After going round and round with commissioners last year, ATA Bus to begin fixed-route service

By Burk Krohe

The Flint Hills Transportation Agency (ATA Bus) spent the better part of two years developing an operating plan for fixed-route transit in Manhattan before it was rejected by city commissioners on a 3-2 vote last June. Recently, Anne Smith, ATA Bus director, announced the agency will implement two fixed bus routes in Manhattan—without funding from the city.

Funding and the long-term success of such a system were sticking points for a majority of commissioners. The proposal brought to the city last summer would have called for $15,000 in funding from the city for the first full year of operation.

However, the three opposing commissioners, Wynn Butler, John Matta and Loren Pepperd, felt a public transit system would not be sustainable and worried it would lead to a necessity for larger and larger contributions from the city.

Smith said ATA Bus is using the same plan presented last year in the two routes it announced last week. She said there will be difficulties, but after spending two years on the operating plan, it makes sense to use it.

“Obviously, there are changes in the budget with the city not participating,” Smith said.

The majority of the funding will come from state and federal public transit grants. According to the operating plan, state and federal funds would account for $392,310 in the first full year of operation. Smith said Kansas State University will provide a large portion of local matching funds, amounting to $196,742, and Riley County will provide $14,900.

She said USD 383, which was not initially involved in the operating plan, has stepped forward to provide funding, although it was not clear whether that funding would directly or indirectly support the fixed-route system.

The district’s only activity with the bus service in the past year has been the commitment of $10,000 for special education transportation. Three-quarters of that amount represented a donation from Steel and Pipe Supply Company.

“The funding strings are largely the same,” Smith said.  She added ATA Bus also has received some private donations.

The fixed routes will run in addition to ATA Bus’ existing on-demand service, and Smith said fares will be about $1 with reduced fares for seniors.

According to the operating plan, the routes would run on weekdays during different cycles, one cycle while Kansas State is in session and one when it isn’t. The current SafeRide program would be integrated into the service. Smith said one route would run northeast-southwest with end points at Northview and Stagg Hill, while a second would run northwest-southeast with endpoints at Manhattan Town Center and the intersection of Gary and Candlewood. The routes will intersect on the KSU campus.

Smith said it is clear that the City Commission will not approve funding but said ATA Bus is in talks with the city about right-of-way for bus stops, shelters and signs. The issue was raised at a recent city briefing session, but was not put on an agenda.

“What we were asking was for a right-of-way agreement,” Smith said.

Some have taken that as a sign of the city’s unwillingness to work with ATA Bus on a fixed-route system. However, Butler saw it differently.

“We didn’t want it on the agenda until we had all the facts,” Butler said.

Butler said he was concerned about the possible liability issues of having bus stops on city property. He said until commissioners had those answers, nothing really would have been accomplished. Since then, Butler said he received information that indicated there will not be any major liability issues.

He said as long as the city is not liable and city tax dollars aren’t being used, he’s willing to work with ATA Bus.

“If those things stand up, then I don’t have a problem with it,” Butler said.

For now, ATA Bus plans to place some bus stops, shelters and signs on county property and on private property, where owners have agreed to it.

Butler said now that concerns have been addressed it’s possible the right-of-way issue will come before the Commission. Lauren Palmer, assistant city manager, said there’s currently no indication it will be but said that could easily change.

“We’re very excited at this opportunity,” Smith said. “We want to work anyway we can with the city.”

Smith said this is something that is needed in a growing community and hopes to make progress.

“We need to move forward,” Smith said.

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