Lawrence city commissioners must decide next week whether to climb aboard a public transportation proposal for next year, Mayor John Nalbandian said Friday.
To adhere to the city's budget schedule, Nalbandian said, the deadline for deciding whether to finance public transportation improvements -- whether a new system or expansion or consolidation of current programs -- must be Tuesday night's city commission meeting.
"We have to decide whether we want to spend any money on public transportation," Nalbandian said. "We don't have to be specific about how we want to use it yet, but we have to decide whether to include it in the budget.
"I don't know whether we'll do anything, but I will encourage the commission to make a decision."
Commissioners reviewed several options Thursday afternoon during a meeting with Jack Doolittle, a transportation consultant for the Federal Transit Administration's Public-Private Transportation Network.
Doolittle recommended that the commission "start small" when considering transit services.
"The real problem you have is how to match the resources you have with the system that already is in place," Doolittle said.
He recommended not seeking federal grants to pay for a new system, such as the two-route bus system proposed by the Lawrence Bus Co. and Alan Black, a Kansas University professor of architecture and urban design. The system would require more than $250,000 from the federal government, plus the same amount from the city, according to the proposal.
Federal money carries strict, sometimes expensive requirements, Doolittle said, while local funds can be managed more freely. City-subsidized taxi rides, for example, might be a good way to assess the need for public transportation, he said.
"If you're going to spend $200,000 of your own money, start in small chunks," he said. "Then you have the option of grabbing for that other pot of money."
The first step should be the hiring of a public transportation "broker" to work with current services -- such as Douglas County Senior Services, Independence Inc. and Cottonwood Inc. -- toward more efficient transit service, Doolittle said.
Hilda Enoch, a member of Horizon 2020's transportation task force, said she liked the idea of hiring someone to help improve current services.
"We have the vehicles," she said. "We do have all of the pieces. But nobody has, up to this time, looked at how we can do a better job."
Nalbandian said he would meet Monday with Diane Mullens, transportation planner; Pat Weaver, a public transportation specialist at KU; and Craig Weinaug, Douglas County administrator, to develop a proposal that falls somewhere between establishing city bus service and reorganizing current services.
The group's proposal, along with the bus proposal and any other requests from the public, will be considered by commissioners during their meeting Tuesday, beginning at 6:35 p.m. in the city commission meeting room at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.
The meeting is the last scheduled public meeting to consider changes to City Manager Mike Wildgen's proposed budget for next year, before it is published in the newspaper.