Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bus service to kick off next week

Transit program to be in De Soto two days a week

July 20, 2006

With planning and funding in place, those who helped craft the new De Soto bus transit system that debuts Tuesday are hopeful it is the first step in expanding transit opportunities to local residents.

The program was developed by a taskforce appointed by De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson in March of those from the business community and school district, as well as county and city officials. The committee headed by Diana Zwahlen used the lesson of two past unsuccessful bus programs and responses to a questionnaire to craft a program geared to the needs of those in De Soto.

The result is a program called FlexRide, which will operate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays in De Soto, providing a 16-seat transit coach equipped with a wheelchair lift. The buses will run "deviated fixed routes," meaning they will make scheduled stops at identified sites and also pick up and deliver riders at a home or business with an advance reservation. Residents wanting to make reservations should call the the toll-free reservation line, (913) 397-7300.

Scheduled stops in De Soto include Clearview City, Prospector's Point Apartments, the De Soto Library, the De Soto Senior Center, Morse's Market and Valley Springs Apartments. On Tuesdays, the buses will travel from De Soto to western Shawnee, stopping at Monticello Shops and Shawnee Station.

Rides are free with donations accepted. Those 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult to board the buses.

What separates the program from its predecessors and provides the key for its success is the commitment to serving the needs of riders that is illustrated in the name FlexRide, Zwahlen said.

"Our theme is, 'We're going your way,'" she said. "That means not only destination but what we intend for the program. We have the opportunity to meet the needs of the community.

"We know the stops we've selected might not be perfect. As things change, we can change."

A federal transportation grant provided 70 percent of the program's operating and fuel cost. In June, the De Soto City Council agreed to provide $2,640 toward the required 30 percent match and private donations, including support from Mr. Goodcents Foundation, made up the remainder. Johnson County Transit provided grant administration, marketing and the buses, which will be painted green to match the city of De Soto and local high school's colors.

Zwahlen said she was encouraged by the creative things the school district and a number of local businesses were doing in association with the service and proposed other businesses think about what they could do to tie into the service.

The school district is going to schedule Wednesday parent meetings with parents who have transportation difficulties, Zwahlen said. Coffee Click in downtown De Soto has agreed to offer discounts to riders and Out in the Barn will start opening on Wednesday, she said.

De Soto city planner Kim Gordanier said signs for designated stops would go up this week. The city is looking for support from local businesses or organizations for money to install permanent benches and waste receptacles at the stops, she said.

Before the program officially starts, Zwahlen is thinking ahead.

"Our hope is as Shawnee gets their program up and running, it will allow riders to go deeper into Shawnee, perhaps to Shawnee Mission Hospital," she said.

The first expansion could be Olathe. Zwahlen said if demand was there, FlexRide could provide rides to that city once or twice a month.

Eventually, she would like to see the program developed in enough Johnson County cities that a rider could leave De Soto confident of connecting with other buses to the Missouri line.

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