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Archive for Thursday, June 3, 1999

CITY BUS PLANS GAIN SPEED

June 3, 1999

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A new bus system could be rolling in Lawrence early next year, Lawrence city commissioners learned Wednesday.

Lawrence city commissioners agreed Wednesday to start up a flexible fixed-route public transportation system that would run at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Estimated local tax bill: about $1 million.

"We're all coming to an agreement that there will be money for public transportation," Commissioner Marty Kennedy said. "It will come. I'm prepared to say that we will need to increase taxes. A tax increase for public transportation will be needed."

During a study session at city hall, commissioners met with representatives from the Federal Transit Administration and a private transportation consultant to map out a course for starting up a new system in Lawrence.

Although they did not conduct any formal votes, commissioners told City Manager Mike Wildgen to hire Steve Klika, a partner for KA Associates, a Wichita-based consulting firm that specializes in helping troubled transit systems and planning for the creation of new ones.

Even without a contract, Klika went to work immediately by quizzing commissioners about their basic desires for a new system. Among commissioners' conclusions:

  • Start small, with four or five "flexible" fixed routes focused on providing service for the entire community, not just low-income, elderly or disabled riders. Routes would "flex" by providing extra time between stops, so that a driver could deviate slightly from an established route to pick up a pre-scheduled rider who had called at least a day ahead for a special pickup.
  • Charge fares for each ride. Other communities typically charge 25 cents or 50 cents a ride, Klika said.
  • Accept federal grants to help finance the system. Currently the city has $2.076 million available from the federal government for planning, operating and capital expenses related to a system. State grants also are in the works.
  • Plan on spending about $1 million in local funds next year for a system. Kennedy figures on raising property taxes, while Commissioner Mike Rundle suggested diverting sales-tax revenues from other uses.
  • Operate the system so that people can catch rides to and from work, likely meaning an operating schedule of 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Set up the system to run through the Kansas University campus, so that KU students can transfer to and from the campus' KU on Wheels system. The long-term goal would be to merge the two systems.
  • Continue to operate the city's current on-demand paratransit system -- called Douglas County Area Transportation, which is operated by Kaw Regional Transit -- on a citywide basis.
  • Hire a private company to run the city's system on a contract basis, rather than create a new city department that would own and operate buses.

Wildgen, who is making plans for including transit money in next year's city budget, plans to work with Klika to create a proposed system for commission review.

"The devil's in the details," he said.

Klika, who has worked for public transit authorities and a private transit contractor before becoming a consultant, told commissioners that a new system could start rolling in Lawrence as early as the beginning of next year.

Commissioners all nodded approval, knowing that they were moving ahead with their adopted top priority for the coming year.

"It's going to happen," said Mary Michener, chair of Citizens for Public Transportation, a local advocacy group that has lobbied officials for a bus system. "I have no doubts."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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