Prices at the pump might seem brutal — especially after last year when the cost plunged to 15-year lows because of a lack of demand during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
Last year was such an oddity, the average price for gas statewide in Missouri stayed under $2 a gallon for just over 300 consecutive days, said Nick Chabarria, a spokesman for AAA.
“It’s tough to compare prices then to how they are now,” he said.
As of Wednesday, the national average price for regular gas was $3.07, up from $2.05 a year ago. The average price for gas was $2.76 in Missouri, up from $1.79 a year ago, and $2.86 in Kansas, up from $1.81 a year ago, according to the AAA Gas Prices website.
In Kansas City, gas was averaging $2.75, up from $1.84 from a year ago. Across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas, the average price for gas was $2.86, up $1.87 from this time last year.
Since the sharp increase at the beginning of the year, prices have flattened out, Chabarria said. AAA expects prices this summer to remain close to where they are now, due in part to increased oil production overseas. But the hurricane season could affect Gulf Coast refineries.
While prices are returning to what was typical pre-pandemic, there’s bound to be sticker shock for some. But there are ways to lessen the pain at the pump.
Here are some options for alternative transportation in Kansas City:
Zero fare on RideKC buses
One of the best ways to lessen the impact on your wallet is to take public transit. Riding a RideKC bus is free.
“This isn’t about just flipping on a switch and saying everything’s free,” said Robbie Makinen, the chief executive officer of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. “We have methodically and strategically moved to zero fare.”
Four years ago, RideKC started offering “zero fares” to veterans in the Kansas City region. Then came free rides for high school juniors and seniors, followed by safety net providers like domestic violence shelters.
“When COVID hit, it obviously made sense for us to go to zero fare regionally because of less touch points and it was safer,” he said.
Since implementing zero fare, RideKC has seen its safety improve on the buses.
“Eighty-five percent of any incident we ever had on a vehicle was over a fare box dispute — over a $1.50,” Makinen said.
When the pandemic hit, most transit agencies around the nation saw their ridership dip between 20% and 25%, he said. RideKC with its zero fare saw its ridership dip barely below 60%. Ridership is currently about 80%.
“Obviously it makes a difference and it makes a difference for people who need it most,” said Makinen, who added that could mean savings of $1,500 to $2,000 a year for some people.
“That $1.50 goes a lot further outside of our fare box than it does in it.”
The easiest way to plan a trip is using the Transit app or go to the ridekc.org website, Makinen said. People can also call 816-221-0660. RideKC has also produced a video instructing people how to ride.
Kansas City bike share
You don’t have to own your own bicycle to ride around Kansas City. BikeWalkKC has partnered with municipalities throughout the metro area to bring the RideKC Bike service to travelers.
There are about 500 e-bikes and classic bikes available through the bike share program in Kansas City, North Kansas City, Johnson County, Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas, and Lenexa.
“Electric bikes obviously is sort of the newer cooler technology if you will, but really a great option because it’s extremely efficient for moving people around the city,” said Eric Vaughan, director of the Bike Share for BikeWalkKC. “There’s some good data out there about e-bikes being the most efficient vehicle that are on the road.”
E-bikes allow riders to extend their range of their trips significantly with less effort.
“We see a lot of trips to grocery stores,” Vaughan said. “We’ve seen trips for people using the bikes to get their (COVID-19) vaccines. We see people going to election polling places on bikes and commuting to and from work.”
The average speed on the e-bikes is between 15 and 18 mph. That compares to nine to 12 mph for a beginner user on a classic bike.
“With e-bikes, in addition to the speed, there’s less effort as well,” Vaughan said. “I call it no sweat biking.”
It costs $149 for annual members, which includes no unlock fees and up to 80 minutes of free riding a day. Optional 30-day and 90-day memberships are available for $39 and $99 respectively. Each membership includes no unlock fees and up to 80 minutes of free riding a day.
