Johnson County hoping to expand microtransit system, pending commissioners’ approval

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OLATHE, Kan. — Wheels are turning in Johnson County. Its microtransit bus program, a pilot program that’s in its first year, could grow soon.

These smaller means of transit seat as many as 15 passengers, and they can be summoned by using a mobile app.

They’re typically used by riders who need to reach a destination that’s not on a Ride KC bus route, or to get from their door to a busy bus stops, like Oak Park Mall, the Mission Transit Center or Johnson County Community College.

Ride KC program leaders in Olathe said microtransit buses in Johnson County have given roughly 26,000 rides since hitting the road in January, serving people who aren’t being served by the bus system in its current capacities.

“The hope is that we`re better able to connect residents in Johnson County,” said Josh Powers, a business liaison for JoCo’s Ride KC program.

“If you live a mile away from a stop, that means if that’s your only option. You’ll have to walk to that stop, wait for the bus and use it that way. Hopefully, microtransit bridges that gap.”

Riders are enthusiastic about the convenience and the price, which is only $1.50 each way. The microtransit system’s app would remind many people of ride-sharing services, such as Uber or Lyft.

“We’re trying to be thought leaders in this space, and we want to, again, help and empower residents in Johnson County get where they need to go,” Powers said.

In January, Ride KC directors will put this pilot project back before Johnson County Commissioners, in hopes of expanding the service area to include more destinations along the I-35 corridor.

Anita Mason, a regular passenger on Ride KC’s microtransit system, said existing bus routes can’t complete her trip from east Kansas City to her workplace to an Overland Park business off Lackman Road.

“It brings me directly to my job,” Mason said. “The bigger buses only take me so far. If it wasn’t for the microtransit, then I would have to use Uber or other means of transportation to get me directly here. Microtransit brings me directly to the front door.”

Powers said funding for this program comes from the county’s existing public transportation budget. He said other cities are using microtransit plans, but his knowledge, Johnson County, Kansas, is the first to prove it can work in a suburban area as well as it does in a large city.

Directors at Ride KC point to a similar program in Kansas City, Missouri, as being the inspiration for this project. In 2015, KCATA used microtransit to give passengers rides to and from the Northland into the city’s downtown area.

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