The wheels are turning on plans for a new city bus system, but there are many twists and turns in the route ahead.
The 17 members of the city's new Transportation Advisory Committee had their first meeting this week.
It undoubtedly will be the first of many meetings that will be needed to hash out the details of a proposed fixed-route bus system for Lawrence.
One of the issues that came up at that first meeting may be among the tougher matters the committee will face. Because a federal grant will pay much of the startup cost of the bus service, the system will be required to meet many federal regulations designed to assist elderly people and people with disabilities.
Serving these two segments of the local population has been a primary focus of transportation systems that have operated in Lawrence for years. Bus 62 was operated by Douglas County Senior Services for elderly clients and Independence Inc. operated specially equipped vans for people with physical disabilities. When the city also wanted to provide on-demand bus services for low-income residents, the three entities united under the umbrella of Douglas County Area Transit to try to improve efficiency and provide better services.
It's likely that the city now will pull back much of its investment in DCAT to help fund the fixed-route system. So where does that leave people who need special assistance? Federal regulations will require that the new bus service meet all the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and offer reduced fares for senior citizens and people with disabilities. But, by definition, a "fixed-route" system probably will not provide the kind of door-to-door service many of these people need. Will DCSS and Independence Inc. be able to support continued operation of those special services on their own?
Another special population, of a sort, in Lawrence is university students, both at Kansas University and Haskell Indian Nations University. Organizers hope the existing KU on Wheels bus system will merge its service with the city's system, but that also will put many special demands on the new system. Students have certain expectations about where and when buses will run, and they will be unlikely to give up their bus system and the financial support they give to it for a city bus system that doesn't offer them the same level of service.
Based on input during the last city elections, city commissioners have decided a bus system is something Lawrence residents want and have put the project on the fast track. As is true of so many big ideas, the devil with implementing the new city bus system will be in the details. It remains to be seen whether the citizens of Lawrence agree that the bus system they get will be worth the money they will spend on it.