Wichita has a substantial range of normal, urban passenger travel options, though all are fairly limited and expensive:
Wichita is served by three taxi lines:
Although unified dispatch of the latter two services has improved their availability and efficiency somewhat, both services provide unpredictable service -- routinely requiring wait times of at least 15-30 minutes, and all-too-often with delays of more than an hour. Bad weather creates demand loads greater than the cabs can cope with, and delays of up to TWO hours are not unheard of.
- Best Cab (phone 838-2233)
- American Cab (phone 247-3886)
- ABC Taxi (merged with American Cab)
Arrival-time promises by taxi dispatchers are completely unreliable (a promise of 15-30 minutes is common, but often turns into an hour or more in reality), unless you have scheduled the ride a day or more in advance (even then, it can be iffy, especially in bad weather).
Taxi service at the municipal airport is, however, fairly reliable: the high standard taxi fares for airport passengers attract many cab drivers, who line up in front of the airport terminal, waiting for passengers. When a taxi is not immediately present at the airport, a call to the taxi service will usually produce one quickly.
(NOTE: Some very limited taxi service -- between the airport and a hotel, chiefly -- is available from "Courtesy Vans" oiperated by some major local hotels and motels. Courtesy vans may also provide other limited local transportation for hotel patrons. Hours and accommodations vary; contact the hotel directly.)
However, for those people most in need of taxi service -- poor, inner-city, disabled and elderly passengers -- service can be far less readily available or accommodating. Except at the airport, it is not possible to hail (flag down) a cab in Wichita. They will not stop. They will only respond to a phone call made to the taxi service's dispatcher.
Wichita's taxis are a very expensive form of travel. Fares range around two dollars a mile, with a two-dollar base charge (additional passengers cost an extra dollar).
Taxi vehicles range from small sedans to large, 6-7 passenger vans, and specific-size vehicles can be requested, though this may result in further delay.
Taxis can be pre-scheduled, hours or days in advance, to substantially increase the likelihood of prompt pick-up at a customer-specified time.
Package pick-up and delivery.
By prior arrangement, local taxi services will pick-up and/or deliver packages -- a costly form of delivery, but useful in extraordinary situations.
Wichita taxis can also provide, on an unreliable basis:
- Jump-starts to stalled vehicles (at a steep price), or (in some cases)
- Car-opening aid to drivers locked out of their cars, or
- Gasoline delivery to cars out-of-gas (an expensive and complicated process: The cab arrives at the stalled car, picks up the stranded driver who must have their own gas can, or takes the stranded driver to a store to purchase or borrow a gas can, then to a gas station to get the gas, then back to the car; drivers will not deliver gasoline, themselves).
Taxi drivers vary widely in competence, responsibility, courtesy, personality and safety. However, each is licensed by the City of Wichita, following a background check by the Wichita Police Department. Taxi company insurance providers add additional requirements, affecting the quality of drivers allowed to operate cabs.
Taxi Alternatives (Uber, Lyft, etc.)
In Wichita, as around the nation, and the world, ride-sharing services have appeared, which allow riders to summon a ride via an internet-based dispatch service. They require the rider to have an internet Web-connected device, from which they can access the company's online dispatch service.
Most famously Uber and Lyft, are internet-accessed through an
"app" program downloaded by the rider into their "smartphone." An account must be set up in advance, by providing information about your bank account or credit card. Cash is not accepted.
The ride-share companies require that their drivers have a GPS navigation-and-location reporting device turned-on at all times, indicating the driver's location to the dispatcher, for routing and scheduling, and for the passengers' security.
Drivers are screened by a background check by the company. Rider complaints, filed online, can result in refunds. Drivers usually use their own vehicles, though drivers can also rent suitable cars from Uber.
The original form of "ride-sharing" is car-pooling, where two or more people agree to share a ride in a single car belonging to one or the other of them -- often to the same (or nearby) destinations, or from approximately the same origin. Though popular in larger urban areas, car-pooling is largely a thing of the past in Wichita.
In car-pooling, one or more drivers make their car, and themselves as drivers, available to transport others to and from destinations, often on a cost-sharing basis (paying for gas). In some arrangements, the responsibility for providing car, and doing the driving, rotates periodically among a consistent group of riders ("car-pool").
As cars have gotten smaller and more plentiful, and gasoline much cheaper (in inflation-adjusted dollars), the concept has become far less popular.
