KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Monday morning, bright and early at 4:13, the new Kansas City Prospect Max bus line opens. This is the most popular line in the RideKC repertoire; the Prospect Max line will go from Barney Allis Plaza on 12th street in Downtown all the way to 75th street, via Prospect Avenue. Click here to see the route on a map.
For the next 90 days, it’ll be free, which would carry it through early March 2020 and soon, all bus routes around Kansas City will be free.
The Kansas City City Council unanimously approved making bus rides free last week but Mayor Quinton Lucas said that won’t come to fruition for several months.
But for the next 90 days, riders on the Prospect Max line will get a taste of what’s to come, because the Prospect Max line will be free to all.
Talmage Chinn lives just down the street from 31st and Prospect, where the party and performance were happening Sunday afternoon. “I can just jump on the bus and just go on downtown,” he said happily. “And then come on back home. I like that.”
Sunday’s party is a culmination of years of effort put into not only bulking up the bus system, but a $56 million investment increasing prospects on Prospect Avenue.
Council member Brandon Ellington stood at the podium set up in front of a shiny red bus and told the crowd, “when we talk about connecting transit, connecting jobs and activity, and improving the lives of people on the east side,” he gestured, “this is it.”
“You see it developing here, developing there across the street,” Ellington told FOX4 as he gestured to the east and to the west of the 31st and Prospect intersection. “Now we connect the transit together, so yes, you’e starting to see a new Prospect look to our district.”
A few minutes later, Mayor Quinton Lucas took to the podium. He told the crowd that he used to ride this bus line with his mother and sisters. He described it as “a lifeline” for his family. “If anybody tells you there’s not enough money – you tell them, you spent a lot of money on a bunch of other stuff.”
He is referring to a resolution passed by the KC City Council last week, and something he touched on in his inauguration speech: free bus rides for everyone.
Lucas elaborated in an interview with FOX4. “Right now we already spend about $58 million a year on our bus system. Finding an extra, more like $5 million we have to find, isn’t that tough.”
He continued, “I think what you’re seeing form our investment today, our investment in our community, is that we’re taking care of working people every day in Kansas City. You can’t talk about jobs if you’re not talking about how people get there.
“I think what we need to have is a budget priority,” he added. “We pay for parking garages downtown, we pay for all types of things, this needs to be a top priority to us as well.”
It’s a sign of things to come. Eric Bunch, the 4th District Council member who proposed the resolution last week, told the crowd gathered “that makes us the largest city in the US to have fare free public transit.”
It will be up to KC ATA to remove all the fare boxes on buses, and Bunch thinks that will remove hurdles to opportunity for some people. “Most importantly,” he told FOX4. “We’re talking about putting a thousand or more dollars back into the pockets of folks who may or may not be able to afford that.”
“It’s just obvious, you know,” Lucas said. “It’s how people get along, around, it gives them freedom, it gives them a chance to look at opportunities that may have been beyond the community they know every day.”
Council member Bunch pointed out most of the bus funding comes from sales taxes already, but making all fares free means finding roughly $8 million in city funds. “$8 million in a $1.7 billion annual budget? We can find that money,” said Bunch. “My goal is not to take it away from any one thing, we’re going to shift it around, and I have ideas, but we’re not going to see cuts in other places, anything that’s significant. We’ve got to figure it out, because this is important to us.”
The free rides is not without precedent. Kansas City offered free bus rides on Election Day, has offered roughly two million free rides to veterans, about 75,000 free rides to high school students, and about 50,000 free rides to customers of safety net agencies.