When Cindy Coss picked Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary for her son, a huge draw was the bus stop three blocks away from the school.
“‘It was like, ‘Yay,’” Coss said, when they learned of the bus stop at Maple and Bebe streets.
Coss can’t drive due to epilepsy. She relies on the city bus system to get around when her husband isn’t available to drive. And even though her children are able to take the school bus, Coss said it’s important to her to know she can still get to and from the school in case of an emergency.
“I still have to be able to get to the school without spending a ton of money,” Coss said.
So when Coss saw that the Maple and Bebe bus stops had been removed, it was a major inconvenience. The next closest stop that picks her up from the school is about a mile from the school’s main entrance.
“Next year my son will not go to Dodge because of that,” Coss said.
In 2021, Wichita Transit removed 189 bus stops around the city, The Wichita Beacon learned from an open records request — nearly four times the number dropped in 2019 when the transit agency last adjusted stops. The change represents about 8% of the system’s 2,500 bus stops.
Officials with Wichita Transit said the move is a step to streamline its bus system and move back toward a flag stop system — where users can wave the bus down in certain areas.
Flag stops to formal stops and back
Prior to 2016, Wichita’s bus system operated partially as a flag stop system.
“It was very frequent prior to 2016 that people were not overly concerned about getting to a sign or a shelter as long as they walked to a street corner that had a curb cut, and there was a safe place for a bus to pull over,” said Michael Tann, director of Wichita Transit.
But in 2016, Wichita Transit underwent a systemwide change: Each of the 17 bus routes was modified, and monthly fares went down. At the same time, Wichita Transit added stops along the bus routes, according to KMUW. Adding these bus stops was also an attempt to move away from the flag stop system, Tann said.
After 2016, bus ridership plummeted, according to a presentation by Chase Billingham, an associate professor of sociology at Wichita State University.
Tann said the effort to remove dozens of bus stops now is a transition back to the original system, which combined flag stops and formal bus stops.
But the city has not yet offered any concrete information on how riders unfamiliar with the flag stop system can use it.
“We’re sort of doing it with knowledge first or people that are used to doing it that way,” Tann said. “We don’t have education out there that teaches people exactly how to do it.”
Coss, who wasn’t aware of the flag stop system, was on board with the idea but wanted to see more details about how it worked.
“There needs to be clear communication about where you should stand,” Coss said. “There are some places, like directly at an intersection, where it would not be safe.”