During the Energy Crisis of the 1970s (which drove gasoline prices to astronomical highs, and created gasoline shortages), Wichita -- under a liberal city commission -- undertook various programs to promote energy conservation. Among those was a car-pooling coordination clearinghouse, operated through the Wichita Transit offices. People wanting to car-pool would call in, and the Transit office would attempt to match them to other callers with compatible routes. The service lasted only a brief period, and seemed to have little effect - in part due to the near-complete absence of public promotion of the program.
Around the same time, some local major employers arranged car-pools for their employees, because of their common destination, and the importance of keeping workers arriving. Car-pooling also reduced demand for parking at the workplace.
A few car-pools continue to exist, informally, around the Wichita area -- though usually only involving two people at a time (typically family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates or social/activity colleagues).
However, Wichita's low population-density and vast distances between destinations, created by Wichita's abnormally extreme urban sprawl, makes car-pooling exceptionally impractical for Wichita, compared to other cities nationwide.
Wichita has a limited mass-transit system (details below), but is making strides towards significant improvements.
Mass transit is generally regarded as the most cost-effective, lowest-polluting form of practical transportation in densely populated urban areas. However it is unpopular for several reasons:
Mass transit, by its nature, is not particularly convenient in areas of urban sprawl, and only reaches a limited range of origins and destinations (mostly drop-off and pick-up points not immediately adjacent to the riders' intended actual travel origins and destinations). This requires riders to travel -- usually by walking -- to a pick-up point, wait for up to an hour, outdoors (in any weather), and then pay to board the transit vehicle, and ride to a transit drop-off point. From there, the rider must travel (usually by walking, again in any weather) to their intended destination.
The process is extremely awkward, uncomfortable and time-consuming. And it can be more costly than owning and operating a small, old, used car. In many cases, even a bicycle -- or even walking -- is more practical than transit. This depends largely upon the quality of the transit system and the geography of the community.
However, the latest generation of adults -- the "Millenials" -- have shown a greater willingness to use mass transit than their parents and grandparents. Many of them are more than willing to discard their automobiles, with all their complications and costs, and jump on board transit buses and trains, IF they are sufficiently affordable, available, reliable and expedient to meet their needs. This point has been repeatedly made to the City of Wichita by its various consultants advising on city development.
As many millenials gravitate towards urban centers, this becomes increasingly possible. Highly concentrated populations are most easily served by transit (due to short runs with high ridership) -- and less easily served by automobiles, (due to traffic congestion and a shortage of affordable parking space).
And the continued lagging of wages and employment in the current "jobless Recovery" continues the Great Recession pressure to switch from cars to transit.
The CBS News Overnight & CBS Morning News (May 24-25. 2016) reports that, in 2014, mass transit ridership in the U.S. was the highest it had been in 58 years (since 1956).
Wichita's Transit System:
Wichita's traditional transit system uses large buses, and a few decades ago added "paratransit vans" (short buses or vans, with wheelchair lifts, for door-to-door service for a limited group of handicapped clients. Wichita's regular buses have evolved to include wheelchair access and bicycle racks. Small "trolley" buses circulate in the downtown and adjacent commercial districts, particularly in the evening hours.
Wichita buses are heated and air-conditioned, but with limited effect, owing to the frequent opening of doors to pick-up and drop-off passengers, poor circulation, large expanses of glass windows (sometimes opened by drivers or passengers), nearly non-existent insulation, and indifferent operation by drivers. Consequently, buses are frequently too hot, or too cold, for comfort. This is somewhat offset by the likelihood that a bus passenger is already dressed for the weather, owing to the need to be out in it for prolonged periods when using transit.
A "Q-Line" shuttle "trolley" -- a trolley-styled small bus -- is operated at low cost throughout much of the downtown area, and
the adjacent commercial districts east and west (Old Town and Delano, respectively).
(The trolleys are an item of some local pride, as they were built in Wichita by Chance Manufacturing, and adopted by transit systems nationwide.)
Currently, Wichita Transit is funded by very substantial fares (among the highest in the region -- about $2 for a one-way trip), and by federal subsidies. The city provides some money from its general fund, but grudgingly -- and is constantly "looking for other sources of revenue" to fund a form of transportation that most Wichitans still turn up their noses at. Transit planning is largely guided by WAMPO -- the Wichita-Area Metropolitian Planning Organization, though real decisions come from the City Council.
In Wichita, the transit system is substandard, and has been since the late 1960s (a national trend, but particularly conspicuous in Wichita). It has particularly eroded, compared to national norms, during the years since conservatives regained control of the City Commission (later City Council) in the mid/late 1970s. Critics from other cities frequently comment on Wichita as having, in effect, "NO transit system," rather than simply an inadequate one.
