Top transit stories of 2015

RideKC bus on 12th Street

Completion of the streetcar starter line and a new focus on regionalism were the hot topics in Kansas City’s transit discussion this year. Here are the top stories, ranked in order of impact.

1. Reardon takes the helm (then leaves)

Former Unified Government CEO Joe Reardon took the top executive spot at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in April and has been on a nonstop tour of the community ever since. The selection process was relatively quiet, but insiders knew Reardon was a top choice based on his history with regional cooperation — a necessity, if we’re to ever achieve a regional funding mechanism. Shortly after I finished drafting this list, Reardon announced he was leaving KCATA to head the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

2. Streetcar construction ends, vehicles arrive

KC Streetcar vehicles #801 and #802 arrived on Nov. 2 and Dec. 9, respectively, and immediately began test runs on Main Street. Just search #KCstreetcar on Twitter and Instagram to see how excited the community is to welcome rail back to the city. Service begins in Spring 2016 after two additional vehicles arrive.

3. More funding for transit

Johnson County passed a 2016 budget with a property tax increase for transit (as well as parks and libraries). KCMO sent $3 million more to the KCATA. The streetcar TDD exceeded revenue projections. The Missouri Legislature even extended the 1/2-cent transportation sales tax forever (it was due to expire Dec. 31). It was great year full of small-but-significant wins in the funding battle.

4. RideKC brand hits the streets (and the web)

New leadership made the new RideKC brand appear on buses much quicker than anyone predicted. “In the wild” appearances started in August, beating the brand new streetcar vehicles by several months (streetcars are also branded with the “RideKC” name). The entire fleet — including buses serving Johnson County, Wyandotte County, and Independence — will be repainted before the end of 2016. A new regional transit website debuted in October.

5. Transit carries 200,000 Royals fans

Whether the crowd was 800,000 or 500,000, KCATA provided an eye-popping 200,000 rides to and from the Royals’ World Series parade and rally downtown. Despite the crush of riders, the agency handled the demand as well as the local freeway network.

6. Kansas City commits local funding for Prospect MAX 

With little fanfare, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution in October that they would provide the local match for building the city’s next MAX bus line. Funding is expected to come from a future general obligation bond sale (if approved by voters).

7. Bridj announced

A totally new type of transit service called Bridj is coming to the region. KCATA will be the first public transit agency to partner with the startup, which is currently only providing service in Boston and DC.

8. Real regional passes — finally

A regional month and day pass was made official in April. It wasn’t technically difficult, but required four transit agencies (and their funding partners) to agree to make it work. The next stop is off-board fare collection, possibly on Prospect MAX, as well as smartphone payment.

9. Megabus leaves Kansas City

Declining ridership took a toll on private intercity carrier Megabus, which ceased twice-daily runs in September serving Kansas City and Columbia via it’s Chicago hub. During an eight year span in Kansas City, the low-cost curbside provider changed boarding locations from 10th & Main to 3rd & Grand and peaked a three KC departures. Most intercity bus passengers continue to use Greyhound and Jefferson Lines from the Greyhound station at 1101 Troost.

10. Stop consolidation

Up until 2015, no one bothered to make sure regular local bus routes were moving quickly. Stops would often appear twice in the same block, slowing service to a crawl. Now, we have the first attempt to eliminate redundant stops that are often too close together and make long bus rides unbearable.

A few updates from last year’s list:

  • Rock Island advances. Jackson County and KCATA announced in September that they had reached an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for KCATA to acquire the Rock Island Railroad’s underutilized right of way that serves the Truman Sports Complex, Raytown and Lee’s Summit. The right of way will become a trail in the near future and will reserve space for future transit service. As of this writing, the deal had not been signed.
  • Bike share expansion #3. After expanding into Midtown last year, seven new B-cycle stations were added in greater downtown, Brookside, and Waldo. A total of 27 stations now cover the interior parts of KCMO.
  • WiFi expansion. By the end of 2016, the entire fleet of Kansas City buses and streetcars will have WiFi available onboard. Zero Kansas City buses had WiFi as recently as 2008.
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