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At Kansas City Current games, the city's lack of public transit for entertainment is on full display

People walk along a riverfront path. In front of them is a sign directing them to the Kansas City Current stadium.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
When the Kansas City Current stadium opened, fans were shocked at the small amount of parking. The team did that on purpose to encourage alternate modes of travel. They publicized the different ways to get to the field, motivating hundreds of fans to walk a mile along the Berkley Riverfront.

The Current’s new riverfront stadium was meant to encourage fans to take transit, bike or walk to games instead of driving. But Kansas City still hasn’t caught up — and it’s left the team and other entertainment venues to fill in the gaps.

Before each of the Kansas City Current's home games, more than a dozen school buses and shuttles with Current branding line up at 7th and Main and 2nd and Grand, where fans pay $20 to park in the lots and be shuttled to the stadium.

It’s a temporary workaround, dubbed the “last stretch solution,” as the women's soccer team waits for completion of the Kansas City Streetcar’s riverfront extension, which will drop people off five minutes away from the stadium.

The Current made global history as the first stadium built for a professional women’s sports team. Locally, it’s the only professional stadium in the Kansas City metro not surrounded by a sea of parking.

High fees for a smaller-than-average lot were meant to push people away from driving. But, as of its inaugural season, the transit alternatives aren’t there yet.

The planned streetcar extension is two years from completion, and the lone bus line, the 210, only comes hourly and stops running before some games end.

Yellow schoolbuses with teal signs that say "KC Baby" on the side idle along a sidewalk. A sign next to them reads "Shuttle pick up/drop off."
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
The Current uses a "last stretch solution" to get people from Downtown and the River Market to the riverfront stadium. The converted school bus shuttles will be heavily used for the next couple of years until the Streetcar extension finishes construction.

Kansas City’s lack of frequent, widespread public transportation makes it hard to reach the essentials, like doctor’s appointments and work. It also limits access to leisure without a car.

Assistant City Manager Melissa Kozakiewicz said the city is trying to change that. Public transit is popular on the lines that are connected and come often.

Kozakiewicz said the city needs more efforts like the Current’s, which helps people understand their travel options.

“People do think about transit, but they only think about it if it's convenient and easy for them to participate in,” Kozakiewicz said. “Our job as the city is to continue to build out this network of connectivity and convenience so that these methods are used on a more regular basis and thought of first.”

Kansas City Current fans Mark Bartholomew and Carrie Cramer live just east of downtown. The season ticket holders were excited to not drive to the new stadium.

But for the first game, they had to take three different kinds of transit to get there — including the Current’s provided shuttle.

“I have used public transportation in Kansas City at various times, but it isn't the most convenient,” Bartholomew said. “So I've fallen away from that now.”

According to the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, only 7% of the city’s transit riders use the bus for entertainment — down from 10% in 2021. On the streetcar, which comes more frequently along its downtown route, 61% of riders are using the service to spend money.

“I wish Kansas City would lead with better infrastructure for public transportation,” Cramer said. “I think things like building this (stadium) and giving us lots of different options to get here makes us do what we ought to be doing anyway and take advantage of what is there. I hope the city can follow their lead.”

A woman and man stand beside a rack of bikes. They wear teal shirts and jeans.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Carrie Cramer and Mark Bartholomew were excited not to drive to Current games at the new stadium. They first used three different types of transit, including the team's shuttles, to get to the stadium. They say biking the whole way is easier.

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority will extend the Main Street line to the riverfront by 2026 — two Current seasons from now and a year after its Main Street extension to the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, said the streetcar is not the best transit option in every case, but it is popular, and adds a sense of permanence to the city’s core.

“We're on the precipice of redefining public transit in Kansas City,” Gerend said. “That's going to have generational impacts for how we're connecting ourselves and for what that means for how we grow.”

The streetcar extension and the stadium plan were developed in tandem, as a new vision for car-free living near Downtown. But that’s been hampered by long construction timelines and the difficulty of building the necessary political will in a car-centric city.