The graphs below, from the City's own documents (prepared by University of Kansas researchers) show how Wichita Transit compared in 2010 to the transit systems in Chattanooga, Tennessee (an exceptional case in a milder climate), and compared to the five of the seven comparable major Midwestern cities nearest Wichita.
Wichita is the dark blue bar
at far left in every graph. Next to it is
Chattanooga, Tennessee (gray),
Des Moines (dark red),
Oklahoma City (green),
Omaha (light brown),
(Kansas City and Lincoln, Neb. were omitted.)
(NOTE: To see any of these graphs, enlarged, in a separate window, click on the graph)
"Population" compares Wichita to the other cities by population. Population size does not seem to determine transit performance.
"Passenger Trips per Capita" compares Wichita to the other cities by the relative frequency with which the public uses transit. Only the towns in Oklahoma fare worse than Wichita.
"Revenue Miles per Capita" compares Wichita to the other cities by the volume of paid-for service delivered, on average, to each citizen -- a strong indicator of
the transit system's value to the community. Of the six comparison cities, only Oklahoma City's transit system provides less value to its citizens.
Politics & Policy:
Recent pressure from transit advocates and downtown developers -- and strong criticism and warnings from the city's various economic development and downtown-revitalization consultants -- have led to a resurgence of City Council interest in, and support for, mass transit in Wichita.
The Great Recession of 2008-2009 forced many Wichitans into settling for travel by mass transit, some for the first time. And a 2013 study by the Kansas Health Institute found transit issues having a significant impact on the health of many Wichitans.
The cumulative impact of events began to raise the community's interest in a better transit system.
Transit became a conspicuous factor in the 2015 city elections, with the new Mayor elected, in part, by promising strong support for a greatly improved transit system -- in direct opposition to the previous Council's plans to cut service.
In July, 2015, however, Wichita's City Manager Robert Layton proposed a 2016-2017 city budget plan of over $572 million ($16 million more than the previous year) -- but sought to cut transit drastically, down to only about 1% of the city budget, from its already meager 1.5%.
In that proposal, he declared the "need" to cut a quarter of Transit's $8 million budget, down to just $6 million (cutting routes, days, and hours of service, to save $2 million) -- while proposing a city budget with $16 million for parks and recreation, and over $4 million in cultural arts financing.
While his city budget proposal's "performance measures" benchmarks for some other city services evaluated numbers of people served, and the amount of service provided, the budget benchmarks set for Transit were simply cost-control and timeliness benchmarks.
However, facing strong public pressure, echoed by the Mayor and other City Council members, the City Manager grudgingly recanted, penciling back in the $2 million as "stopgap funding" to keep the system intact for another year. But Layton warned that if the city doesn’t find a new source for transit funding in the near future, there will be massive reductions in transit service in 2017.
Route Structure Change:
A major characteristic of the Wichita transit system has been its "pulsed hub-and-spoke" system. Bus routes emanated from, and return to a central (downtown) transit terminal, on a coordinated ("pulsed") schedule, so that all buses arrive and depart together, facilitating immediate transfers. Note the map at right (click to enlarge), showing colored "spoke" routes emanating from the Downtown Transit Center. "Connector loops," shown in black, help tie the system together, as a sort of hybrid between hub-and-spoke system and grid system (see diagram, below, right).
Originally, the Wichita Transit terminal was simply the outdoor area around the Wichita Public Library. Later the City moved it to a dedicated Transit Center, which they erected in the extreme southwest corner of Downtown.
The hub-and-spoke system was the best mass transit that the city was willing to provide. It connected key employers and shopping centers to poor residential neighborhoods along winding diagonal routes across the city, emanating from -- and returning to -- the downtown Transit Center, where nearly all transfers occurred.
Getting On the Grid
As pressure mounted around 2000-2015 for improved transit, critics and consultants urged the City switch from the "pulsed hub-and-spoke" system to a continuous "grid" system, with buses traveling on assigned north-south and east-west major streets, continuously. Passenger transfers would be accomplished at intersections around the city -- though without benefit of a Transit Center's indoor accommodations while waiting.
Additional features for younger passengers -- more bike racks, and smartphone apps that help them know where and when to catch a bus -- will likely increase ridership.
The new grid system should provide faster, more direct transit, and ultimately greater ridership and efficiency.
