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Kansas City transit sees ridership increase with zero-fare program

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(The Center Square) – Kansas City Area Transportation Authority ridership is rising after the agency enacted a Zero Fare program in 2020 while giving up about $9 million a year in lost revenue.

Some transit agencies around the country have eliminated fares to attract more riders, but doing this has come at a cost. For the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, that meant taking on about $9 million in additional expenses. That’s the amount of fare revenue they brought in for 2019, the year before the pandemic hit. In 2018, the agency brought in $9.4 million in fare revenues, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Like other transit agencies around the country, KCATA was faced with low ridership due to the pandemic. Now ridership has recovered to just below pre-pandemic levels, which is above the national average but still lags below 2019 levels of 12.4 million trips in 2019, dropping to 8.6 million rides in 2020 and slowly increasing back up to over 10 million rides reported in 2022, according to documents.

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority announced its zero fare in 2019 for buses within city limits and enacted it in 2020.

Federal assistance has been heavily relied on since the pandemic, increasing from $14 million in 2019 to $23 million in 2020 and reaching $61 million by 2022, according to the Federal Transit Administration reports.

A comparison of spending in May found the transit company spent $9.16 million on operations in May 2024 compared to $7.47 million in the pre-pandemic April 2019. The transit company continues to collect fair through paratransit services, bringing in almost $700,000 in 2022.

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