There has been discussion in this paper and elsewhere regarding a request the Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency made to the Manhattan City Commission concerning use of the public right-of-way. Certain inaccuracies have been asserted which need to be addressed.
“The mission of the Flint Hills ATA is to deliver the highest quality of public transportation service to the Flint Hills region. We will strive to increase our ridership in response to the continued growth of the area; to aid in and contribute to a growing Kansas economy and improve the quality of life for the whole community.” A 16-member board of directors governs the agency, a private non-profit organization established by a group on Manhattan citizens in 1976, and establishes its operational policies.
It has been suggested that transit funding in Manhattan must be provided solely by nongovernment entities (yet not rely on donations and charitable contributions) and must include a multi-year funding commitment from Kansas State University students. There is not a public transit provider (urban or rural) in the United States that operates without public funding. Not unlike the public funding of roads and bridges, public transportation is subsidized with a combination of local, state and federal funding programs.
So, can a communitywide public transportation service be provided with funding solely from KSU? The simple answer is no; however, KSU is already supporting public transportation in our community.
To date, ATA’s largest single service agreement is with the students at Kansas State University. The students fully fund the SafeRide program with a tuition fee. ATA has been operating two fixed routes Thursday through Saturday nights during the school year for the past two-years. On Fake Patty’s Day this year, 1,173 riders used this service. Those were 1,173 young adults who made the decision to not drink and drive, thus potentially saving their lives and the lives of others.
In addition to the funding provided by KSU students with a tuition fee, KSU will provide funding for the fixed-route system from parking system revenue in exchange for ATA taking over the KSU shuttle that is currently funded by parking system revenue. Clearly, KSU is supporting fixed-route public transit in Manhattan and is not using public funding to do so.
Passenger amenities such as bus stops and shelters make accessing a fixed-route easier for the people who will use the service. While passenger amenities are not required (ATA has been operating four small routes without them), placement of these amenities on the public right-of-way would make using the service safer and easier for the people of Manhattan.
Through the Kansas Department of Transportation, ATA secured $60,000 in federal funding for “Bus Stop” signs. At present there are no plans for any other amenities (benches, shelters or cutouts), which is why no other provisions or funding requests have been made. ATA has always worked hard to provide quality service in an economical and cost-efficient way.
ATA had hoped the city, not unlike KSU, could find a way to support public transportation without the use of public tax dollars. ATA had hoped that the City Commission could provide non-monetary support by providing access to the public right-of-way for signage. Regrettably, there are some on the commission who would rather work actively against efforts to implement a public transportation system than work collaboratively to find ways to make it work.
ATA appreciates the funding provided by the Manhattan City Commission for 2012 in the amount of $54,882. However, this funding will not be used in connection with the implementation of fixed-route services. This funding is used to support demand-response services only. These services are for persons living outside of the fixed-route service area and for those with mobility impairments who cannot access the fixed-route service. Aside from that, no other funding has been approved by the Manhattan City Commission to this agency for 2012.
Regardless of whether there is additional monetary or non-monetary support from the Manhattan City Commission, Flint Hills ATA will begin operating two citywide fixed-routes on April 23. We are able to do so because of support from more than a dozen other public and private entities.
As always, we will work hard to be good stewards of the public and private funding we receive and will continue to work to build partnerships and consensus in this community in order to serve the public transportation needs of this community.
Lorene Oppy, a Manhattan resident, is president of the Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency Board of Directors.