At a time when regional planners are calling for increased bus service to the University of Kansas Medical Center, Johnson County might eliminate its only route to the medical campus as part of a sweeping plan to balance its transit budget.
In a proposal that remains open for public comment through the end of this month, Johnson County Transit is proposing to eliminate or reduce service on 14 routes. The system now has 20 routes.
The county’s transit officials said they must trim about $1.3 million in spending to stay within the department’s projected $15.9 million budget for fiscal year 2013. Without action now, they said, the department’s deficit could balloon to approximately $2.8 million two years from now.
The officials said they might need to make more reductions to balance the 2014 budget, but they said they want to start the process now to avoid deeper cuts down the road.
“It turns our stomach. We hate to have to do this,” said Deputy Transportation Director Chuck Ferguson. “Most of us in this office recognize that transit is not just about transportation. It’s about creating independence. It’s about creating community.”
Johnson County Transit expects to forward its final recommendations to the county commissioners in late September, and officials stressed that they might alter their proposal based on public comments.
The budget crunch is due largely to a reapportionment of federal and state dollars away from Johnson County to other jurisdictions in the region.
Johnson County Transit serves KU Med with four trips a day (two in the morning and two in the afternoon) through Route 667.
Luciane Silva is among the riders. The Overland Park resident takes the bus to and from her research job in the Pharmacology Department at KU Med.
Silva said she rides the bus so she can read instead of fighting commuter traffic. Plus, she avoids the hassle and expense of driving to campus.
“Parking here is terrible,” Silva said as she waited for the bus Tuesday afternoon at 39th Street and Rainbow Blvd. in Kansas City, Kan. “Hopefully, they (Johnson County Transit) won’t cut us off.”
The route averages about 44 passengers a day.
Most KU Med employees don’t seem that interested in riding the bus, said Adrian Fitzmaurice, associate vice chancellor of human resources. Otherwise, he said, the center would be clamoring for fare deals with Johnson County Transit.
Human resources officials at The University of Kansas Hospital could not be reached for comment.
Survey results included in a KU Med transit study, released in March by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, indicated that employees living within 10 miles of the campus expressed the strongest interest in alternative transportation options.
According to the study, KU Med has 5,000 parking spots to serve the roughly 10,000 workers on the campus, including those employed at the KU hospital and by its large physician group.
As an established employment center, and as an area experiencing commercial growth, the study called for a phased in increase in service within the next decade and beyond. One of those recommendations was to increase service on Route 667.
But the need for transit options within the Johnson County health care community extends beyond the medical center, according to advocates.
At a public hearing earlier this month, SAFEHOME Associate Director Janee Hanzlick said one of the routes proposed for elimination provides a vital link for residents of its domestic violence shelter.
In some cases, it might be the only way for them to leave an abusive relationship, she said.
Rider Nikki Guillot also urged transit officials to reconsider the plan to cut the route that runs between downtown Kansas City, Mo., and southern Johnson County via Kansas City, Kan.
The route is a great way for her to save money on her commute, she said, noting that she had sold her car two years ago.
But, Guillot said, the route is even more critical to the restaurant employees, nurses and other service workers she rides with each day.
Without the means to buy a car, she said, this is their lifeline to employment, even if that means catching the first bus at 5:40 a.m. and getting to work very early to ensure that a bus problem does not make them late for their shift.
“They just make it work,” Guillot said in an interview. “Sometimes you just sit around and wait.”
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