On the first Friday in June — that’s the outdoor music night in Old Town Wichita — I went downtown. One of the things I did was to ride the Q-Line. That’s the free trolley or shuttle bus that provides service in Old Town and downtown, including Exploration Place.
I rode the entire route, and I was the only passenger. So I got to wonder about ridership and costs.
The Q-Line service has been offered three nights per week, Thursday through Saturday. In early October it started operating six nights a week after Sedgwick County added some funding.
For the May though October season, the City of Wichita committed $66,000, or $11,000 per month, to run the Q-Line. The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation agreed to spend $20,000 marketing the service.
Considering only the $11,000 per month of operating costs, you can see that the cost per rider is quite high. Most months it’s around eight dollars or so, and much more in some months.
If two or three people traveling as a group get on the trolley, the cost becomes much more than a taxi ride anywhere in downtown — or across town, for that matter.
The problem with the high cost per rider on the Q-Line is representative of the high cost of public transit and the huge subsidies it requires to function. According to Michael Vinson, Director of Transit for the City of Wichita, for the city’s regular bus service, fare-box revenue covers 22.5% of operating cost. The remainder is paid for by grants from local, state, and federal government.
So those who might think that the $1.25 fare to get on a city bus is a good deal might want to realize that their contribution to the fare box is matched by $4.30 from other people.
And that’s for operating costs only. It doesn’t include capital costs.
As we move forward in the planning for the revitalization of downtown Wichita, transit is always mentioned as a central component. Hopefully we’ll be able to get the cost per rider down to a reasonable figure. Wichita hasn’t shown the ability to do that so far.