A proposal for the upcoming Independence budget calls for the city to eliminate IndeBus service.
The city would continue to have the IndeAccess paratransit services as well as Kansas City Area Transit Authority routes from the depot next to the Square into Kansas City, but the six routes that fan out from the depot to various points within Independence would go away Aug. 1.
Those routes run to the city’s major grocery stores, Independence Center, Walmart stores, Metropolitan Community Colleges-Blue River and other dozens of other locations. The six routes carry about 185,000 riders – total, not unique, City Manager Zach Walker said – annually.
A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for the Council Transportation Policy Committee meeting May 13; it is to be online.
The council must approve a budget in mid-June. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Walker said the move would save the city’s general fund about $900,000 – this as city staff anticipates 21 percent less sales tax revenue in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The city posted a public notice this week as well as flyers on the buses about the anticipated cuts.
Walker acknowledged that just a couple months ago he spoke about his hope to enhance the city’s public transit, but the coronavirus pandemic hastened discussion of budget cuts.
Officially, Walker won’t first present the budget to the council for another 10 days, but he wanted to start the public conversation earlier and has already been talking with the KCATA about finding a long-term solution over the next couple months.
“This was totally driven by COVID-19,” he said. “This needs to be part of a larger regional conversation. This is not open hostility (to KCATA). We need their help to come up with a long-term solution.”
If the bus proposal goes through, citizen Mary Jane Tyra said, she would have to rely more on IndeAccess, the paratransit service which for her can be less convenient depending on her stops nearby in the Susquehanna neighborhood. Tyra said she uses paratransit a few times a week and IndeBus a handful of times per month.
“What are you going to do to the people who can’t get around; you’re limiting me to the east end of town,” said Tyra, who uses a motorized wheelchair. “You’re taking three-fourths of the city away from me.
“And I’m not going to be as affected as someone who relies on the bus for a job,” she said, adding that she and some other riders hadn’t seen the flyers this week and only learned about the cuts via social media. “We (she and her son) moved to Independence because of the bus system.”
City Council Member Karen DeLuccie said she plans to ask during Friday’s Audit and Finance Committee meeting if it would be possible to use a portion of the $25 million emergency loan fund, which the council approved from utility reserve funds.
“That’s why I voted for the $25 million, to not cut services,” DeLuccie said. “I knew the city would take a hit, so do we take the hit and cut services, or do we weather the storm (and borrow money). This came from left field, to me.”
Walker said he wants to have a loan repayment within five years and is trying to navigate a path now where the city doesn’t have to draw on that emergency fund for the general fund, lest the pandemic flares up again through the summer or some unforeseen catastrophe happens. Before dipping into the emergency fund, he plans to draw down the general fund balance a couple million dollars to 5 percent ($3.8 million).
The council voted four weeks ago on a $151,000 contract for improvements at 20 bus stops around the city, almost all of it covered by a federal grant that must be used this summer. Walker said the city will first focus on the stops that are part of remaining routes into Kansas City, and if a budget stopgap to preserve routes within Independence doesn’t happen then remaining funds will further enhance those stops.