Frank White and KCATA Operators Argue Bringing Back Bus Fares To Keep Houseless People Away

Despite continued public outcry defending Zero Fare–from in-person testimony and hundreds of emails–KCATA Board of Commissioners chose to continue studying fare implementation. The post Frank White and KCATA Operators Argue Bringing Back Bus Fares To Keep Houseless People Away appeared first on Kansas City Defender.

Frank White and KCATA Operators Argue Bringing Back Bus Fares To Keep Houseless People Away
Organizers of Sunrise Movement KC–along with KCATA operators and other people from the public–crowd KCATA’s Board of Commissioners meeting on January 24th, 2023 in response to agenda item on implementing bus fares. (Raymond Forstater)

KANSAS CITY, MO – For the second time in a month, Sunrise Movement KC and fellow bus riders crowded the The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s (KCATA) Board of Commissioners meeting to argue for Zero Fare. Audiences were also joined by bus operators and other workers from the KCATA–some of whom gave testimony that bus fares should be brought back to keep houseless people off public transit.

Out-of-State Consultants Present On Implementing Fares in Kansas City

Earlier in 2023, KCATA hired consultants from out-of-state agency, Nelson\Nygaard, to begin studying the effects of reinstituting bus fares. These consultants argue that bus fare revenue would be more liquid (“unrestricted”) and solve issues related to the amount of houseless people on the bus–citing safety as a concern (albeit, without going into details on violence cases or number of cases).

Nonetheless, KCATA CEO Frank White III and staff have recommended that the KCATA Board of Commissioners vote to implement a plan to charge new fares, and this vote was originally scheduled to take place on December 20, 2023. The Board of Commissioners ultimately delayed that vote to this monthʼs meeting after seeing the community response in opposition to starting to charge fares. 

Now, KCATA is hoping to once again move forward on their initial plans by paying a consulting firm to develop a “Fare Implementation Plan” over the course of the next several months–which will, in turn, lead to a final decision on whether or not to bring back bus fares in Kansas City.

Bus Operators Cite Houseless People as The Main Reason For Fare Implementation

Much of the support around instituting bus fares revolves around Kansas City’s rising houseless population. During public testimony, three people raised support for bringing back bus fares–two of whom were KCATA bus operators. Although Nelson\Nygaard cited violence against bus drivers as the need to institute bus fares, the operators spent most of their time discussing the “stench” and untimeliness that houseless people boarding and deboarding causes to their schedule.

One operator made claims that a woman he knew was drug tested by her job because the “houseless people around her stunk of weed and alcohol.” Another operator claimed that because of the amount of belongings houseless people are forced to commute with on the bus, his schedule can be pushed off by “2 minutes,” delaying his entire day.

On the flip side, supporters of Zero Fare focused their testimonies on busing as a means of survival hood:

[Studies] show that Zero Fare gives people access to life saving services, gives them job security and food security, and overall improves their quality of life. I am frustrated that Kansas Citians have had to appear a second time to tell you all how Zero Fare has changed our lives and ultimately saved our lives. Mahreen Ansari, a leader with Sunrise Movement KC, during January 24th’s public testimony.

In response to high tension in the room following public testimony, Frank White III, CEO of KCATA, gave several speeches and spoke with disdain at Commissioners like Michael J. Shaw and Julie Lorenz–who both expressed confusion and dissatisfaction with various parts of the Fare Implementation study. During one of his monologues, White specifically expressed that his responsibility was to KCATA employees, “irregardless of public opinion.”

Commissioner Shaw, seemingly a proponent of Zero Fare, raised questions about the ethicality of the study Nelson/Nygaard conducted–specifically stating that a chart in their study that outlined decrease in ridership was improperly attributed to fare, and not due to causes like the COVID-19 pandemic. His comments were met with approval from Sunrise Movement KC and other Zero Fare supporters; and Nelson/Nygaard apologized for not showing the full breadth of issues related to ridership decline.

KCATA Votes to Continuing Study on Bus Fares

Ultimately, KCATA moved to continue paying Nelson/Nygaard to develop this Fare Implementation Plan, which will be brought to a vote potentially later this year.

Sunrise Movement KC had this to say in response to KCATA’s decision:

“Starting to charge bus fares would have catastrophic impacts on community members; affecting Black, brown, poor and working class communities that rely on the bus system most. A 2021 study on the impacts of Zero Fare in Kansas City from the Urban League showed that over 90% of respondents agreed that Zero Fare buses helped them access groceries more frequently than before. There is no scenario where fares are partially enforced like KCATA is suggesting without some of those 90% getting left behind and having their access to food, healthcare, jobs, and other essential needs limited as a result.

KCATAʼs hired consultants have shown the extreme up front and ongoing costs associated with establishing and maintaining a new fare system. This brings in to question if this really is the cost-saving solution KCATA has tried to make it out to be.”

Sunrise Movement Kansas City is running a bold campaign to win Better Buses for KC, calling for a generational expansion and revitalization of the cityʼs bus system. Sunrise Movement KC demands that by 2025 there will be fast, reliable, green, public buses for everyone in Kansas City.

  1. Every Kansas City resident will live within ten-minute walking distance of a fast, frequent, reliable bus line.
  2. Buses will come every 15 minutes and always be on time.
  3. Public mass transit will be powered by good, dignified, unionized jobs.
  4. Zero Fare forever.
  5. All buses will be electrified.
  6. All bus stops will be clean, accessible, and provide protection from the elements, with sidewalks, benches, and real-time transit information.

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