Bus routes within Independence will not go away this year.
The city announced Wednesday afternoon it will receive $1.6 million federal CARES Act funding from the Kansas City Area Transit Authority, which will more than cover Independence’s budget gap for IndeBus.
“This is exactly the scenario I felt was in front of us, with the CARES Act,” a relieved Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said. “I think everybody understands how essential it is.
Independence’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21, which must be approved next month, did not have funding for the six fixed routes within the city, as the city grappled with pandemic-induced revenue shortages and the immediate requirement to present a balanced budget. Operating IndeBus costs the city about $900,000 beyond the normal federal subsidy and rider fares.
Those fan throughout the city from the depot just off the Square, running to the city’s major grocery stores, Independence Center, Walmart stores, Metropolitan Community College-Blue River and dozens of other locations and carry about 185,000 total riders annually.
“Even if you don’t use the transit system, you depend on somebody who does,” the mayor said. “We all depend upon them.”
The proposed cut did not include the RideKC routes from the depot into Kansas City or the IndeAccess paratransit service for disabled or elderly citizens.
The KCATA is receiving $10 million in CARES Act funds that will be used around the metro area, and the organization’s board of commissioners voted Wednesday to allocate $1.6 million to Independence. The city can only use the funds for current services, not to enhance the routes. If the city’s portion for IndeBus grew above $900,000 over the next year, the new allocation will cover that.
Wednesday’s news showed the benefit of the city’s good prior relationship with KCATA, Weir said, but while it addresses the acute problem and provides some breathing room, the city still has the chronic issue of working to make the regional transit system more robust and yet more financially feasible.
To that end, the mayor said, the city has made a separate request to Jackson County for $10 million in CARES Act funds to expand regional transit.
“We still have to figure out the longer-term thing, but hopefully over the next or so we can climb out of that,” Weir said.
Robbie Makinen, CEO of KCATA, said IndeBus is a “critical part” of the metro area transit system.
“I’m so glad we could work together to provide choices for people who want to use transit to get around the region,” Makinen said in a release. “We are all dealing with unprecedented challenges to the services we provide to riders, citizens and visitors. Working with our municipal partners is vital and we are determined to find long-term solutions to this challenge as we work through COVID-19 and beyond.”