However, it will initially require a lot of extra miles and buses, and a prolonged commitment of the city to a two-year moratoriaum on service cuts and route-changes. This is necessary to build trust with prospective and new passengers.
One of the major undermining factors of transit acceptance in Wichita has been its erratic, squirrelly service -- with various route changes done frequently (often with lilttle advance notice), and with no input from consumers, and little or no regard to the impact on them. The effect has been extremely unnerving to passengers, many of whom give up on the system, as a result -- and resort to other transportation, or stay at home.
Many Wichitans have made a real effort to use transit, but found it too untrustworthy. To regain such trust, the system needs to achieve stability and reliability far greater than it has in the past. Anything less than a two-year commitment to a given level of service and set of fixed routes is inadequate to build the requisite consumer confidence.
The City has never shown that level of commitment to transit, previously, and is unlikely to stay the course with the new grid system. Consequently, it will lose new customers at almost the rate it acquires them, and the future for the system will be nowhere nearly as bright as it could be.
Transit Center Blunder
The Bus Bench Fiasco
For more on Transit issues, see these articles, linked below, and the additional information on Wichita Transit history, below the links.
Wichita Transit articles:
Transit in Other Communities, and generally:
Transit Center Blunder
The city has begun shifting from its traditional hub-and-spoke system to a grid system, as of 2016, reducing the utilization (if not the necessity) for the downtown Transit Center (the "hub" of the hub-and-spoke system).
The City, in the 2010s, announced plans to abandon the Transit Center -- turning it over to Greyhound, the commercial inter-city bus company, for use as Greyhound's new Wichita terminal (replacing the old Greyhound / Continental Trailways terminal on Broadway, between Douglas and Kellogg). (UPDATE, July 2018: At present (summer 2018), Greyhound now has a terminal window inside the northern foyer of the Transit Center, which simlutaneously remains in use as the Wichita Transit Center for local bus service.)
Consequently, it may seem irrelevant, now, to dwell on details on the Transit Center and its effect on Wichita Transit. However, the Transit Center was a fiasco of such extreme proportions -- an artistic "success," but a functional failure -- that it merits detailed analysis, here, as a warning to future leaders and developers.
The Transit Center farce is a loud warning about the nature and outcomes of poor city management of transit, based in community officials' complete lack of prolonged, real personal experience with daily transit travel in Wichita, and/or a complete lack of interest in Transit clientele, and insensitivity (or even hostility) toward bus patrons.
Transit Center History & Background
In the 1970s, Wichita buses, using a "hub-and-spoke" system, converged on downtown Wichita along the curving drive in front of the Century II Convention Center, connecting West Douglas Avenue and Main Street. Parking streetside, all at the same time, the buses remained there for 10 minutes, allowing passengers to frantically dash betwen buses, for distances of up to a block, in any weather, to make connections. Passengers waiting for buses (often needed for laggard busses late in arriving) were forced to wait outdoors in all weather, generally unprotected.
The buses and their scurrying passengers created traffic and pedestrian congestion in the heart of the city's main downtown tourist-attraction and leisure-living area (convention center / exhibition & concert halls, hotels, restaurants, library and museums), which annoyed business leaders and city officials. Bus patrons needing to use the bathroom, or wait indoors in foul weather, resorted to "invading" the Library, or surrounding businesses, where they were not generally welcomed.
In the 1980s, to provide shelter from the weather for bus passengers -- and especially to get buses and their low-income passengers away from the City's prize downtown area (the Century II Convention Center, Wichita Public Library, city/county museum, and major hotels, banks, office buildings and Chamber of Commerce headquarters) -- the city selected a site in a delapidated location, in the southeast corner of downtown, well away from any actual bus-patron destinations.
The new Transit Center was very inconveniently located for passengers with downtown destinations, for instance:
doubling the walking distance to City Hall and the courthouses (from a half-mile, to a full mile)
quadrupling the wallking distance to the Library, Convention Center and primary downtown hotels and restaurants (where some bus patrons work).
(UPDATE 2010s: The new Intrust Bank Arena is a block from the Transit Center, however the Wichita Public LIbrary has been moved much farther away, out of walking distance; it can only be accessed by a single transit route. New residential and commercial development in east Downtown and Old Town is within walking distance of the Transit Center)
The new Downtown Transit Center building and structures proved to be the most poorly designed major public building and facility in modern Wichita history.
The center was designed more for looks -- superficial aesthetics (largely gratifying the city's aesthetic community, the architects and decorators, and the image-conscious City Commission and their elite friends) -- than for the practical needs of actual bus passengers.
