Behind the Iron Curtain:Public Transportation – Introduction

For people who pride themselves on being independent, Americans too often become victims of the herd mentality. Whether it’s the approval of the war in Iraq, voting for Obama or wearing Crocs, Americans latch onto some absurd idea and follow it all the way to the disastrous end. The common problem is that important and sometimes life-and-death decisions are made based on emotions and very little knowledge and common sense. To me, the question of the light rail in Kansas City falls into the same category. No one in the right state of mind would even propose the light rail as an option which would solve any transportation problems in this city. Instead of just being dismissed as a bad idea, huge waste of money and totally worthless as a means of commute, this issue is constantly being discussed, written about, voted on, studied and even taken to courts.

Kansas City has a rich history of public transportation which allowed the public to move around town before cars took over as the main commuter option.


I, of course, didn’t get a chance to see this. I was happily growing up Behind the Iron Curtain where I had a chance to ride every imaginable kind of public transport from bus to tram, from subway to trolleybus, from taxi to water ferry.It wasn’t very comfortable but it got the job done. It was crowded, hot, sometimes smelly and noisy but it allowed an average person to get around town with relatively little wait, not too much walking and very cheaply. And that’s what I consider the major criteria of the usable public transport system:

  • Cost. Some people will overpay just to be “green”. For the majority it has to make fiscal sense.
  • Convenience. I am not driving 10 miles to the terminal just to ride the light rail for 7 miles. It has to be within walking distance or it’s too much hustle.
  • Coverage. I am not interested in the A to B ride, unless I live in A and I am going to B. Public transportation system should blanket the area with routes that cross each other and allow passengers to jump from route to route.
  • Constant circulation. This is crucial – I don’t want to know bus schedules, I just want to know that the bus will show up within 10-20 minutes even if I just missed the last one. One fear that I have is to be stranded somewhere with no chance to get out.
  • Security. I want to arrive in one piece with all of my belongings.

In the next few installments I will try to describe the public transportation system I grew up with. It wasn’t perfect but it worked. More than I can say about the light rail that never will.

  • I love Kansas City so much, I want the best for my town!

  • Yes, but what is it?

  • Doc

    i once spent a considerable amount of time in asia and europe and have used every type of transportation system available. same for the states. what i noticed is that the best systems are integrated, e.g. bus lines combined with a trolley/tram sytem connected to train/light rail systems, serviced by cheap and plentiful taxis to cover every part of the city at all times of the night and day. that’s a transportation system.

    what kc has, as well as most other US cities, is a single-o or one-off: one standard form of public transportation that runs at best intermittently and at worse not all where one desires to be. to compound the issue is that south of, say, 75th street & east of Troost you’ll pay hell to get a cab without ordering one up before your need – how’s that work? call them Sunday night and tell them you’ll be at X at 7:05 AM CST…assuming the bus isn’t late ,or shows up, or you don’t miss it?

    KC needs something far better for public transportation that what currently exists, but slap-dashing on a light rail system that doesn’t mesh doesn’t make sense.

    worse, really, is the money involved.

    if KC had tons of cash, if KC maintained its roads and basic infrastructure in such a fasion that one could NOT find a pothole anywhere in town, if KC did not have an overwhelming need – soon to be a Federal edict- to repair its combined water/sewage system to the outside cost of $3 billion or so, if KC had not shown in the past that the only thing it is interested in is in throwing money at developers in an effort to secure their support for a run at Congress, well, maybe i might be more excited about light rail.

    as it stands, blah…

  • I don’t think there is a case where light rail would make sense. Even if KC had their own money printing press.