New regional fixed route bus service in the works for North Central Kansas

A new regional fixed route bus service will be in operation in early September 2017 for north central Kansas.

The Kansas Rides 81 Connection will serve Highway 81 locations from Belleville to Salina with a tentative start date of September 5, according to a press release from OCCK, Inc. OCCK is an agency that provides assistance for children and adults with short and long term disabilities.

The 81 Connection bus service will have three bi-directional trips each day, Monday through Friday. The first route will start in Belleville at 7 a.m., then head south on Highway 81 to three stops in Concordia, a stop at the Highway 24/Highway 81 junction, two stops in Minneapolis and a stop at 7th and Walnut in Salina and then head back to the north to the same stops. This route will do this loop twice and finish in Belleville around 6:15 p.m. each day.

A second route will leave Salina at 1 p.m. and head north on Highway 81 to the same two stops in Minneapolis, the stop at Highway 24/ Highway 81 junction, three stops in Concordia and the stop in Belleville, before heading back to Salina with the same stops. The bus will finish in Salina around 6:15 p.m. each day.

The 81 Connection will be operated and managed by OCCK Transportation.

Transportation providers in the region, such as Solomon Valley Transportation, Inc. based in Beloit and Ottawa County Transportation, in addition to OCCK Transportation, will be able to run feeder routes that will bring passengers to and from the stops. The proposed service area would include Republic, Jewell, Cloud, Mitchell, Ottawa, Lincoln and Saline counties. Additional riders could be brought in from Washington, Clay, Smith and Osborne counties with additional coordination.

Passengers will come from many age groups and different socioeconomic levels and need bus service for employment, medical appointments, social services, shopping, recreation and other needs.

“We are really excited about starting the 81 Connection,” said Michelle Griffi n, Mobility Manager for the region. “This regional fixed route has been in process for quite a while as a goal for the region and now we are bringing the route to fruition. It will be a great benefit to the residents of north central Kansas and help them get where they need to go.”

Initial funding for the project came from the Earl Bane Foundation, as well as the Kansas Department of Transportation. The Earl Bane Foundation provided the 30 percent local match for the first year, with the remaining 70 percent funding coming from KDOT.

The one-way fares will be as follows: Belleville to Concordia – $1.00; Concordia to 81/24 Junction – $1.00; 81-24 Junction to Minneapolis – $1.00; Minneapolis to Salina – $1.00

Statewide initiative

Kansas Rides is the name of the statewide transportation branding and website (www. ksrides.org) that came about from the KDOT Regional Transit Business Model Implementation project. The primary purpose of the Business Model is to develop strategies for the provision of transit services throughout rural Kansas that make the most efficient use of additional transit funding made available by the state legislature as part of the Transportation Works for Kansas (T-WORKS) transportation program, which was signed into law in May of 2010.

The Kansas Rides website (www.ksrides. org) is in progress and will be continued to be updated with information about all general public transportation agencies across all 105 Kansas counties. It will be the source for consumers to find information about transportation options in their areas.

“We’re very pleased with the new website and trust the public will be too,” said Griffi n. “We hope it provides users with a positive and informative channel through which they can learn more about transportation options across the state, including the 81 Connection, and how we can help them improve their public transit experience.”

 Other services feed in

“We anticipate the riders will access medical care, employment, social service agencies, education, recreation, shopping and other destinations to improve their quality of life,” Griffi n says.

She said other goals are to provide destinations along the route increased economic benefit t from more travelers; increased employment options for both employers and prospective employees as one barrier is decreased; improve the physical and mental health and the overall well-being of individuals with increased access to necessary and important services; fewer missed appointments and or service opportunities for health care providers. Griffen said educational facilities could help to market the cost savings benefit ts of service to their prospective students as a way of helping to counteract the increasing costs of higher education.

Griffi n said additional fixed routes can be added to serve residents that need to access additional services in Hays, Wichita, Topeka, or even Kansas City.

“By providing this additional access to necessary services, the rural counties served will have another incentive for keeping people living in their communities,” she says. “Declining populations are a concern for many of the counties served by this fixed route. By having additional transportation options in place, residents will be encouraged to stay and the bus service can be an incentive to potential new residents and businesses. Economic development and local chambers of commerce can be potential partners. Families could save money on transportation costs by using more accessible and public transportation versus owning multiple vehicles.

For more information about the 81 Connection and Kansas Rides, visit www.ksrides.org. For more information about OCCK, Inc., visit www.occk.com. For more information about CityGo and OCCK Transportation, visit www.salinacitygo.com. Or, contact Michelle Griffi n, Mobility Manager (mgriffin@occk.com), or the OCCK Transportation Center at 785-826-1583