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Kansas City Transit Seeks To Better Connect Workers To Johnson County Jobs

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3

Employers in Johnson County, Kan., had a problem: lots of jobs, but no way to get their workers from Kansas City, Mo., to this mushrooming suburban job market.

So transit authorities in both areas – along with some private companies – have cooked up a possible solution to the staffing problem.

Ride KC Job Access, a customized public transit system created by Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Johnson County Transportation Council and private vehicle rental companies, will provide vans that accommodate a greater variety of work schedules.

Officials hope this will help companies in the Edgerton (Kansas) Logistics Park, a 1,700-acre intermodal transportation hub with millions of square feet in warehouses and distribution facilities, or the New Century AirCenter in Olathe.  

These tech companies, both small and multinational, can’t fill all the jobs they have, recruiters say, because many of their prospective employees live in the city and rely on public transit to get to work.

Historically, Kansas City’s transit system has done a poor job moving urban workers to suburban jobs, which officials like Robbie Makinen, CEO of the Kansas City Transportation Authority, acknowledges.

“Everyone thought you should have a cookie cutter mentality for (transit) in the region,” Mackinen says. “What we know now is what works in Kansas City may not work in Johnson County, or eastern Jackson County, so our ability to customize and work with stakeholders in partnerships is critical.”

The program has been in operation for about a month and has carried several dozen workers to jobs in south Johnson County, Makinen says.

“When we talk to these companies,” Makinen says, “they say the retention rate has been very difficult. This is a different way for employers to look at providing incentives and benefits.”

He says employers can advertise the custom public transit option as a perk of the job.

Local staffing companies underscore the need to provide better public transit for the growing suburban job market.

Al Balloqui of Labor Max Staffing says 80 percent of the workers in his labor pool rely on public transit.  He places most of his workers in Johnson County, west Wyandotte County and Armourdale, Kansas, as well as Independence, Missouri.

But he says transit throughout Johnson County is particularly lacking and doesn’t accommodate workers’ schedules.

“Public transit doesn’t begin to run until (workers) need to be at work and stops before they get off,” he says.

It’s even worse on weekends, he says, when there are fewer routes and buses run less frequently.

“We went ahead and bought a van,” Balloqui says. “Last Sunday night I had a worker stranded so I got in the car myself to go get him and take him home.”

Makinen says RideKC Job Access is part of a larger effort to integrate transit into economic development planning at the front end, rather than as an afterthought. He says the long-anticipated Prospect Bus Rapid Transit, or Max, is designed with these same goals in mind.  

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. You can reach her via email at lauraz@kcur.org or via twitter @laurazig.

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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