Michael Kelley is the policy director of BikeWalkKC, an organization that pushes to make the city safe and accessible for people who walk, bike or take public transit. He said people shouldn't “need to drive in order to thrive” in the metro.

“We can't say that we're a great city and then exclude a big portion of our population from the things that we like to boast about,” Kelley said. “If you aren't able to drive, you're not able to participate in the things that give us collectively a sense of civic pride.”

Bikes are parked just outside of a black wire gate. Behind the gate is a soccer stadium with teal seats.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
The KC Current operates a free bike valet to encourage people to bike and walk to games. Hundreds of fans are making the trek, mostly because parking is expensive and a streetcar extension to the riverfront is still two years away.

The thousands of fans who poured into Kansas City to see two nights of Taylor Swift and the final stop on Beyonce’s Renaissance tour quickly found out they couldn’t conveniently get from the airport to the city proper, or out to Arrowhead Stadium for the performances, without a rental car or expensive rideshares.

The transit authority used to run a shuttle from the Plaza to Royals and Chiefs games at the Truman Sports Complex. The Chiefs Express ran 80 buses per game; the Royals Express only ran three.

In the end, both shuttles were cut in 2009 because of low ridership on the Royals line and recession budget shortfalls, among other reasons.

The bus that currently runs to the sports complex, the 47, lets out on the side of the highway. Cyclists have to ride through highway intersections on a route without bike lanes.

The problem stretches beyond stadiums. The last bus on most lines comes before most concerts, art exhibits or festivals end. Right now, the streetcar only covers three miles, all downtown.

Even transit-friendly Kansas Citians often choose to drive to most activities instead of relying on a limited transit system whose buses are often late.

The city is working to increase access to public transportation. This year, it’s focusing on connecting existing transit lanes with new bike lanes and areas to park scooters and e-bikes around town.

A man and woman wearing teal shirts ride their bikes along a riverfront path. In front of them is a group of people walking.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Carrie Cramer and Mark Bartholomew were excited not to drive to Current games at the new stadium. They first used three different types of transit, including the team's shuttles, to get to the stadium. They say biking the whole way is easier.

The city is hampered by the cost of completing transit projects, which has gone up nationwide. It also has to coordinate between multiple agencies: the KCATA, which is again facing budget shortfalls; the streetcar authority and the Kansas City Council.

It’s also challenging to get car-reliant Kansas Citians to use the transit they already have.

“Change is hard, especially for a city where we've relied on the convenience and the usability of cars for a long time,” said Bailey Waters, chief mobility officer for the city.

The Current, with the help of BikeWalkKC, worked to give people alternatives to driving to games and promote those options. The team has a bike valet and a clearly marked pedestrian route that hundreds take to each home game.

But the team can’t entirely make up for transit infrastructure that isn’t there yet. Kelley said that will only come with more funding and political will to follow through on plans like Vision Zero.

“We can't solve the issues around multi-modal transportation by thinking about it through a car-centric lens,” Kelley said. “Both the Current as well as city leaders need to be honest about what needs to happen to create more of those options.

"Do we actually want people to be able to walk, to bike, to take transit to the games, or do we want to perpetuate this idea that you can only really go to and enjoy the game if you're able to drive there?”

Two women stand holding electric scooters.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
Michelle Cheung (L) and Sharynne Azhar (R) typically walk along the riverfront trail to get to Current games but decided to try out electric scooters. They're anxiously waiting for the streetcar extension to open.

Michelle Cheung and her friend Sharynne Azhar normally walk the mile along the riverfront trail to go to games. As season ticket holders, they’re still trying to decide their preferred travel method.

Their latest choice was rented electric scooters — but what they really want is the streetcar.

“But it's a couple of years out, so it's just not very convenient when it comes to traveling,” Cheung said. “The parking lot’s not terribly great, and the parking is quite expensive, even for season ticket holders. So that kind of discourages coming to the games.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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