BY MIKE HENDRICKS
THE KANSAS CITY STAR
08/15/2014 6:48 PM
Updated 08/15/2014 6:59 PM
The longtime general manager of Kansas City’s bus system has resigned at the outset of a plan to reorganize the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.
Mark Huffer, whose resignation is effective next Friday, has headed The Metro since 2000.
He is leaving as the ATA board is trying to position itself as the metrowide coordinating body for transit, the role it was meant to fill when it was created a half century ago.
Huffer worked on the reorganization plan and said the timing was right for him to step aside.
“KCATA is well positioned for the future, and I have no doubt that it will continue to thrive,” he said in a statement.
During his tenure, Huffer modernized Kansas City’s bus system. He oversaw the addition of the two MAX bus rapid transit lines, added real-time passenger information and began converting the diesel fleet to compressed natural gas.
Huffer will be replaced on an interim basis by Sam Desue, the current vice president of operations and chief operating officer.
But the job of ATA general manager is being reconfigured. The ATA board plans to create a new chief executive officer position to oversee a reorganized transit authority with broader goals than running a single bus system.
In addition to overseeing operation of The Metro, the CEO would work toward blending The Metro with the area’s three other bus systems.
Johnson County; Kansas City, Kan.; and Independence all would continue to own their own bus systems, but under the plan they would coordinate more with the ATA than they do now. The aim, ATA officials said, is to increase that cooperation to the point that the average passenger would perceive it to be a single system.
The ATA also hopes to build closer ties with Kansas City’s streetcar authority.
“I’m really excited about the direction of the ATA,” said board chairman Robbie Makinen, who praised Huffer for his service.
Makinen, who represents Jackson County, and fellow board member Steve Klika from Johnson County have been pushing to reorganize the ATA for a couple of years. They see the ATA as the vehicle to unify the area’s transit systems and fill the many service gaps.
That was supposed to be its role when the ATA was created in 1965 by agreement between Missouri and Kansas to take the place of the private bus systems then operating. The bistate compact approved by Congress gives the ATA the power to plan, construct, own and operate public transportation systems in the seven-county metro area.
But although the compact gives the ATA broad authority to provide public transit services, it’s never had a dedicated source of local funding other than Kansas City taxpayers.
As such, other jurisdictions set up their own systems or dropped public transit entirely.
Under the new plan, the ATA will try to increase cooperative efforts beyond those that currently exist, which includes the ATA’s metrowide call center. The CEO would oversee divisions responsible for regional planning and development of public transportation, as well as service delivery, The Metro and four other support areas.
Makinen and Klika said key announcements are upcoming. For instance, the ATA and Johnson County are currently in discussions to take over the administrative responsibilities for The Jo bus system.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Klika said of the unified system he and Makinen envision. But it’s heading that way, they said.