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New bus service rolls through western Kansas

Published 5/2/2011

By SHAJIA AHMAD

sahmad@gctelegram.com

Garden City was lucky enough to gain a new mode of transportation by land in 2010, but lost another important travel method by air in the same year.

A long-awaited daily bus route from Wichita to Pueblo, Colo., rolled out early last November, providing southwest Kansas with a link to the national intercity bus network.

Wichita-based Prestige Bus Lines rolled out its new Beeline Express routes, offering travelers to and from Garden City a bus ticket to their destination of choice along the route.

The new travel opportunity includes Kansas stops in Wichita, Hutchinson, Dodge City, Garden City and Syracuse, and at Granada, Lamar, Las Animas, La Junta, Rocky Ford, Fowler and Pueblo in Colorado. The transportation project that was funded in part by federal stimulus dollars was the result of agreements between the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Colorado Department of Transportation and Prestige.

State transportation officials chose the Garden City Travel Plaza at 1265 Solar Ave., just north of town near the U.S. Highway 83/50 junction, as the new bus line's 24-hour ticket window. In Syracuse, both eastbound and westbound Beeline Express buses stop at Ark Valley Oil, 204 W. U.S. Highway 50.

The news of the bus service came just about a month before Garden City Regional Airport officials learned that Great Lakes Aviation, the city airport's Essential Air Service Provider, would be dropping its last daily flight to and from Kansas City International Airport.

The primary airline that services Garden City stopped serving the municipal airport with the Missouri-bound flights this past February.

The news came as especially disconcerting to airport officials because about a million dollars in federal transportation dollars allocated annually are contingent upon the airport hosting at least 10,000 enplanements — or passengers to and from the airport — each year, a figure that has been declining in recent years.

Airport officials report that they closed out 2010 with an estimated 10,130 enplanements, and in 2009, the airport hosted only 10,122 passengers.

That general downward trend over the last few years have airport officials worried that meeting the mark in 2011 will be even more challenging, especially with the loss of the Kansas City flight: About 1,000 enplanements in 2009 and 2010 have been dependent on Kansas City passengers, according to Rachelle Powell, the airport's aviation director.

In light of the most recent events, Garden City commissioners gave airport officials the go-ahead to hire an outside consultant to conduct a passenger demand analysis at the airport earlier this year. That passenger demand analysis is now under way, according to Powell, and the data will be used to see how air service at the airport enhanced and developed beginning this year, especially in the wake of declining enplanements.

"We don't have accurate and up-to-date information about our passengers or where they're going," Powell has said. "This information will tell us where we go from here."

Powell said the analysis is now about halfway complete, and includes consumer surveys and passenger studies. The study will be complete by May.

For those who still need another way to get to and from Kansas City, Mo., passenger rail is still an option.

Amtrak operates a long-distance train through Kansas, the Southwest Chief, that runs daily from Chicago to Los Angeles via Kansas City, Mo. The Chief makes stops in several Kansas communities, including Lawrence, Newton, Dodge City and Garden City.

However, even Amtrak officials are worried as they work to secure the continuation of federal dollars that help subsidize their national intercity passenger railroad while Congress begins its considerations for the next surface transportation bill in 2011.

The Associated Press reported in April that House Republicans have compiled a list showing $2.5 trillion cuts in spending over the next decade. Included on the list are subsidies to Amtrak and Essential Air Service.

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