Public transportation services expanded this morning, and one man's waiting to take your calls.
Cliff Blair's got a barren wall, two phones and a file cabinet. Welcome to the first stop of a $100,000 trip into public transportation.
"It's finally here," Blair said this morning, less than an hour into his new job as transportation broker for the city-financed program. "I see the city taking a step, for the first time, to get into public transportation, and I see this as a stepping stone -- a start -- to get us going and eventually expand into something bigger."
But first things first. Blair's got an open phone line to public transit for any Lawrence resident who wants it, even if his office still lacks a desk, computer, modem -- even a city map.
"We want people coming out of the woodwork," he said. "It's here. Use it."
Ten-ride fare cards will be available in targeted locations: city housing projects, the senior center, 745 Vt., and Independence Inc., 1910 Haskell. Placements in grocery stores, such as Roger's Food Center in North Lawrence, may soon follow.
Blair said the idea was to entice special populations -- particularly those with low incomes -- to use the extended services, particularly for getting to and from work.
As for the general public, he said, no one knows how many people will climb aboard.
"This is a start," Blair emphasized. "This is an opportunity that was not there before. I believe there are people who will take us up on our offer."
Until this morning, Blair was transportation coordinator for Douglas County Senior Services, which last year gave 26,000 rides to 550 county residents aged 60 or older.
Now he's moved across the office, with a $5,000 raise and a job financed at least until Dec. 31. That's when the city's first foray into public transportation -- the $100,000 for the Douglas County Community Transportation Coordinating Council Inc. -- runs out.
Blair knows he'll carry much of the responsibility for seeing that the program succeeds. He'll coordinate rides with vans from Independence Inc., Cottonwood Inc. and the Lawrence Bus Co. to ensure that more than 50,000 rides are available this year alone.
After that, supporters could look to expanding services.
"If the public shows initiative and uses it, the city will give us more backing," he said.