Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wichita City: free buses to increase ridership & cut pollution

Riders board buses at the Wichita Transit Centre.

By Bill Wilson, The Wichita Eagle, April 2014

Wichita City, Kansas (pop 390,000) will offer free bus rides in June to try to increase ridership and reduce pollution.

The Free Fares program, developed between the Public Works & Utilities Air Quality Program and Wichita Transit, will devote (funds towards) free bus rides June 16 through 21, including Dump the Pump Day on June 19.

Free rides also will be offered any time the city is under an ozone alert, indicating that air pollution levels are at or near federal limits. The project ends Oct. 31.

The goal, city officials say, is to get Wichitans out of their cars and onto already-running buses, thus reducing ozone-forming emissions.

“I don’t think the environmental issues here have been played as strongly as it should be,” said Ron Terzian, who chairs the city’s transit advisory board. “Because, if we have to face penalties or whatever for ozone noncompliance, then that’s a bad deal. Any little step is a good thing.”

Mayor Carl Brewer hopes the free fare program will familiarize more Wichitans with an improving transit system.

“I’m going to be very interested if people use it, even if we provide rides for free,” the mayor said. “If we can get people to ride the bus, it will reduce the number of cars on the street. We’ve seen in other cities how it reduces traffic and improves environmental issues.”

Brewer said the transit system’s biggest challenge remains expanding ridership. Wichita remains an automobile community.

“I talked to the Realtors yesterday, and I asked them how many had taken public transportation. Nobody raised their hand,” the mayor said. “Five years? Nobody raised their hand.

“This is going to be a snapshot in time, basically. We have to keep this program going for an extended period of time so people can become accustomed to it and adjust to it becoming available.”

Wichitans view the city’s transit system as a “sinkhole for money” because they don’t need it, Terzian said.

“I talk to a lot of people around the community about transit, and their assessment is ‘Ain’t my problem. I’ve got a car,’ ” he said. “If we can get people to ride the buses in this program who don’t normally, it might open some eyes.”

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/2014/03/27/3371265/wichita-to-offer-free-bus-rides.html#storylink=cpy