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Everyone Gets A Seat On The Bus, For Free, As Kansas City Transit Returns To Full Capacity

Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Robbie Makinen, president and CEO of the KCATA, is proud of how the transit system weathered the pandemic, but glad officials can start lifting restrictions.

Transit officials say they'll return to full capacity starting June 1, after more than a year of taking half their normal riders. But you'll still have to mask-up.

If you ever stood at a bus stop during the pandemic and watched your bus speed by without picking you up, Kansas City has some good news.

“The problem we ran into when we were social distancing and could have only half capacity on a vehicle was what you’d call a ‘pass by,’” said KCATA president and chief executive officer Robbie Makinen. “Once a bus was up to 20 people, that bus would ‘pass by’ because the bus was full.

Beginning Tuesday, June 1, KCATA will drop those capacity limits. However, buses will still require riders to wear masks, in accordance with guidelines for all transit riders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Buses will continue to load and unload from both the front and back, and retain shields for bus drivers and upgraded air filtering systems.

Zero-fare service, which went into effect for all Kansas City riders during the pandemic, will also continue into 2022, Makinen said.

The city passed a resolution in December 2019 that rolled out free fare for veterans, students and some clients of social services, such as domestic shelters. Officials say their goal was always to end fare for all riders, making it the most expansive free bus service program in the country.

“When it started, everyone said it wouldn’t work,” Makinen said. “I believe we’ve proved them wrong.”

When COVID-19 hit, officials jumped in to offer zero fare for everyone in an effort to eliminate touch points with coins, paper money and cards.

“While everybody else’s ridership went down during COVID to about 20%, ours never dipped below 60%, and we’re back up to 80% now,” Makinen said.

The loss of fares erased about 8% of the agency's revenue, though, a substantial bite out of the $100 million budget. Makinen says the transit authority made up some of that by curtailing non-essential activities at the management level.

The city is helping this year: the recently-approvedbudget includes $4.8 million specifically for the transit authority to cover revenue lost from zeroing-out fare.

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