OLATHE, Kan. — Thursday the Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) voted 6-1 to increase the budget for Johnson County Transit (JCT) by approximately $2.9 million.

Last November county leaders allocated more than $15 million in federal funds to support the launch of several pilot programs, including expanded microtransit services. 

Microtransit services allow riders to be picked up at a select location not along an existing bus route. 

Public Transportation Director Josh Powers said the 2022 transit budget was approved before the new pilot programs were implemented in July, but due to increased ridership, additional service days and the expanded service area created by the pilot programs more money is needed to keep up with demand. 

In July the county also increased fares for microtransit services from $1.50 one way to $3-5 one way based on the distance traveled. 

“Even with the fare increase, ridership in August of 2022 was up 37% over the July ridership, totaling more than 14,000 rides in that month,” Powers said.

If ridership trends continue, the microtransit program will be on track to provide more than 120,000 rides in 2022, representing a 50% increase in ridership over last year. 

Powers said the $2 million budget adjustment will be used to increase the microtransit contract to meet the expanded service need. The remaining $900,000 would be used to support the other transit pilot programs. 

Driver shortage 

Powers said like other transit providers across the country JCT is facing a bus driver shortage.

“It is a huge challenge. I would say it’s our second largest challenge behind the demand for the service. There are some aspects of the pilots that we brought to you, that were authorized back in 2021, that we have not yet implemented, because we just don’t have the staff to do it,” Powers said. 

Currently JCT contracts its fixed-route services through First Transit and its microtransit services through WHC. Thursday the BOCC approved increasing the county’s contract with WHC by $2 million. 

The budget increase will be paid for using existing Transit Fund reserves. Powers said transit staff will need more time to collect ridership data to better evaluate the new pilot programs. He plans to bring that data back to the BOCC for review sometime in mid-2023.