It is vitally important that the Independence City Council find a way to avert a proposal to end IndeBus service this summer, as a cost-saving measure.
It is equally important that this city and others across the metro area work toward a broader conversation about public transit, with an eye toward a system that is effective and sustainably funded. There’s a significant gap between that and what we have today.
City leaders point out that IndeBus is on the table – service would end Aug. 1 – only because they are preparing the 2020-21 budget now even as sales taxes are in free fall because of the COVID-19 crisis. Making budget projections is tricky at the moment. Staff has to present a balanced budget proposal to the council, which has another month to pass a budget, so IndeBus hangs in the balance for now.
Mayor Eileen Weir and others have stressed that they are looking for ways around this particular cut, which is about $900,000. Again, city leaders – like so many of us – are dealing with a lot that’s in flux, and somewhere in there they might find the money to spare IndeBus. Perhaps there is federal money to be found.
The City Council has, in effect, set up a $25 million line of credit to see it through the COVID-related revenue crash. That means borrowing money, a decision not to be made lightly, but as a last resort it would be reasonable to tap that source for one-time funding if other alternatives fall through.
The Kansas City Area Transit Authority is charged with developing an overall transit system. It has an interest in seeing a more robust system for getting people to and from work, to and from shopping and the doctor’s office. Cutting IndeBus would be a large step back.
To be clear: The ATA and others have taken steps toward a seamless, metrowide system, but we’re not there. Independence in effect has two systems. One is the system of ATA buses that run from Independence to Kansas but, except for one Raytown-to-KC bus that also stops in Independence, do not connect Independence with the rest of Eastern Jackson County. The other is IndeBus, which runs just within the city and is on a different funding track – a funding problem already deteriorating before the coronavirus hit. The city needs a long-term solution.
Not so many years ago the metro area – the Missouri side, anyway – had a pretty good conversation going about the future of public transportation. Not just scraping by with a cobbled-together system. Not being driven by funding crises. Instead, a system designed to get people to work, one needed part of getting Kansas City’s economic growth more in line with its peer cities.
That conversation evaporated. But the need for a more-vibrant economy is still there. Basic services matter in that equation.