Consolidating bus lines may mean improved ride

rpulley@lsjournal.comDecember 2, 2016 

Karen Matthews, a driver with OATS Inc., drops off client Marsha Hamilton. OATS picks up clients at their homes and takes them to destinations. It’s expected to expand its footprint in Lee’s Summit.

RUSS PULLEY — rpulley@lsjournal.com

A plan to improve bus service in Lee’s Summit is underway to make it easier for residents who don’t drive to reach destinations in town.

Instead of two on-demand bus services, the city is working on a contract with one provider to handle all routes in the city limit. The service will be consolidated service by OATS Inc., but will use the lower fees and longer hours currently offered by the Metroflex service, which is run by the Kansas City Area Transit Authority.

Currently, the city contracts with both OATS Inc. and the Transit Authority to provide on-demand services. Metroflex operates in the Lee’s Summit downtown area, with OATS servicing clients in the outer ring of the city.

The goal is to have the services consolidated in April. The change will not affect the commuter bus service run by the Transit Authority that carries passengers between Lee’s Summit and downtown Kansas City.

The Public Works Committee recently discussed the plan and asked Michael Park, the city’s traffic engineer, to go forward with preparing contracts for the switch, which would need approval by the full council.

Sara Davis, west regional manager for OATS Inc., said the ridership for OATS is expected to grow from 9,000 trips in 2015 to between 12,000 and 15,000 trips per year in Lee’s Summit.

The hours of the new service would be 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a $1.50 per trip fee (a round-trip cost would be $3).

Park said expanding OATS to cover all of Lee’s Summit has a cost-savings advantage, because the Transit Authority sends drivers with empty vehicles from Kansas City. OATS has a fleet located in Lee’s Summit and won’t waste time or fuel, he said.

So the city could save money with the consolidation, dropping the amount it spends on annual subsidies from between $160,000 and $180,000 to around $140,000, Park said.

The Transit Authority completed a study of Eastern Jackson County, and the advantages of the proposal were confirmed by that study, Park said.

Under the new plan, Lee’s Summit would buy buses and lease them to OATS Inc. Individuals would call OATS to schedule when the small bus would come to their home and take them to the doctors, grocery or wherever they wish to go in Lee’s Summit.

“OATS is more door-to-door; it’s more of an enhanced service,” Park said.

Marsha Hamilton, who lives in the Willshire Hills retirement home, said she is legally blind and depends on OATS for transportation.

“It’s great,” Hamilton said, shortly after being dropped off at a store. “It’s my only way to get around. It’s really nice and the people are really nice.”

At the committee’s Nov. 21 meeting, Councilwoman Phyllis Edson asked about adding a provision so that OATS could take people to Truman Medical Center-Lakewood, which is just across the street from Lee’s Summit city limits. Park said he would investigate that possibility.

Councilman Rob Binney said he was glad the city was making progress on transportation.

“We’ve been trying to go this direction for a while,” Binney said. “And now we have the transportation analysis that shows we can improve a government service and lower its cost.”

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