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Kansas City may become first major US city to offer free public bus service

Kansas City may become first major US city to offer free public bus service

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas. | Photo: Facebook/Quinton Lucas

Kansas City, Missouri, could soon become the first U.S. city to offer free public bus service after its city council voted unanimously Thursday for a resolution to eliminate fares for the service.

“The city council just took a monumental, unanimous step toward #ZeroFareTransit — setting Kansas City up to soon become the first major metropolitan city with free public bus service,” Mayor Quinton Lucas announced in a tweet on the decision.

While details about how the plan will be funded are still being worked out, groups such as the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority quickly praised the decision as something that will improve lives.

“Thank you @KCMO City Council. This is going to improve the lives of so many and help fuel the local economy. #ZeroFareTransit,” the organization tweeted.

Editors at The Kansas City Star also announced their support for the proposal in an editorial published last month. The editorial board noted that Lucas said he doesn't plan to raise taxes to pay for the free bus service and will look at other options such as cutting tax breaks to developers to get the $8 million needed to fund the free service.

“What the city should not do is wait for surrounding counties to jump on the no-fare bandwagon. That’s a concern because surrounding governments also subsidize bus transportation,” the Kansas City Star editors said.

It was noted that the idea of fareless bus transportation is gaining support in several cities around the country, including Denver and Salt Lake City.

“Those cities will confirm what Kansas Citians are realizing: Free bus service is more environmentally friendly, and it provides a transformative advantage for low-income residents who need a ride to work or school,” the Kansas City Star editorial board wrote.

In January 2013, Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia — a country bordering Russia and south Finland — became the first city in the world to offer free public transit for residents. But tourists and anyone living outside the city still have to purchase full-fare tickets, according to Metro magazine

All users also have to validate their correct “fare” via a smartcard system when boarding a bus, but with the smartcard the fare is generally only about $1. The move has since led to increased use of public transportation and a bit of overcrowding. Nonetheless, Estonia is looking to offer free public transportation nationwide for its 1.3 million citizens. 

In New York City, Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the city council’s transportation committee, said last month, according to City Limits, that he will be pushing legislation to provide free public transportation for working-class city residents.

“There’s a whole movement nationwide to make transportation free. I will be leading that initiative,” said the lawmaker who represents the 10th Council District neighborhoods of Inwood, Marble Hill, and Washington Heights.

“I will be working with my colleagues on the council, with a coalition. I will be knocking [on] the door of the city, state and the federal level to say, ‘Let’s bring all the resources that we need to make transportation free to all working-class New Yorkers,'” he added.

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