Amid budget problems, fare increases and services cuts, Wichita Transit welcomed a new director last month. Stephen Spade was most recently transit director in Chapel Hill, N.C. He also served as general manager for the transit service in Des Moines, Iowa.
Spade started work in Wichita on October 30, he says he was interested in the Wichita job because he and his wife are from the Midwest and wanted to be closer to family.
“We really like it out here,” says Spade. “And secondly, there is a lot of opportunity for this transit system to grow and improve. So I saw this as a real opportunity to come in and help improve what I think someday can make a really exciting transit system.”
Spade says the challenges he faced in Chapel Hill, N.C., were very similar to those faced by Wichita Transit. He had an old fleet, and because of the old fleet he dealt with a lot of service quality issues.
“So our focus was on improving the fleet, improving the quality of our service so that it became something that was a lot more dependable,” he says.
Spade says his short-term vision for Wichita Transit it to get the system to a point where it is providing really good service that people can depend on based on the current schedule and stops. Then, he says, he will need to make sure the system is financially stable before there can be talks about how the system needs to grow.
“I think one of the things that is really important is to get a sense of what kinds of needs the community feels that we need to take a look at,” he says.
Spade says he is aware that the Wichita community has been invited to a series of public meetings and outreach initiatives with no results, but that he wants to be able to hear from the community himself and make realistic goals.
“It is really easy to get yourself in a pitfall where we get input from the public about what needs to happen and then it is not sustainable long term because you don’t have the funding,” says Spade.
He says a transit system is all about partnerships.
“We cannot exist in a vacuum, the transportation system needs to be serving other needs in the community,” he says, “whether it is linking people with a job, providing transportation with students to get to and from school, or people to get to medical services.”
Spade says he is looking forward to talking to other members of the community beyond the riders, like the business community, the Chamber of Commerce and Wichita State University.