Pay-as-you-go rates are $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute for RideKC EBikes, RideKC Lenexa, RideKC KCK and JCPRD Bike.
RideKC Bike, which is the classic bike, the per minute rate is 10 cents.
A 24-hour pass is also available for $15, which includes unlimited trips, each up to four hours. Additional minutes charged at the same rate as pay-as-you go trips.
To ride, you’ll need to download the RideKC Bike app to your cellphone.
The RideKC network does a good job catering to users to offer multiple modes of transportation, Vaughan said.
“The bus and the bike are probably the two most prevalent and reliable alternative modes in the Kansas City area,” he said. “If people are wanting to make the biggest impact to their daily routine in terms of helping the environment and lowering gas costs, the bus and the bike are the way to go.”
Bird and SPIN scooters
Scooters, though used mostly for recreation, may be a valid transportation option for some. Currently Bird and SPIN have scooters available for people to ride in parts of the metropolitan area.
Bird scooters cost $1 to start and 39 cents a minute with a minimum of $3.50, plus tax. There’s a 50 cent Kansas City fee. Day Passes are $14.99 for unlimited rides up to 30 minutes per ride. Monthly Unlock Passes are available for $4.99 for unlimited free unlocks. Download the app here.
SPIN scooters cost $1 to start and 39 cents a minute plus tax and fees. Passes for unlimited rides are $6.99 for 1 hour, $10.99 for 2 hours and $19.99 for 24 hours. Download its app here.
BikeWalkKC did a year-long pilot project where they offered scooters as part of the RideKC fleet and quickly found they were mostly used for recreational trips.
“There were considerably shorter so most people were staying within a couple block radius,” Vaughan said. “That’s part of the reason we decided not to continue the pilot program with them because they weren’t really serving a true transportation component and therefore there wasn’t an argument that they were eliminating car trips.”
After looking at the data, BikeWalkKC decided to discontinue that program.
Find a carpool or bike buddy
For more than 40 years, the Mid-America Regional Council’s RideshareKC program for commuters has connected them to different transportation options.
“We know right now that about 83% of people drive alone to work every day,” said Karen Clawson, RideshareKC program manager.
There are various modes of transportation available to those currently driving alone and potentially struggling with gas prices that can help reduce their transportation costs and are more environmentally friendly, she said.
The RideshareKC.org website provides information about the different options in the Kansas City area.
RideshareKC also provides a matching service that will match commuters with carpool, vanpool, transit and even bike buddies.
An additional benefit for commuters who regularly take the bus, carpool, vanpool or ride a bike to work is the Guaranteed Ride Home program that provides two free rides home in case of an emergency or illness. The program’s registration is separate from the carpool-matching service and can be done online.
The program reimburses commuters for that emergency trip. By providing that benefit, it removes a huge barrier people have that prevents them from transitioning from driving alone to using alternative transportation to get to work, Clawson said.
Carpoolers are matched and encouraged to talk with each other about how they will share the costs. One way is sharing who drives. So if each carpooler has a car, they alternate who drives. Other ways include providing gas money to the driver or buying a tank of gas from time to time.
Currently, the service is focused on commuting, but the matching system does have the capability to match riders to such things like concerts or sporting events. Because of the pandemic and events being canceled, that feature has not been enabled.
RideKC Streetcar provides downtown option
For those living in downtown Kansas City, there’s the RideKC Streetcar, which provides free rides as it travels 2.2 miles between Crown Center and the River Market.
The KC Streetcar Authority activated its second phase of its COVID-19 reactivation plan at the end of April to meet growing downtown activity levels and ridership demands.
Included with that was extending its hours of operation to 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight on Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
The extension of hours was in direct response to the activity levels downtown, improving weather, the decrease in COVID-19 positive case numbers, and the increased access to the vaccine, the KC Streetcar Authority announced at the time.
People who don’t live downtown can take advantage of the free rides by parking along the route and using the streetcar to travel to their destinations.