We were glad to see in Sunday’s Mercury that City Commissioner Wynn Butler isn’t interested in sabotaging the Area Transportation Agency’s effort to provide fixed-route bus service in Manhattan. He sounded downright open to the possibility of allowing ATA to use city right-of-way for bus stop signs and perhaps other purposes.
His comments could alter the growing perception that a majority of this City Commission, whose policies are largely determined by a triumvirate of Commissioners Butler, John Matta and Loren Pepperd, is hostile to ATA and would rather the bus company simply went away. Those commissioners last June rejected a one-year commitment of $15.000 for ATA.
Foremost among their concerns was that the bus system, which has for some time provided on-demand service, would in the process of expanding to fixed routes become a chronic drain on city finances. Commissioners understandably were concerned that other revenue sources, especially federal and state grants, would dry up and did not want the city to be stuck subsidizing an increasing share of public transportation expenses.
ATA doesn’t seem inclined to go away. Rather, with primary funding from federal and state grants as well as Kansas State University, Riley County and private sources, ATA is going ahead with its plan to provide two fixed routes in addition to on-demand service.
Yes, city funding would help; if the experiences of other municipal bus systems are instructive, passenger fares alone won’t pay the bills. But for now, ATA could use some assistance that needn’t cost the city money — the use of rights-of-way for signs identifying bus stops and perhaps space for benches or modest shelters for waiting bus passengers.
If liability associated with rights-of-way has been a major obstacle, city officials haven’t made that clear. Commissioner Matta, for instance, said nothing about it in a column earlier this month criticizing Jayme Morris-Hardeman, a former city commissioner who supports ATA. She had written a letter to the editor taking the commission majority to task for its lack of interest in rights-of-way for bus stop signs and urging residents to encourage commissioners to take up the issue.
We hope city commissioners who are reluctant to initiate an open-ended financial investment in the Area Transportation Agency can at least acknowledge that ATA is trying to meet the very real transportation needs of a good many area residents. We further hope commissioners recognize that ATA’s mission is worth supporting, particularly in ways that don’t diminish the city treasury.
Offering space for bus stop signs would be a good start.