Let’s hope the move by the city of Independence to reduce bus service turns out to be temporary, as city officials have indicated is their aim. The city, like others, should be looking at enhancements rather than reductions.
A little background is important here. City Manager Zach Walker – who for years has stressed that city finances face significant long-term challenges – had proposed sharp cuts to city retiree benefits as part of his effort to balance the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. That caused a predictable and understandable fury of protest late last spring.
So city and employee representatives sat down to formulate something fair, workable and affordable. It took time, they made compromises, and they got it done. It’s a win.
But it left Walker needing to find a few more cuts, and it looked as if that would mean a handful of layoffs. He avoided the layoffs but the cost included this: curtailing an hour of weekday bus service – those IndeBus routes that run between 6 and 7 p.m. – and dropping one day a week during which people can surrender their pets to the Regional Animal Shelter.
If the question is put that way – Is it reasonable to temporarily trim two areas of service to avoid layoffs and make sure retirees get the benefits they’ve earned? – the answer is probably yes. That’s in the abstract. But that cost affects real people.
Public transit connects people to jobs. It’s also vital for many who depend on it to get to the doctor or the grocery store, but as an economic driver it’s about jobs. Independence and the entire metro area need more of those connections, a point regional planners and development advocates have made for years.
It’s important to remember that the hour of service going away Jan. 1 was itself just added a year and a half ago. It was a step in the right direction. We need more.
One more thing: Bus shelters for a moment of relief from sun, rain, snow and cold aren’t too much to ask. There are next to none in this city. It shouldn’t be that way. This should be part of the conversation about the breadth and quality of transit service.