Kansas City is moving significantly closer to free bus service.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Transportation Committee approved a resolution directing the city manager to develop a “priority policy” to improve safety, access and efficiency in public transit.

The resolution includes eliminating fares for Kansas City Area Transportation Authority bus service within the city limits in next year’s city budget. Mayor Quinton Lucas is one of the sponsors.

In his meeting with The Star, Lucas said there is a 60% chance free bus service becomes a reality next year.

“I’d love to see it,” he told The Star Editorial Board. “The amount of money we’re talking about for free bus service is roughly $8 million.”

Finding that money will be challenging but not impossible.

There will be other important demands on next year’s budget, including additional police officers and providing cash for an affordable housing trust fund. Lucas says he opposes raising taxes to pay for free buses, and we agree.

But there are other options. A good first step would be to stop giving away tax revenue to developers. Other efficiencies, including elimination of fare boxes on buses, could help. So could reclaiming sales tax dollars now subsidizing the streetcar.

Some revenue sources have already been identified, making the $8 million target easier to reach.

What the city should not do is wait for surrounding counties to jump on the no-fare bandwagon. That’s a concern because surrounding governments also subsidize bus transportation.

“Our suburban communities matter a lot in what will happen with it,” Lucas said. While those voices are important, they should not be allowed to veto free service in Kansas City.

The idea of fareless bus transportation is gaining support across the country. There’s talk of free bus service in Denver. Salt Lake City discussed the idea during recent city elections. Other communities may pick up the conversation.

Those cities will confirm what Kansas Citians are realizing: Free bus service is more environmentally friendly, and it provides a transformative advantage for low-income residents who need a ride to work or school.

Eliminating fares will be politically popular, too. A 2018 survey showed Kansas Citians consider public transportation the third-most important service in the city, behind only street maintenance and police. Yet less than half of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the current service.

Kansas City’s streetcar experience shows the value of a zero-fare system. Kansas City could be a nationally recognized leader in the move to free public transportation, and 2020 is the year to do it.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.


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