Albert Rukwaro
Special to The Gardner News
(The Johnson County Commissioners approved additional money for the SW Johnson County Connector early this year.
The jobs connector connects the LPKC in Edgerton to New Century and the Kansas City metro area. The job connector’s goal was to have 240 riders a daily the first year , 300 in the third year and 65 monthly pass holders.
Last week Albert Rukwaro, reporter, took the trip and writes about his experience.)
Last week I cruised down the interstate on the 595. Like most others who read The Gardner News I’ve seen the blue bus going down Main Street on its way to the logistics park in Edgerton. And I’ve always wondered why it’s almost always empty the driver seemingly whistling away as the bus disappears around the corner.
The bus, operated by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, is meant to make it easier for workers from the metro to get to their jobs at the park and other industrial facilities in Johnson County.
The premise is simple really. The logistics park has brought with it a jobs’ boom, but the jobs are not as attractive to Johnson county residents, and there’s a need to bring affordable labor from other places in the region; places which may not offer as many opportunities.
So I set out to find out how the transportation “experiment” is working out. That’s how I found myself at the corner of Minnesota and 7th street in downtown Kansas City, Kan. at 6:30 a.m.
I had called the previous day, and the lady told me there are three early morning buses. The buses depart hourly starting at 5:48 a.m.
Although other potential riders have said they had difficulty getting info on the “intermodal” bus, I did not.
I downloaded the mobile app and got rewarded with a one day free pass for signing up. A day’s pass costs $3.
The bus rolled in two minutes ahead of time. I got on, showed my pass to the driver and sat near the middle.
Two other passengers followed, one carrying a hard hat and a lunch box, the other wearing a yellow reflective vest with the words “smart warehouse” on the back. Both wore steel toe boots, a little worn so that the steel peeked out from under the leather. They were working men, the kind the bus is meant to serve.
We waited for another five minutes, but one else got on board and the driver pulled out and headed down 7th street and onto I-35.
Traffic was light, and the bus was quite comfortable. So I struck up a conversation with my fellow travelers.
The hard hat guy actually lives in Olathe and needed to go to a job at a construction site in Gardner. He doesn’t have a car, so he woke up early and caught one of the early buses to Kansas City, Mo., where he connected to another bus to Kansas City Kan., where he then hopped onto the 595. He had taken three buses and twice crossed the state line to get to a job site that was about ten minutes from his house.
“It would have been $35 in a taxi,” he tells me. “With this here bus, it’s a buck fifty.”
Meanwhile, Mr. “smart Warehouse vest” has been glued to his smart phone and seems uninterested in small talk. I press on anyway.
He tells me he rides the bus every morning, has been for a couple of months.
“I’m usually all alone,” he tells me.
I ask whether he rides it back home after work, and he says he catches a ride with a coworker in the afternoon because the bus leaves much later.
The bus takes old 56 highway in Olathe and makes its way to New Century industrial park. It slows down at several stops within the park, but there are no passengers to pick or drop.
The ‘hard hat’ friend alights on the side of the road near Main Street and hops across the grass to a site on the other side of the interchange. The bus continues onto Center Street and takes a right on 196th Street, and soon we’re in the logistics park, the massive warehouses gleaming in the early morning sun. The journey has taken exactly one hour, and the lone passenger alights at a stop between two warehouses.
The driver looks at me and politely ask where I would be getting off. I tell him I’m on assignment and was hoping we would ride back to Kansas City, Kan., where I had parked my car. He informs me that he’s done until later in the afternoon, but he can take me to the terminal at Old 56 highway to see what bus I can catch back to the city.
The driver, a North Dakota transplant who finds the winters in Kansas totally agreeable to his system, tells me that today has been his busiest day since he started on the route earlier this year.
“I had three of you today, usually it’s just one passenger,” he said.
He believes the employers at LPKC have not done a good job publicizing the bus to potential employees and also that employers could offer bus passes to their current employees to encourage them to take the bus.
“It would be nice to have passengers on the bus; it would be more fulfilling,” he says. “But it is what it is,”
He drops me off at a stop next to the terminal in Olathe. Minutes later I catch the 405 which makes a circuitous route through Lenexa and Overland Park and deposits me at Wornall and 75th street. From there I catch the MAX which takes me to 39th and Main Street in Kansas City, Mo., where I then take the 39th street bus to the KU Medical Center where I catch the 705 to Kansas City Kan.
I get into my car at noon wondering why it took six hours to, ostensibly, go to work and back home.
But as the 595 driver said, it is what it is.