Wichita's bus system could be out of money by 2015, and city officials say they'll likely ask taxpayers to help keep the buses running.
The city's long-term goal is to provide a regional transit system but it first has to find a way to make the city's bus service financially and operationally stable, City Manager Robert Layton said.
With state and federal transit funding dwindling, Wichita voters will have to approve some form of tax increase for buses at some point, Layton said.
Transit director Steve Spade is currently doing an efficiency review to determine the transit system's service quality, accuracy of schedules and vehicle maintenance, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/18OxPXU ).
"If you've got dirty buses that run behind schedule and break down all the time, it's hard to ask people for the resources to do more," Spade said. "And there's a ton more we could be doing."
City officials also are compiling a position statement on what the transit system should be in the future and will also ask the community what it wants to see. Layton said people are already asking for bus routes from Wichita into Newton in Harvey County.
"What I've said all along is that this is about much more than just firming up our business operations," the city manager said. "We need to have a more permanent financing plan."
The transit system has averaged about 2 million riders annually in recent years, according to city figures.
Most city transportation systems are not self-supporting and require state and federal subsidies, which are being reduced, Spade said. He added that adding another problem in Wichita is that past maintenance practices have reduced the efficiency of the fleet and upped its costs.
Budget officer Mark Manning said Thursday that $785,000 has been transferred from the city's contingency reserve fund to transit and another $1 million has been budgeted in planned loans through early 2015 to keep the system afloat. City budgets loan an additional $430,000 in both 2013 and 2014, and a final $136,484 in 2015. However, to date, none of that money has been loaned, Manning said.
The City Council last year had to cut more than $500,000 in other programs to keep the bus system running.
"If there are that many people using a bad bus system, think about how many people would use a better system," council member Janet Miller said.