Dec 11, 2019

Kansas City votes to make its bus system free

Reproduced from ValuePenguin; Chart: Axios Visuals

Kansas City, Missouri, is set to be the largest city in the country to offer free bus rides to all of its citizens.

The big picture: Kansas City is effectively a guinea pig, as other cities wait to see how the free bus ride system will play out.

  • Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told Axios that Seattle has reached out to him to see how they will be implementing the free bus ride system.

Why it matters: "I think this is only the beginning for the next step in good transportation equity," Lucas said.

  • For working people, saving "$1,500 or $2,000 a year on bus fare makes a difference when you make $8" an hour, Lucas said.
  • He also says it will increase access to jobs.

The state of play: The base bus fare in Kansas City is currently $1.50 and a regular bus pass costs it is $50 a month.

  • Students, veterans and residents receiving domestic abuse services already ride for free.
  • A monthly pass accounts for 3.5% of a commuter's median income, which is $17,190, based on data from ValuePenguin.

By the numbers: The entire cost to make the bus system free is about $12 million annually, and the city will have to front $8 million, per NPR. In a city with a $1.7 billion budget, Lucas said enough cost-saving initiatives should make free bus fares possible.

  • Lucas said it costs the city $2 million a year to collect bus fares and maintain the system, so that money can now go toward the free fares.
  • Kansas City has a free streetcar system in some neighborhoods that's built up a healthy reserve fund, so $2 million that goes to the streetcar system will now be redirected to free busing.
  • Lucas told local TV station FOX4 that the city already spends $58 million a year on its bus system.
  • The city manager is tasked with finding the remaining funds needed for the free buses in the city's 2020 budget.

What's next: Lucas hopes the buses will be completely free for all residents by June 2020.

Worth noting: Other places have free bus fare for residents, but it's mainly in college towns as a service for students and university employees such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina, or Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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