For instance, outdoor bus benches were few and far between -- utterly inadequate to seat even a quarter of the bus patrons during a busy period.
Worse, they were metal (cold in winter, hot in summer), and placed under a gap in the transit walkway roof -- designed for looks (with trees growing through it), rather than function -- ensuring rainfall and snowfall on the benches (and upon anyone sitting on them) in wet weather, and burning sun on benches and on seated patrons in the middle of summer.
(In fact, in stormy weather, with wind driving rain or snow even slightly diagonally, the absurd roof gap ensured that EVERYone
on the transit walkway got wet, regardless of whether they were seated under the roof gap, or were standing under the narrow
roof, or waiting in line, or walking on the "covered" walkway).
Indoor seating was plentiful, but here, also, seats were cold metal, poorly designed, and quite uncomfortable. They were stupidly arranged so that most of the patrons had to sit with their backs to the windows -- making it nearly impossible to watch for the bus you needed to catch.
And to use the indoor facility, nearly all passengers had to pass through a single double-doorway, awkwardly positioned, and hampered in its opening and closing by a handicapped-client accommodation that caused the door to open and close slowly. During the chaotic five-to-ten-minute window of bus arrivals and departures, the terminal doorway made it wildly impractical to accomodate all passengers.
Experienced passengers learned to avoid being in the building when buses began arriving -- even though a long transfer delay ensued, with waiting patrons standing in lines on the loading docks in all weather for up to a quarter of an hour before boarding.
As a grandiose finishing touch to the Transit Center farce, a huge, costly, showy and useless clock tower was erected at the corner of the complex, positioned so it could not normally be seen by many of the patrons, especially if the buses had arrived. It was marked out in awkward-to-decipher Roman numerals, and its face, numbers and hands were in vision-limiting, low-contrast colors. No one ever really uses it for reference, but the city paid a handsome fee to the architect, while city officials crowed about how it enhanced the looks of downtown -- despite being in a section where virtually no one but bus passengers traveled.
Some notable advantages were provided by the Transit Center, however, including a dollar-bill change machine (and change available, sometimes, from an unreliable counter attendant), vending machines (allowing a quick snack during a long commute), and -- most importantly -- bathrooms (though poorly maintained, they were effective enough for the need).
A large route map on the waiting-room wall provided useful guidance, and individual pocket route-maps and schedules were distributed in racks. Sometimes -- but on no reliable schedule -- a clerk or bus manager could be found to answer questions or provide assistance with a patron's problem (if the Transit official was in a mood to be helpful, which some occasionally were).
But, on balance, the costly Transit Center was a miserable failure, adding almost as much to bus patron misery as it helped. Despite wild predictions that it would radically improve things for bus passengers, and attract more riders, the popularity of the Wichita bus system apparently never improved as a consequence.
The Bus Bench Fiasco
Another farce in transit management in Wichita was the elimination of the long-standing traditional concrete-framed, wooden-seated/wooden-backed bus benches, scattered at common bus-boarding points around the city. Though hardly luxurious, and (rarely) capable of supplying splinters, the simple wooden-planked seats were hardly ever too hot or too cold for sitting on, in any weather. And their large wooden backs made for easy adaptation as advertising billboards, bringing the bus system some extra revenue.
Starting in the 1980s, however, the City decided it would switch to elegant, black, metal benches -- without considering the impact on the people who would need to use them.
The result: Bus benches that get so hot in summer, so cold in winter, that people commonly stand, rather than sit on them, while waiting (often up to an hour) for a bus, in the tiring extreme temperatures that characterize Wichita.
Further, a peculiarity of their design makes them prone to catch and retain snow, ice and rain -- often making them unusable for hours (even days) after a storm has passed.
And, while elegant to look at (for the more-fortunate automobile drivers whizzing by in their comfortable cars), the metal benches lacked the high billboard backs that had shielded passengers from wind, and provided desperately needed revenue for the bus system (while paying for maintenance of the original bus benches).
Again, this was preventable, had the City Council, City Manager, city planners and architects, and even the Transit Director, had substantial recent experience as daily bus passengers themselves, across all of Wichita's seasons.
However, the perpetual snobbish, reckless, stubborn or lazy refusal of city officials -- and other "leaders" -- to spend substantial time getting personally, physically familiar with local transit travel, has resulted in gross incompetence in their management of Transit, resulting in an ever-continuing string of failed policies and costly, destructive "solutions" that eliminate, rather than optimize, opportunities for improvement.
