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Kansas City created a new transit service for the Northland. Here's what to know about Iris

A blue map showing city streets with dark blue and red lines on some streets is shown beneath smaller maps that indicate bus routes in another part of the city.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Few bus routes service Kansas City's Northland, despite the area's rapid population growth over the past ten years. Northland residents have criticized the lack of public transit in their neighborhoods.

Iris is an on-demand ride service app like Uber or Lyft. Scheduled to begin operating on March 15, it is designed to address long-standing dissatisfaction among Northland residents with limited public transit options.

Kansas City’s Northland residents who rely on public transit will soon have another option: Iris, a new microtransit service.

Iris is a collaboration between Kansas City government, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and zTrip, a local taxi service. Similar to Uber or Lyft, people can request a ride through the Iris app on their phone.

The arrival of Iris comes after years of frustration from Northland residents and their council members that public transit north of the river is lacking options, frequency and adequate infrastructure. Northland residents who don’t have a car often lament the lack of frequent bus service and bus stops in their neighborhoods.

In fact, far fewer bus routes service the Northland — just five — than neighborhoods south of the Missouri River, which have 26.

Transit officials and city leaders say Iris is designed to address their concerns.

“It allows people to have first mile, last mile service, actually makes our bus service more efficient, and is very responsive to the needs of our constituents,” said Frank White III, CEO of the KCATA.

A map showing different colored zones being serviced by the app Iris.
City of Kansas City, MO
This map shows the different "service zones" where Iris will begin operating on March 15. Riders can travel anywhere in these service zones for a fee.

How you can use Iris

Iris will begin operating March 15, and only in the Northland areas that are part of Kansas City. Residents must download the Iris app to their smartphone. Apple and Android users can download Iris now.

From the app, users can request an Iris vehicle for pick up and drop off within a quarter-mile of their desired location — for example, from your house to the grocery store or your office, or from a restaurant back home. Officials say they expect about a 15-20 minute wait time for pickup.

But there might be a fee. The Iris service splits the Northland into six service areas. If riders use Iris to travel to the nearest bus stop, the ride is free.

If someone wants to travel elsewhere within the same service zone, it will cost $3. To travel from one zone to another, the trip will cost $4. Travel to an entertainment district — like the Kansas City International Airport, Zona Rosa or the Northland soccer complex — will cost $10.

Michael Shaw, director of public works, said one of the transit challenges in the Northland is sprawl. Neighborhoods are more spread out, and the Northland districts are the fastest growing in Kansas City. From 2010 to 2020, the populations of the 1st and 2nd Districts grew by about 43%. But public transit options remain scarce, making it difficult for people to get from one place to another without a car.

“The idea of Iris is how do you get to the bus stop?” Shaw said. “Iris is the tool that we believe will help us connect people to public transit.”

The service will cost the city about $8 million annually and is not designed to replace bus service in the Northland, but to improve it. Shaw said that money is being provided by Kansas City and will be added to the KCATA’s budget. He said the KCATA will continue to fund its existing bus and paratransit services, in addition to Iris.

“It is absolutely an enhancement to public transportation. Very much like we see scooters and bicycles, now you have the ability to use cars to connect to transit and destinations,” Shaw said.

City Manager Brian Platt introduced a similar microtransit program in Jersey City while he was business administrator there. He said because the Northland does not have many transit options, microtransit through Iris can fill in those gaps.

“We are all moving in different places, going to different places with different needs, different times of the day,” Platt said. “And something like this, a technology based platform that is responsive and reactive to what people need when they need it, is the future.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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