KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) – Kansas City is considering doing away with transit fares citywide, and by doing so, the city could be the first larger metropolitan cities in the US with free public transit across the board.
Currently, a 31-day pass on local and MAX bus lines, as well as local RideKC routes, from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority costs $50.
David Parker depends on the bus getting him where he needs to go on a daily basis, saying he rides “to church, to work, to recreation, Walmart… whatever I’m doing.”
He said not having to pay to ride, though, would help him in the long run.
“You could sure buy a lot more groceries. You could spend it on kids or whatever,” Parker told KCTv5 News. “An extra $50 dollars a month, everybody could use an extra $50 per month, I don’t care how rich you are.”
Though $50 per month may not sound like much, KCATA President and CEO Robbie Mackinen says it makes a difference for low-income residents of Kansas City, and if someone in a family buying passes for them self and their relatives -- it adds up.
“At the end of the day, over the course of the year you’re talking a few thousand dollars,” he said.
Saving money isn’t the only thing Mackinen sees as an advantage, though. He says having that money go elsewhere will spur economic growth.
“It’s going to go right back into the local economy, small businesses,” he told KCTV5 News. “It’s going to generate sales tax not only for the city but for the state, of which we get a piece of.”
Other small agencies and municipalities across the country have zeroed out fares, such as Corvallis, Oregon, where the campus of Oregon State University is located. Then there are cities like Portland who began giving free rides but then went back to having fares.
According to Mackinen, if Kansas City moves towards this approach, KCATA be the biggest agency in the country providing free fares.
“This would significantly be, for a mid-size system, we would be unique,” he said.
Mackinen explained that the fare boxes currently generate $8 million a year, but despite getting rid of that money, he believes there is a way to cover fare-less operating costs.
“The amount of money we get from the fare box is less than 9% of our total budget,” he said. “If we can’t find that small amount of money between a $105 million budget, and a $1.7 billion city budget, then what am I doing here?”
Mayor Quinton Lucas is also on board with the idea of zeroing out fares entirely, though right now where they’ll make up for that $8 million of revenue is still being discussed.
In a statement, the mayor’s office said “We are continuing to actively pursue No Fare Transit and are optimistic about its outcome. In conversations with citizens, Councilmembers and civic groups, we’ve received widespread support for the initiative. So, the conversation now turns to how to best secure funding for the project.”
As far as whether or not No-Fare transit will become a reality, Mackinen says hopefully at least by the beginning of the year they’ll have something in place.
KCTV5 News also asked Mackinen if KCATA has considered if there would be an over flow of people taking the buses if the agency does away with fares. He said that right now they can absorb a 25% to 30% increase without having to change a thing.