MO-ving On Up

Kansas City will be the first major U.S. city to offer free public transit

The Kansas City Streetcar at River Market (Sean Marshall/Flickr)

Kansas City, Missouri, may become the first major U.S. city to offer fare-free public transit. While the light rail system (opened in 2016) was already free, the City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to also make the bus routes open and accessible to all as well.

The city’s new mayor, Quinton Lucas, said in a tweet, “We want this city to be as efficient as possible…we want to make it a city where a pedestrian has an opportunity to get to where they need to go.” The change has been a priority for the mayor whose “Zero Fare Transit” proposal has since been endorsed by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) as a way of putting money back into the local economy. 

Robbie Makinen, the head of the KCATA, estimated that 20 percent of bus riders already ride for free, as rides are offered to both veterans and high school students. For everyone else, fares are currently $1.50 per ride or $50 for a monthly pass. Makinen believes that making the entire system free would cost about $12 million a year, and the city council has approved $8 million for the project so far. 

But the Kansas City metro area is large—seven counties and two states. The new system would only be applicable to buses originating and returning to Kansas City, Missouri, meaning residents could ride free in some areas but not in others. 

U.S. cities offering free rides on certain lines or within certain areas are not new, but Kansas City would be the first to offer a universal system. Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch, who co-sponsored the effort, said according to KCUR, “I don’t want to do it for any sort of national recognition, I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, I believe that people have a right to move about this city.”

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