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Johnson County will get public transit service 7 days a week, for the first time ever

A bus stops at the Mission Transit Center in downtown Mission in January 2020.
Shawnee Mission Post
A bus stops at the Mission Transit Center in downtown Mission in January 2020.

Johnson County will have limited seven-day service for the first time, with an addition to the county's micro transit schedule. More stops will be added to some existing bus routes and an entirely new route between downtown Overland Park and Lenexa will be introduced this year.

Getting from one place to another in Johnson County is about to get a little easier with the introduction of several new services this year that will expand bus and micro transit coverage and hours.

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, which manages Johnson County’s bus service, is embarking upon major changes that cut back some routes and greatly expand others.

The new routes and schedules will be temporary pilot projects, phased in later this spring, after public comments have been received.

Some highlights:

  • Johnson County will have limited seven-day service for the first time in its history, with an addition to the micro transit schedule.
  • A new route along 87th Street will directly link downtown Overland Park with the Lenexa City Center.
  • Some mid-day stops will be added to certain routes.
  • The micro transit vans – which operate similarly to Uber and Lyft – will have a bigger area of operation and increased fares.
  • Complementary para transit service will be added to fixed routes, as per federal regulation.

With those additions, “it starts to look like a more usable transportation network for more folks,” said county business liaison Josh Powers in a recent meeting with Overland Park city councilmembers.

The plan is to cut back on under-used routes and expand on others that have the most potential for ridership, Powers said.

The transit authority will use $15.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to initiate the changes.

New Overland Park-Lenexa route

Of particular interest, Power said, is the new Route 487 that runs from downtown Overland Park at Metcalf Avenue to the City Center in Lenexa.

Powers said he is excited about that route because it passes several services along the way, notably the newly remodeled Central Resource Library, Catholic Charities, an adult learning site for Johnson County Community College and county workforce services.

That isn’t the only expansion, though.

All fixed route lines (which are designated with 400 numbers) will have mid-day stops added as well.

In the past, Powers said, the county bus routes focused on peak morning and evening commuting hours. But the lack of an option for a worker whose day is interrupted by a sick child is a deal breaker for some who might otherwise take public transportation, he said.

Also, for the first time ever, permanent Saturday service will be added to the busiest of the local routes.

Those include:

  • Route 401 (119th Street to Metcalf to Kansas city via Johnson Drive),
  • Route 403 (135th Street to Johnson Drive via Antioch Road),
  • Route 404 (119th Street north on Metcalf) and
  • Route 475 (south of 119th Street to Troost Avenue via 75th Street).

“It’s a huge step forward as far as meeting demand,” Powers said, adding that the expanded schedule should make buses more accessible to all kinds of work schedules. “The idea that people are only working Monday through Friday eight to five is an antiquated notion,” he said.

Current routes already run from downtown Lenexa and Overland Park to the Mission Transit Center on Johnson Drive in downtown Mission.
Shawnee Mission Post
Current routes already run from downtown Lenexa and Overland Park to the Mission Transit Center on Johnson Drive in downtown Mission.

Corresponding cuts

Those changes are made more possible by cuts in some under-performing routes.

“We’re not going to continue to throw resources after declining ridership,” he said.

The most notable cutback on local routes will be service to the Prairiefire development in south Overland Park, which never got the ridership officials had hoped for, Powers said.

Commuter routes would see bigger changes.

Commuter express routes that exist to get workers from far-flung suburbs into the city have been the backbone of Johnson County public transit for years. But as work patterns have changed, the number of riders on those routes has been dwindling for years, he said.

Those routes will be trimmed to three morning and three afternoon trips each weekday.

Some of the routes in Gardner, Olathe and western Lenexa that are farther from the interstate also will disappear as part of that. However the core of Route 595 along Interstate 35 will remain and a new Route 520, beginning and ending at the Strang Line Park and Ride, will be added.

Micro transit

Johnson County’s micro transit was introduced in 2019 and has continued to be successful, despite the pandemic, Powers said.

The service allows riders to call and arrange to be picked up and driven to their destination. But unlike other ride-hailing services, micro transit uses vans and coordinates several trip routes at once. There is no fixed route or schedule.

Part of the reason for its popularity has been its low fare of $1.50, Powers said. But that low fare has also caused problems in over-booking of rides. So when the pilot program begins, micro transit will get a larger territory but higher fares that will be based on zones.

The territory expands to nearly 170 square miles, stretching past its former southern edge in Olathe and into the Interstate area around Gardner.

The northern zone runs from the county line at the north and east to Renner Boulevard in the west and 95th Street on the south. The overlapping middle zone dips as far as West 135th Street, jutting out to Kansas Highway 7. The southern zone goes to 151st Street except for the area near the Interstate to the freight facilities in Gardner.

With the new pricing, fares would increase to $5 for trips between the north and south zones and $3 to stay within one zone.

Micro transit would also offer the first ever Sunday service in the county, under the pilot.

Transit officials are still working out the finer details. Powers said the express route and micro transit changes would probably be phased in first, with the fixed routes and additional para transit coming later this year. The county commission has already given its approval.

Overland Park Mayor Curt Skoog said public transportation is one area the city needs to improve in its efforts to be welcoming to more income levels. Reducing the need for a second family car would be “a big milestone change in their lives,” he said.

Powers said the changes are meant to make transit an easier choice, as well as help those who have no other means of getting from place to place.

“I don’t think it will ever be the situation in our metro region where public transit is at the level of a Chicago or a New York City. The density is not there,” he said. But, “it helps families who might otherwise not be able to get to work.”

This story was originally published by the Shawnee Mission Post.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
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