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority made for an interesting year and a promising future. Here’s a quick timeline:
- January 22: Jackson County’s Robbie Makinen re-elected as chair of KCATA board
- April 23: KCATA announces plans to refocus (and reorganize) the agency around being truly regional
- August 15: Long-time General Manager/CEO Mark Huffer resigns
- September 25: Johnson County Board of Commissioners approves management consolidation with The JO
- November 19: New CEO search begins, KCATA approves new “RideKC” regional brand
Reports indicate that deals to bring Wyandotte County and Independence back into the KCATA fold are in the works.
4. SpotShotter success
Gunfire along the Troost MAX line is down 26% thanks to new technology that pinpoints the location with sound, aiding police response. It’s a collaboration between agencies (KCATA and KCPD) that’s producing real results.
5. Bike share expansion
BikeShareKC finally opened new kiosks in Midtown and near the Plaza.
6. Rock Island ROW purchase
Jackson County finally reached a deal to purchase the Rock Island right of way from Union Pacific, as well as a federal grant to fund part of the purchase. After negotiations stalled with Kansas City Southern over access to their existing tracks, the Rock Island remains the best chance to rekindle County Executive Mike Sanders’ regional rail plan.
7. Downtown bus realignment
In transit speak, the “Comprehensive Service Analysis” would shift all downtown bus routes to Grand and 11th/12th streets (“Transit Emphasis Corridors”). The change would dramatically enhance KCATA’s utility for short trips within the greater downtown area, provide better passenger amenities (“superstops”), and dovetail perfectly with frequent streetcar service on Main Street. The 10th & Main transit center would be replaced by an on-street facility just east of City Hall.
8. New service (#105, expanded #47, larger #101 buses)
It’s not common for KC to get a completely new transit route, but the modest #105 is actually notable for being the product of grassroots efforts by the Rosedale community in KCK. Constant complaints led KCATA to improve #47 service to the Truman Sports Complex. KCK’s flagship route #101 finally got larger buses in January to relieve overcrowding.
9. 31-day & regional passes
Both The JO and KCATA switched to 31-day passes (which cuts down on the cost of printing unique passes for each calendar month). The Regional Transit Coordinating Council facilitated making the more expensive JO pass the de facto regional pass that would be accepted on all of KC’s transit systems. Both efforts were easy wins entirely focused on existing customers.
10. Workforce connex grant
The Mid-America Regional Council scored a $1.2 million TIGER planning grant to study how to “double the number of jobs accessible by public transit in the greater Kansas City area” after an embarrassingly-low ranking by Brookings. The real test will be what the region does with the study’s findings (hint: it will require regional funding).
11. More WiFi
KCATA unveiled free WiFi service on MAX and other key routes. The system is basically free to the agency, as well, thanks to T-Mobile. The JO began free WiFi on its commuter routes in 2010. “SmartCity” partner Cisco unveiled plans that would enable free WiFi along the downtown streetcar route.