Inter-City Bus (Greyhound)
Wichita is served by Greyhound Bus Lines, the nation's main inter-city (city-to-city) passenger bus service. Greyhound is a commercial entity, loosely regulated by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
Greyhound has various routes passing through Wichita, connecting the city to Topeka, Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Denver.
A couple of "slow boat" routes wander through the Kansas countryside connecting many small towns with Wichita.
Service is generally once daily on any route, and connections must sometimes be made in the wee hours of the night.
Until the 1990s, inter-city bus service across the United States was mostly split between Greyhound (who mainly served the Eastern and Northern U.S.) and tne National Trailways consortium (who served the Southern and Western U.S.); Wichita was on the Trailways routes, normally served by the Continental Trailways franchisee. In the late 1980s to early 2010s, a series of mergers and takeovers gave Greyhound most of the Trailways routes, including Wichita.
Riding the inter-cty bus
Bus accommodations are crude: A simple chemical toilet at the back of the bus, overhead individual lighting and ventilation nozzles, and slightly reclining seats, crammed close together. The buses do not realistically accommodate people with significant mobility handicaps or severe obesity. No bottled or running water is available (though customers may bring their own drinks and snacks -- some of which can usually be acquired from vending machines at the terminal).
Inter-cty bus terminal
In the late 2010s, Greyhound moved from their decades-old Wichita bus station -- on Broadway, in south Downtown -- to sharing the Wichita Transit Center (see above) with the local transit bus sevice (though using a separate ticket window).
In 2016, the city announced plans to turn over the city's transit terminal to Greyhound as a new terminal for Greyhound's inter-city buses.
At present (summer 2018), the two bus operations -- local Wichtia Transit and inter-city Greyhound -- share the Wichita Transit Center. Each has their own ticket window, in separate parts of the building. For more details, contact the respective agency (but expect long wait times for an answer, if any is offered).
This website was developed while Greyhound was still operating from the original bus station, on south Broadway. So the following section, about the original bus station, remains here as an historical reference:
The original Greyhound / Continental Trailways terminal
The original, old Greyhound / Continental Trailways terminal was in south-central downtown, on Broadway, between Douglas and Kellogg. Wichita's local Transit buses did not normally stop there, forcing patrons to use taxis to get to and from their Wichita origins and destinations -- or grab their luggage and hike a few blocks from (or to) the downtown Transit Center. Taxis were frequently found waiting in front of the Greyhound terminal for the chance to serve arriving bus passengers.
Very limited, short-term parking was available on the north side of the buildling for bus freight customers and for pick-up/unloading of bus passengers.
The original Greyhound terminal provided limited accommodations (seats, bathrooms, vending machines, and a service counter for purchasing tickets and checking or retrieving luggage). Bathrooms had to be reached by climbing an absurdly long, high staircase. A small diner, adjacent to the lobby, was generally out-of-business for several years, though a string of fast-food restaurants line the next block south.
Passenger Rail Service (Amtrak)
(in nearby Newton)
Amtrak, the federally subsidized passenger rail line (which provides the nation's only substantial passenger rail service), passes through nearby Newton, 30 miles to the north, stopping at the small Newton railroad terminal in the wee hours of the morning, enroute to destinations...
• East (Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and the East Coast) and
• West (Albequerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the West Coast).
In the heyday of passenger rail service, before widespread ownership of automobiles, Wichita operated a grand rail terminal across the tracks east of Downtown, at Union Station. However, passenger rail service to Wichita ended decades ago, as with many cities throughout the U.S.
Though the Union Station terminal still stands alongside active railroad tracks (now used by freight trains), it is vacant, and being redeveloped as a shopping and office center -- not a rail terminal.
Though city, state and federal government elected officials and leaders continue to debate the merits of extending Amtrak's passenger rail lines from Oklahoma City through Wichita to Newton, no real progress has been made on that issue, and Wichita continues to be one of the largest U.S. cities without inter-city passenger rail service -- one of only 3 among the nation's 50 largest communities, according to a 2017 statement by Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell.
As with local and inter-city bus service, most Wichitans dismiss passenger trains as "for the poor," and therefore find it unattractive and unimportant, even repugnant to some. So broad, strong community support for passenger rail service has not emerged.
And the fuel-efficiency of passenger trains is a threat (however slight) to Wichita's oil-industry leaders.
Community leaders and officials, state legislators and the Governor, and the state's members of Congress, have all offered little support for the idea.
