Transit Director Taking On Budget, Service Challenges

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Funding for Wichita's transit system is identified by Mayor Carl Brewer as one of the city's biggest challenges and city's new transit director says he is already looking for solutions.

Wichita's transit service will be losing money by 2014 unless changes are made. Transit Director Steve Spade said the department is already studying solutions, but, he said, raising fares is not the answer.

"As you charge more for your product, then ridership or usage goes down, so you have to balance," Spade said.

That balance must be found between increasing the number of people using transit and updating an aging bus fleet that, Spade said, is draining the budget.

"You get two or three engine failures, lose a couple of transmissions and, all of a sudden, you've dropped $100,000," he said.

Spade has been on the job just three months. He said getting Wichita's transit budget under control is his first priority. It will be followed closely by improving service, he said.

"It's been proven, and I think we'll prove here, that if we provide a decent quality service and we go where people want to go that people will choose to use our service," Spade said.

Those already using the transit system agree. They believe more people will choose to use it if it becomes more convenient.

"Probably do a little more on Sunday," suggested Bruce Peil. "Some people do actually work on Sunday."

"If I am in downtown, it takes an hour just for me to get home because I live at 55th and Broadway," said Jason Knipp. He said he has to plan his entire day -- work, errands and everything else -- around the transit schedule.

Spade agrees transit needs to be more time-efficient.

"You and I don't want to wait an hour-and-a-half for the next bus to come," he said. "We want it to come in the next 10 or 15 minutes."

In addition to better, more convenient service, Spade said some creativity will also be needed to increase transit ridership.

Knipp already has an idea for that in mind: adding wireless Internet service to city buses.

Wichita Transit is also launching a feasibility study to determine whether having buses that run on alternative fuels instead of diesel fuel will save money. Spade said he hopes to present some options to the city council this spring.

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