Source: Kansas City Beacon
Almost four years after Kansas City became the first major American city to completely abandon bus fares, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority may go back to making riders pay.
But researchers studying the public health effects of free-to-ride buses suggest considering a bigger picture before hitting up riders for money.
Public health researchers from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Children’s Mercy Hospital hypothesize that when Kansas City Council voted in 2019 to phase out bus fares— and eliminate them entirely in 2020 — public health gains followed.
“There’s a scientific premise that (the city’s zero-fare initiative) has an impact on public health,” said Jordan A. Carlson, director of community-engaged health research at Children’s Mercy Hospital. “We felt like it was promising enough that we really wanted to do this health evaluation, thinking that if it does impact health, and we can document that, then that could support continuation of these types of policies.”
With grants funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Carlson and the other researchers are studying whether free bus rides help people get more physical activity, leading to lower obesity rates and fewer diagnoses of diabetes and heart disease. They also want to know if fare-free buses create better access to health care, employment and sources of healthy foods.