© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City’s zero fare bus rides are here for another year, but fiscal troubles loom

A person wearing a coat and hat uses a cane to walk to a bus stopped at a shelter in front of a hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
Mary Sanchez
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority will have an approximate gap of $26 million in fundraising by 2025.

The Kansas City Council unanimously approved $70.9 million in funding for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. Bus and paratransit rides will stay at zero fare at least until the contract expires on April 30, 2025, but the bus system faces a deficit once federal funds run out.

Zero fare first took effect in 2020 for RideKC buses within Kansas City and suburbs that contracted with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. But the city’s commitment to not charging fees for rides appeared to waver in recent months because of cost concerns.

KCATA has said that it will have a $26 million fundraising gap by 2025 once the last of the federal COVID-19 relief money is spent.

Tyler Means, KCATA chief mobility and strategy officer, said the gap could be nearly closed if the bus system regained full use of a sales tax that used to be dedicated to KCATA operations but in recent years has been diverted to other transportation needs, including streetlights.

City Councilman Johnathan Duncan said that he doesn’t believe that the money from the public transportation tax would solve the budget shortfall, but that everything is “on the table.” He also said bus service should work better for riders.

“When I hear that ‘I want more frequency,’ or ‘I want more routes,’ ‘I want more coverage,’ that’s money,” Means said. “That’s more operators. That’s more buses. That’s millions of dollars that we don’t have. We’re struggling to maintain the service that you have today, but yet you want more."

City Manager Brian Platt has been instructed to examine the costs and benefits of zero fare compared to an alternative: “functional free fare” for citizens who meet eligibility requirements. It's not yet clear what potential eligibility standards would look like.

Sunrise Movement KC organizer Mahreen Ansari noted that the language of “free” versus “zero” fare is important, as residents already pay a ⅜ cent sales tax as well as a ½ cent public transportation tax that funds the buses.

  • Johnathan Duncan, 6th District City Councilman
  • Tyler Means, Kansas City Area Transport Authority Chief Mobility and Strategy Officer 
  • Mahreen Ansari, Sunrise Movement KC organizer 
Stay Connected
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, 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. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.