After years of expansion, bus service in Johnson County, KS may be dramatically scaled back in the face of looming cuts in federal, state and county government subsidies. Changes to several routes will come this year, with the future of transit service in the county in the balance after 2013.
Ridership on the Johnson County Transit (JCT) The JO is at its highest ever, up 100 percent from a decade ago. The past few years have seen double-digit percentage increases, and the passenger count in April was 48,700, the highest ever for that month.
But county officials are contending with less funding as budgets are slashed at many levels of government. Transit service is expensive with only 16.7 percent of the JO’s revenue generated by rider fares – the rest is government subsidy. This funding dynamic is typical of bus services nationwide.
Until recently, planners were expecting a combined $1.5 million reduction in funding from federal, state and county sources in 2013 to an operating budget of only $12 million. With these cuts, the future of only five of the county’s 24 routes was certain.
The impact lessened when state cuts were put off for a year, and county officials authorized the use of reserve funds to make up for the drop in federal money. Potentially, the largest cuts could be put off until 2014.
Still, planners are drawing up contingencies to adapt to emptier coffers. They hope to keep Special Edition and SWIFT service for the elderly and disabled, and preserve fixed-route lines along Metcalf, which are well used.
Before the year is over, though, JCT may reduce or eliminate service on some underperforming routes. The transit authority is also considering reworking its agreement with First Transit, the private company that runs Johnson County’s buses, when its contract comes up for renewal at the end of the year. The county could again contract with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) – which serves Kansas City, MO, some Missouri suburbs and KCK – to provide some fixed-route service. KCATA ran Johnson County bus service until 1982.
JCT may also ask the City of Lawrence and the University of Kansas to foot part of the bill for the 710 K-10 Connector line, as neither entity currently contributes.