In the wake of this less-than-enthusiastic local and state response to advocates of rail service, a recent decision by Amtrak -- not to extend their Texas line north to Wichita -- disappointed the few, but passionate, passenger rail advocates in Wichita.
Some advocates and consultants, however, continue to push for passenger rail service directly to the city -- though no one expects it to happen within the next several years. A visit by an AmTrak train on an inspection tour, June 9, 2017, sparked new hopes among local rail enthusiasts, including the Mayor. However, city leaders indicated this was just another step in a 16-year-long process to bring
passenger rail service to Wichita.
Meanwhile, though, the Newton Amtrak passenger terminal remains available for trips east and west, for those with personal automobiles, willing to get up in the middle of the night and drive there, and abandon their cars at the station for their rail journey -- or be driven there (and picked up later) by compassionate friends or family.
(Limousine & Bus - Local & Inter-City)
Wichita is served by several local and inter-city bus and limousine charter services.
Local chauffered-limousine services are numerous, though usually with only a few cars each.
Local-activity bus charters are possible through Wichita Transit (see Transit, above), and through various local bus operators -- including school bus services and party-bus services.
Long-haul charter-bus service is available from operators in Wichita and Winfield (40 miles to the south-southeast), including both school buses and large, comfortable inter-city buses (with air-conditioning and onboard bathroom).
Emergency & Handicapped Transport Services
(Ambulance, Air Ambulance, Wheelchair Van, Paratransit Van)
Wichita is served by several local and inter-city Ambulance, Air Ambulance, Wheelchair Van, and Paratransit Van services.
- Emergency Ambulance:
In Wichita, as throughout Sedgwick County, emergency ambulance service is provided by the Sedgwick County EMS (Emergency Medical Services), dispatched by the county's 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatch Center. The large, modern, box-van ambulances are staffed with certified Emergency Medical Intensive Care Technicians (EMICT), trained to provide on-the-scene emergency medical treatment to stabilze a patient before transport to the appropriate hospital.
- Non-Emergency Ambulance:
Wichita has commercial non-emergency ambulance service, which provides local and city-to-city transport. For transport within Sedgwick County, only the Sedgwick County EMS can provide non-emergency ambulance service, but other service is available for transport into or out of the county. Also, various companies and individual entrepreneurs offer small vehicles (commonly mini-vans) for transport of bed-ridden patients and the mobility-handicapped). Accommodations vary. Costs can be quite high, and insurance may not always cover it. Sometimes cash payment is required in advance.
- Air Ambulance:
Wichita is a base for commercial air-ambulance services (LifeWatch and EagleMed) providing emergency and non-emergency transport of patients by helicopter or airplane. Medical personnel and equipment are onboard during emergency flights, and -- by arrangement, at least -- non-emergency flights.
The helicopters vary, but are chiefly the reputable, single-engine 120-mph Eurocopter A-Star or Bell JetRanger or LongRanger.
The airplane normally used is the world-renowned Wichita-built Beech King Air, a 250-300 mph, high-flying, pressurized-cabin turboprop, equipped for flying over a thousand miles in nearly all weather, including heavy rain or snow, or in icing -- and capable of operating to-and-from nearly all airports, small or large.
- Wheelchair Van:
Various companies and individual entrepreneurs offer vehnicles for transporting mobility-handicapped people, and their wheelchairs. Some can accommodate motorized wheelchairs, but some cannot. Most can accommodate oxygen tanks and breathing apparaatus. With cost and/or response-time often being prohibitive, many wheelchair-dependent people prefer to ride in a local taxi (see above) or by Wichita Transit "paratransit" vans (see below), when practical. Accomodations, costs and necessary arrangements vary widely.
- Paratransit Van:
Wichita Transit operates a small fleet of "paratransit vans": small buses with wheelchair lifts, and designed to easily accommodate both ambulatory people in regular seats and multiple wheelchair-bound occupants in their (well-secured) wheelchairs. Pickup must be by prior arrangement, typically a day in advance. The van may carry multiple un-related passengers, and make multiple individual stops on a run.
Additional paratransit van service is available through other providers, locally, in some cases.
KETCH (Kansas Employment & Training Center for the Handicapped), operates a large fleet of paratransit vans, primarily for its own clientele. So do some nursing homes and senior-living centers.
Though seldom thought of as a passenger vehicle, the humble elevator is actually one of the most powerful forms of transportation -- when employed in a suitable building.
An elevator can move people vertically, rather than horizontally, rising above traffic, and elevating passengers to a wide range of alternate levels -- in essence, alternate worlds -- without the hassles of an automobile or other motor vehicle. And stacking stories reduces thermal "roof losses" of energy, by limiting the exposed roof area to only one roof for several floors.
