Johnson County public transit may fall under county control once again

403 Antioch bus route

A public bus stops in mission. File image.

Four months after committing to several major changes that will expand public transit, Johnson County commissioners are now considering dropping out of a management agreement with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to run its services.

Background: The interlocal agreement, in which KCATA manages contracts of the entities that run the county transit system, has been in place for seven years.

The change was proposed so the county can keep a closer eye on several pilot projects that will begin to be phased in next month, according to a staff memo. But the county system will remain a part of KCATA’s RideKC brand and system, and riders will not notice any change, the memo said.

The proposal was considered briefly during the commission’s agenda review session Thursday and will come up for a vote next week.

What to expect: Bringing transit back under county supervision within its Public Works department will require hiring five full-time equivalent positions. Those paychecks would come from money that’s already in the management fee the county pays KCATA.

If approved, the new arrangement would bring the county transit system management full circle from 2014, when the agreement was signed with KCATA. Before that, Johnson County transit, known as The Jo, employed nine full-timers to run its system.

All but one of those employee positions went away after officials signed an agreement that gave KCATA an annual managerial fee of $548,000 to take over.

In return KCATA has managed contracts with First Transit for fixed rate routes, paratransit and dispatch, WHC Inc for microtransit and taxi services and EcoLane for software, marketing and customer relations.

Last November the county agreed to a significant trial expansion of routes and service times that will be initiated by $15.2 million in COVID-19 relief funds.

At the Thursday meeting, staff members stressed that the county has been happy with RideKC, but are seeking a more direct control over the pilot expansion programs. Scott Neufeld, county budget director, described the idea as a “win-win.”

Commissioner Jeff Meyers, the commission’s liaison with KCATA, added that the transit authority’s board is fully supportive.

Commissioner reactions: Commissioner Janee Hanzlick said the new arrangement will let the county continue with RideKC while “pulling managerial oversight closer to us so we can more rapidly tailor our management of the transit system to the needs in Johnson County.”

Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara said she is “thrilled” with the idea. “The further we can get away from KCATA the better as far as I’m concerned.” O’Hara reiterated concerns she has about the transit authority and eminent domain.