Task force explores bus service for city
Ridership survey to be sent out this week
Diana Zwahlen has seen the frustration that comes when the convenience of hopping in a car to run daily errands is removed.
"I have an elderly mother I've been transporting," she said. "My mother has lost her independence and would like some back. It was the same with my mother-in-law."
As head of a transit task force appointed by Mayor Dave Anderson, Zwahlen is trying to give De Soto residents in similar circumstances greater control of their lives, be they seniors dependent on others for transportation or younger residents who find themselves without reliable transportation.
The goal of the task force is to bring "curb-to-curb" bus service to De Soto two or three days a week this fall.
"David told me to take the ball and roll with it, so I am," she said. "It's a fantastic opportunity for De Soto. He said he wants it done, and he has some exciting visions he wanted for the community, not only for the elderly but the general population."
In the next week, De Soto water customers will receive a survey with their water bills that will be used to help craft the bus service, Zwahlen said. The surveys, which are available in Spanish and English, will also be placed at different locations around town for those who don't receive water bills and an effort will be made to deliver them to Hillside Village, Valley Springs Homes and Clearview City. The survey can also be found on the city Web site at desotoks.us.
"The most important thing for people to do right now is complete the survey," Zwahlen said. "People need to tell us where they really, really want to go."
The program will be modeled off one successfully operating in northeast Johnson County, which offers home-to-destination transportation to Mission, Roeland Park, Westwood, Fairway and Merriam residents of 50 years of age or older. It is hoped the De Soto bus service would be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Unlike the northeast service, it would be open to riders 12 and older (younger children would have to be accompanied by an adult).
Johnson County Transit briefly offered bus service in De Soto in 2000. De Soto Multi-Service Center coordinator Jodi Hitchcock said the program didn't prosper because it didn't offer what was needed. County buses were made available during their mid-day idle hours to run routes back and forth to Olathe shopping centers.
"It was not curb-to-curb and didn't meet a need," Hitchcock said. "What we're talking about now is someone calling in to schedule a ride to go to the doctor or the hairdresser. The bus would pick someone up at home, drop them off at the doctor's office and pick them up again and take them home."
Hitchcock, who is on the transit task force with De Soto City Councilwoman Betty Cannon, city planning coordinator Kim Gordanier and Archie Bedford, said the transit program being discussed would fill two needs in De Soto. Like the more-urban model, it would help seniors who can no longer drive. But service would also be available to younger residents without transportation, unreliable transportation or spouses in single-car families.
"That is what there is a tremendous need for here in De Soto," she said. "That's evidenced by how many people call this office and how many people sign up for the Catch-A-Ride program."
In addition to the curb-to-curb service, the task force would look at interest in regular routes from certain intersections, Zwahlen said.
Gordanier said the city would be applying for a grant that would provide 70 percent of the funding needed for the program. But before application is made for the grant, the task force must come up with a business plan that would identify the cost, possible local corporate sponsors -- the Mr. Goodcents Foundation is a big supporter of the northeast Johnson County program -- and such details as whether riders will be asked to pay a small fee, Gordanier said.
The survey would help the task force answer those questions.
Even if a grant application is successful, the federal money won't be available until next year, Gordanier said. But she said Anderson is urging the task force to get the program rolled out this year.
Zwahlen said anyone with questions about the survey or the task force should call her at (913) 638-8998.
"It's just about giving our people a little more ability to travel in Johnson County," she said.