We’re glad the Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday authorized ATA Bus to erect bus stop signs along its fixed and Safe Ride routes, but it’s disappointing that the vote wasn’t unanimous.
City Commissioner John Matta voted against the measure, saying he believed that approval would bring closer the day that the city would have to fund the Area Transportation Agency’s fixed-route system. He seems to believe that the sooner ATA Bus can be killed off, the better.
Mr. Matta’s opposition to open-ended funding for ATA Bus is understandable; it’s a wariness we share. But this vote wasn’t about funding.
City bus systems rarely are self-supporting; the experience in numerous cities has been that public transportation systems seek funding from city governments — something the present City Commission has made clear it has little interest in.
Though Manhattan has provided ATA Bus $52,238 in the 2013 budget, that money helps subsidize ATA Bus’s in-demand service, not the fixed-route system. In fact the city has rejected ATA Bus’s request for funding for its fixed-route service. ATA Bus does, however, receive funding from Kansas State University and other sources, though permanent funding is not guaranteed.
We don’t know whether ATA Bus’s fixed-route system will be a success. But to dismiss the endeavor before it has had a chance to prove itself is premature, especially given the length of time it has taken to get the city’s approval to install signs marking its bus stops. Yes, the bus schedule and map of routes are available online, but actual marked bus stops are conspicuous daily reminders to passersby.
We hope the signs and the sight of buses on their daily routes boost ridership enough to persuade the entities that do provide funding for ATA Bus to continue to do so, because a bus system can be good for Manhattan. As Manhattan resident Phil Anderson pointed out, the benefits of a public transportation system like ATA Bus extend beyond cost analyses. It provides an important service for citizens who don’t have a car or who would rather not drive, and it eases congestion on city streets and parking lots. Those are considerations that ought to matter at least a little to officials who are elected to serve all city residents.
The commission’s vote on Tuesday, which didn’t involve a dime of city money — ATA Bus is paying for the signs and installation — was mostly a gesture signaling moral support. Unanimity wasn’t too much to ask.