ATA Bus’s great adventure, its great experiment, has begun. On Monday, the Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency, heretofore known for its on-demand service, began operating two fixed, or scheduled, routes.
We wish it well, and we hope, as ATA Bus Director Anne Smith said, “It’s the first day of many fantastic days with fixed routes.”
ATA success as a traditional bus system would be good for the entire city. Ideally, it will provide transportation for residents who don’t drive either because they’re unable or don’t own vehicles. And it could offer an option even to residents who have vehicles but who for a variety of reasons — gas costs, parking hassles or environmental concerns — would rather not drive.
Success, however, is far from assured. For starters, local demand for fixed-route bus service is unproven. Residents have clamored for it, and Kansas State University, the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, the Riley County Commission and others have made their support clear, in some cases with essential financial backing. Certainly they’ve tried to offset ATA Bus’s discouraging experience with the City Commission. The commission rejected even token one-year funding, though commissioners did approve $54,882 for ATA Bus in unrestricted funding.
ATA Bus hopes the commission will approve rights of way for bus stops and bus stop signs. Happily, as Ms. Smith told Riley County commissioners Monday, other options for those exist. “We have had some businesses call in wanting a bus stop in front of their business.”
That’s encouraging because paying customers will be the true test of whether the interest the company and others are convinced exists in this community for its service is really there.
This week ATA Bus rides will be free, which makes sense as both a public relations gesture and to help people become familiar with the routes. The routes, too, make sense. One crosses Manhattan from the southwest to the northeast and the other runs from the northwest to the southeast. The routes, which will be served by 14 of the familiar buses and one minivan, will intersect at Kansas State University.
Next week, customers will begin paying $1 or so per ride. We hope plenty of them know where to wait and are waiting when buses come by. We hope they help ATA Bus remove lingering doubts about whether fixed-route bus service in Manhattan is a fanciful but impractical idea or whether its time has truly come.