Kansas City wants to bid farewell to bus fares

Dec. 6, 2019

The Kansas City Council voted unanimously this week for the elimination of bus fares. Their vote would direct the city manager to earmark $8 million from the city budget to fund free citywide bus service. The measure was sponsored by Mayor Quinton Lucas and Councilman Eric Bunch of the city’s 4th District.

It is estimated that at present some 20% of Kansas City’s overall ridership already ride for free. This includes veterans and high school students in three of the city’s districts.

Robbie Makinen, the head of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, has stated that, rather than going full-free, said a $1.50 fare would go much farther to boost the local economy. 

“[These fares are] not going to leave the state. It's going to go right back into the local economy, buying a pair of tennis shoes, buying some bread, buying whatever, generating sales tax ... which we get a piece of anyway,” Makinen told local network KCUR in November. Makinen also said going fare-free across the entire system would cost about $12 million a year.

Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who chairs the city’s finance committee, said $8 million for free busses, means $8 million less for other services. She added a clause to the resolution that would require the city manager to return to the council and explain where the funding comes from.

Because I know there’s not $3 million, $5 million, or $8 million sitting around,” Shields told KCUR.

Nonetheless, council will is high to fully eliminate bus fares.

Councilman Kevin McManus said it would ensure that the funding is sustainable. When we take the fareboxes away, nobody wants to be on this council putting them back,” McManus said.

The zero-fare option would apply to Kansas City, Missouri, busses, even though Ride KC serves the entire metro area, which is split across seven counties in two states. Only buses that originate and return to Kansas City, Missouri, would be free.