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With Cautious Optimism, Johnson County Commits To Expanding Bus Service

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3

Johnson County Commissioners on Thursday morning committed $300,000 to the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority for expanded bus service to south Johnson County.

The additional routes will cater to the fast-growing labor market at Logistics Park KC, a massive transportation and distribution hub in Edgerton, Kansas, and to the New Century Air Center in Olathe.

Dick Jarrold, KCATA’s vice president of regional planning and development, said that for now, six morning routes and seven afternoon routes would be added to existing  service. Routes will be extended on Saturdays as well.

Jarrold told KCUR that this is the first official effort at transporting prospective workers from Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, to outlying areas of the metro where industry is increasingly competing for jobs. Businesses had asked for help from transit authorities, he said.

Along with the their approval of the funding, commissioners passed a measure requiring the KCATA to come back and report on the program's success. Jarrold said this was a good idea.

"We want to take a look at where (the workers) are coming from, how much the employers are participating and whether the program is a success,” he said.

Commissioner Michael Ashcraft voted in favor of committing the funds, but not without a number of probing questions for transit authorities. For example, he wanted to know how the commission could reassure Johnson County taxpayers they’re not subsidizing successful businesses?

Ashcraft told KCUR many of the companies who are competing for jobs in South Johnson County got significant tax breaks and incentives, and should be stepping up to fund their own employment needs.

“I want to be supportive of Johnson County and employment, but I want to make sure that they’re being supportive of the taxpayers," he said. He cited Amazon, which has a distribution warehouse at Logistics Park KC, saying it "really isn’t a company on the cusp of bankruptcy.”

Beth Linn, City Administrator for the City of Edgerton, said employers have been begging for better bus service to make it easier for them to fill jobs. But she told KCUR it’s impossible to know which, if any, employers will kick in funds to provide bus passes as a perk or incentive.

“I think it’s unknown because we don’t have transit today, this is the first rollout of it,” she said. “Each employer can choose.”

One resident at the hearings spoke out in opposition to the plan. Reed Plate of Overland Park said Johnson County tax payers should not fund efforts to bring workers from other counties to take jobs in Johnson County. He said the program should market exclusively to Johnson Countians first, and if  employers still need workers, they should be required to share the cost of bringing them in from outside the county.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Reach her via Twitter, @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.org.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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