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Archive for Saturday, December 4, 1999

TRANSIT COMMITTEE FACES BIG DECISIONS

December 4, 1999

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Panel to recommend hiring bus operator, purchasing vehicles and setting ADA policies.

The next meeting of the Public Transit Advisory Committee probably will be its last, Mayor Erv Hodges said this week, and the city soon will appoint a new, permanent committee to take its place.

The current panel has been meeting about every other week since August, making recommendations on routes, schedules and policies for a public bus system being developed for the city.

Several major decisions remain to be made, including selection of a contractor to operate the system, selecting buses for purchase and setting policies for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

City officials hope the committee can resolve those issues before the end of the year. The panel's recommendations will then be sent to the Lawrence City Commission, which will make the final choices.

"They're going to try tackle them all," Rod Bremby, assistant city manager, said of the decisions awaiting the panel.

Bremby said Wednesday that city staffers still are reviewing proposals from operating companies and bus suppliers, and he expected the staff to have its own recommendations in time for the Dec. 16 meeting.

Selecting a third-party operating company will be a crucial decision, said Hugh Kierig of K.A. Associates, the consulting firm advising the city. The selection, he said, would determine how many routes the city can afford to fund, and whether it can afford an on-demand paratransit service for a broader segment of the community.

Because the fixed-route bus system will be funded largely with federal money, the ADA requires the city to make the same level of service available to people who cannot get to a regular bus stop because of a mobility impairment.

That means offering on-demand "paratransit" service to any disabled person who lives within half a mile of a fixed route.

So far, Kierig said, the staff and the advisory committee have agreed to recommend extending paratransit service throughout the city limits, regardless of the distance from a fixed route.

They also agreed to recommend offering door-to-door service, as opposed to curb-to-curb service, which is the minimum level required by the ADA.

But some groups, particularly Douglas County Senior Services, want the city to expand eligibility for that service to include the elderly as well as people with physical disabilities.

Kierig, however, said that will depend on the cost of hiring a third-party operator and whether enough money is available after paying minimum operating costs.

Nine companies submitted proposals to operate the bus system, and Kierig said city staffers have pared that list to four finalists. He declined to say who those finalists were.

Once the advisory panel has wrapped up its work, the city will name a new permanent committee to advise the city about transportation services on an ongoing basis, the mayor said.

Hodges said he expects the new panel will have five to seven members, compared to the 17 members on the current advisory committee.

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is phancock@ljworld.com.

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