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Only 3% of Kansas City commuters use public transit. More east-west options could mean more riders.

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Frank Morris
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KCUR 89.3
As Kansas City looks to expand its streetcar and bus routes, the vast majority of area residents still don't use public transit.

More buses coming to bus stops more frequently makes public transit more appealing.

Using public transit means less wear and tear on your car, no worries about parking and parking rates in downtown Kansas City and is good for reducing carbon emissions. Still, riders on the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) bus system stubbornly remains low.

Increasing the frequency and volume of bus routes, particularly east-west lines, could be a major key to improving the KCATA. That's according to Yonah Freemark, public transportation researcher for the Urban Institute in Washington D.C.

Freemark says the car dependence found in Kansas City is typical of cities around the nation. Currently, only 3% of Kansas Citians commute to work with public transportation.

“We have residential communities where sidewalks are not always as frequent as you'd like to see, where bike lanes are not very common, and where buses come infrequently,” he says. “And when you put those things together, it's not really that surprising that most people rely on their cars to get around today.”

KCATA should invest in buses arriving every 10 minutes on each route, Freemark proposes. This would ensure that residents who rely on public transportation can get where they need to go in a timely fashion and convince people who rely on cars to take public transportation.

“You don't want people suffering through the cold of the winter, or the heat of the summer waiting, not sure when the bus is going to show up,” Freeman points out.

Kansas City's three MAX bus lines and its streetcar all run north to south. Freemark believes strengthening the east-west lines is imperative to improving the transit system, providing more options to those living east of Troost and to Kansas residents.

He says one obstacle when building transit in two states is that, “you're actually going to sort of double the bureaucratic difficulty in getting that project built, because you have to double the number of people who are going to approve the project and put in money to help pay for it.”

While working across state lines is organizationally challenging, Freemark points to the success of MetroLink, the bi-state light rail system in St. Louis, as an example for Kansas City to follow. On Feb. 21, plans were revealed for a bus line running from Independence, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org