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When Cindy Coss picked Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary for her son, a huge draw was the bus stop three blocks away from the school.
“‘It was like, ‘Yay,’” Coss said, when they learned of the bus stop at Maple and Bebe streets.
Coss can’t drive due to epilepsy. She relies on the city bus system to get around when her husband isn’t available to drive. And even though her children are able to take the school bus, Coss said it’s important to her to know she can still get to and from the school in case of an emergency.
“I still have to be able to get to the school without spending a ton of money,” Coss said.
So when Coss saw that the Maple and Bebe bus stops had been removed, it was a major inconvenience. The next closest stop that picks her up from the school is about a mile from the school’s main entrance.
“Next year my son will not go to Dodge because of that,” Coss said.
In 2021, Wichita Transit removed 189 bus stops around the city, The Wichita Beacon learned from an open records request — nearly four times the number dropped in 2019 when the transit agency last adjusted stops. The change represents about 8% of the system’s 2,500 bus stops.
Officials with Wichita Transit said the move is a step to streamline its bus system and move back toward a flag stop system — where users can wave the bus down in certain areas.
Flag stops to formal stops and back
Prior to 2016, Wichita’s bus system operated partially as a flag stop system.
“It was very frequent prior to 2016 that people were not overly concerned about getting to a sign or a shelter as long as they walked to a street corner that had a curb cut, and there was a safe place for a bus to pull over,” said Michael Tann, director of Wichita Transit.
But in 2016, Wichita Transit underwent a systemwide change: Each of the 17 bus routes was modified, and monthly fares went down. At the same time, Wichita Transit added stops along the bus routes, according to KMUW. Adding these bus stops was also an attempt to move away from the flag stop system, Tann said.
After 2016, bus ridership plummeted, according to a presentation by Chase Billingham, an associate professor of sociology at Wichita State University.
Tann said the effort to remove dozens of bus stops now is a transition back to the original system, which combined flag stops and formal bus stops.
But the city has not yet offered any concrete information on how riders unfamiliar with the flag stop system can use it.
“We’re sort of doing it with knowledge first or people that are used to doing it that way,” Tann said. “We don’t have education out there that teaches people exactly how to do it.”
Coss, who wasn’t aware of the flag stop system, was on board with the idea but wanted to see more details about how it worked.
“There needs to be clear communication about where you should stand,” Coss said. “There are some places, like directly at an intersection, where it would not be safe.”
How did Wichita Transit decide which bus stops to remove?
Tann said that many of the bus stops removed in 2021 were not “advantageous to our customers to get to and to use, or they weren’t being used at all.” This included stops that didn’t allow buses to pull out of traffic — Tann pointed out stops on Ridge Road or Rock Road — or were poorly placed for riders.
Wichita Transit can track how often bus stops are used, which gives the agency an idea of which stops could be removed.
But Tann said that the data is typically checked after a bus stop is noted as being infrequently used or in a difficult place for the bus to pick someone up. A multitude of sources can inform the transit agency of bus stops that should be reconsidered: customers, drivers, the general public, public agencies, schools or businesses, Tann said. The department did not analyze the data for all 2,500 bus stops.
The agency also removed some bus stops for reasons other than accessibility. Two bus stops at the corner of Broadway and Murdock Street were removed after non-transit customers frequented them, Tann said. And in 2018, Wichita Transit began serving a significant number of students after offering discounted rates to them. That led to some routes needing adjustments, Tann said.
“The reason you saw that number is we really just didn’t do anything from the change that we implemented in 2018, 2019 and 2020,” Tann said. “Now we’re trying to be proactive and sort of catch up with what it is we saw.”
Tann noted that many of the dropped bus stops were moved or added somewhere else in the system. Domonique Parker, operations supervisor for Wichita Transit, said that the city added over 30 bus stops in 2021.
City Council Districts 1 and 6 had the most bus stops removed. The fewest were removed in Districts 5 and 3.
Wichitans concerned about bus stops removed near key locations
Coss expressed concern that a bus stop was removed near her son’s school. It wasn’t the only stop removed near a school — or other key locations, like a hospital or grocery store.
The Wichita Beacon found that two other elementary schools — Kensler Elementary and Enterprise Elementary — had bus stops within a half mile of their schools that were removed with no other stops going in the same direction within half a mile of the school.
Over 20 other schools had stops near them that were removed — sometimes the closest stop — but most had another bus stop on the same route within half a mile of the school.
Two bus stops were also removed outside Kansas Heart Hospital and Kansas Spine & Specialty Hospital in the northeast corner of the city.
Those stops were removed for low usage, Parker wrote in an email to The Beacon. The bus stop at 35th Street and North Webb Road, next to the Kansas Heart Hospital, had 27 passengers for the whole year. Next to Kansas Spine & Specialty Hospital, the stop at Webb and Jabara roads had five passengers.
The changes also removed several of the stops closest to certain grocery stores, including Aldi at Regal and Seneca streets, Aldi at East Kellogg Avenue and Rock Road, and the Trader Joe’s on North Rock Road.