Streetcar; one expensive toy
The Kansas City Star
On the day of my first bus ride in Kansas City, a colleague at The Star asked for my thoughts on the 30-minute journey from Brookside to 19th and Main.
She was rather surprised when I said I liked it, and I think it’s a good investment for the city. Four months later, my feelings remain the same. The buses are clean, they are on time, don’t have too many crazy characters on board and the drivers are polite and helpful.
Unlike Nairobi, the fares are consistent and don’t increase when it rains. The routes also remain constant.
Yes, they don’t go to too many parts of the city too much of the time. Yes, they only run up to midnight. Yes, they are often half-empty during the off-peak hours.
Also, the headquarters, where I go for my monthly bus pass, is located too far for those who don’t have someone to drive them there.
It doesn’t help that the service there is not very polite (“You should carry exact change next time. These hundred-dollar bills are too many,” the lady at the counter said when I recently bought my last pass). And when even the smallest snack shops take cards, I have often wondered why The Metro cannot take credit cards when passengers are buying the monthly pass. It would certainly rid the lady at the counter of her scowl.
After walking around downtown KC a few times, and travelling out to Leawood, Overland Park, Independence, Olathe, Grandview, I began to understand why what should be the central part of the city is rather empty and not busy. Having the K, Arrowhead and Livestrong Sporting Park way out of town does not also encourage the traffic that would have more people to get on the bus.
Observing and learning how Kansas City’s public transport operates revived an interest I developed as I covered Nairobi’s transport and infrastructure and shambolic urban planning.
It was thus with much surprise that I learnt that Kansas City is planning to introduce a streetcar between Crown Center and River Market.
Where are the passengers? Why does it go only two miles? In a city that seems to encourage growth away from its downtown rather than within it, what’s the point?
And then the federal grant was rejected, and I asked the same questions again, only loud this time round.
Finally, a colleague volunteered, “It’s a toy, John. That’s all it is.”
Well, I don’t have a dog in that fight, and I can’t say I know too much about it, but that’s one expensive toy.