Elevators are a key part of the transportation system of large cities -- actually making large, high-density cities possible. For instance, the elevators in a cluster of 10-story buildings, spread out over a single city block, can eliminate the need for single-story buildings covering 10 blocks. This reduces sprawl, and reduces the vehicle transportation and roadway requirements, and other infrastructure requirements that go with sprawl, and reduces congestion on the road.
Downtown Wichita relies especially heavily on elevator transportation. Over two-dozen buildings downtown are more than 4 stories high, and essentially require elevators for transport of people and freight. With the emphasis on downtown redevelopment, elevators have suddenly grown in importance to Wichita's transportation future.
Several other high-rise buildings dot the Wichita landscape, and depend upon elevators.
The elevator is, arguably, the original "electric car" -- and relying on it for transport, rather than automobiles, reduces direct carbon emissions. And, if the electricity comes from a non-polluting source, pollution is reduced dramatically.
Further, because it travels shorter distances than an automobile to provide passengers with the same degree of access to new places, less energy is required. The profusion of elevators in major cities is a major key to their energy efficiency. New York City, famed for its 100-story skyscrapers (accessed by elevator), is also often cited by energy experts as the most energy-efficient city in the United States.
In Wichita, as in most municipalities, city government and elevator vendors provide a system of inspection that keeps Wichita elevators safe. The major national elevator vendors, Otis Elevator and Montgomery Elevator, have Wichita operations offices, providing service and support.
(as Virtual Transportation)
Another medium of transportation is the transport of thoughts and information through communications. While this may seem a rather wild stretch of the imagination, it is, in fact, one of the principal substitutes for other forms of transportation.
Originally, before communications, people had to meet face-to-face to share thoughts and information. Over 10,000 years ago, however, prehistoric Man began the art of writing -- and thus could record a thought or bit of information onto stone or clay tablets, and leave (or send) them for others to read. However, this method still required humans to travel to the writing -- or the writing to be taken to them, by a person in motion.
Primitive non-transport communications evolved -- particularly signaling people at a distance by hand signals, flags, smoke, fire beacons or reflected sunlight. But these provided very limited and cumbersome communications, and were subject to various environmental limitations.
Starting with the development of the telegraph, in the 1800s, it became possible to send thoughts and information vast distances without anyone traversing the distance (except those who first erected the telegraph lines). With the invention of the telephone, telegraph lines could carry entire voice conversations -- radically expanding the range of thoughts and information that could be shared efficiently and promptly, over seemingly infinite distances.
While radio (particularly two-way radio) and television carried this capability even further, a more material method evolved: The "facsimilie" -- "fax" -- machine, which could transmit images from paper in one place to paper in another. It no longer became necessary for people to meet (nor mail service to hand-deliver) documents, illustrations, contracts and the like. For business and government, this became a revolution in communications that significantly reduced the need for mail and courier service.
But the biggest supplanting of transportation came with the development of computer-based communications -- particularly the Internet. "E-mail" ("electronic mail") in particular, provided efficient new ways for individuals and businesses to communicate instantly -- even share documents and images at a distance -- without the need for physical transportation.
The establishment of the Internet, and its "user-friendly" subdivision, the World Wide Web, opened many other uses of electonic communications -- allowing the online posting of advertising and technical literature, even entire libraries of information -- and even voice (including real-time video conferencing, such as via "Skype").
The explosive growth of e-mail and the Internet devastated the U.S. Postal Service, radically reducing the volume of business mail it carried, and sharply undermining its revenues.
But the various effects also had an impact on other areas of transportation, including courier services, small business aircraft, airlines, and even retail and wholesale stores (as people began shiting towards "online" shopping from far-distant vendors, via the Internet).
With the growth of e-mail and "social networking" (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), many people have begun interacting with others more by electronic communications than by traveling to see people in person.
All these factors (except for online shopping, which requires delivery of goods) have, generally, over time, undermined the demand for physical transportation, and its related infrastructure.
Yet, paradoxically, expanding communications can have an impact on accelerating economic activity -- in turn creating an increased demand for goods and services, which, in turn, increases the demand for transportation (something already happening as a result of population growth and migration).
COMMUNICATIONS can either
the demand for TRANSPORTATION -- depending upon a host of variables,
including new technological developments, transient events and trends, economic cycles, and variations in the environment (physical, technological, business, regulatory, and social) for both mediums of movement.
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