Archive for Sunday, September 19, 1999

BUS PLANNERS FOCUSING ON SERVICE, NOT RIDERS

September 19, 1999

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People involved in planning a fixed-route bus system say improving the city's transportation network is more important than meeting numeric goals.

As details are being worked out for a fixed-route bus system in Lawrence, city officials, volunteers and a private consultant are putting their focus on service, not numbers.

"Until we know specifically what routes we're running, what days we're running and what hours, it's hard to say how many people are going to be on the system," said Aaron Bartlett, a transportation planner with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department.

Although studies have been done in the past to find out how many people would use city buses, and under what conditions, Bartlett said people involved in developing the bus system now are not focused on meeting specific targets for ridership.

Instead, he said, the focus is on devising a system that will meet the service-oriented goals that have been identified as top priorities.

Those include providing access through public transportation to major employment centers, cultural attractions and commercial districts, and linking a public transit system with the Kansas University bus system to give KU students greater access to the community.

In 1992, the city commissioned a study to determine the best locations for bus routes and the financial viability of such a project.

The consulting firm DeShazo Starek and Tang Inc., suggested that about 10 percent of Lawrence households would use a citywide bus system on a daily basis, resulting in about 7,600 to 9,500 rides per day, depending on how high the city set its fares.

But Bartlett said officials have no specific "break-even" number in mind that will determine whether the bus system is financially viable. He said it is assumed that federal, state and local tax dollars will be used to subsidize bus service in Lawrence, just as mass transit is subsidized in every other U.S. city with a transit system.

The city of Lawrence has dedicated 3 mills of property tax -- about $1.5 million a year -- for public transportation. Federal money will pay 80 percent of the capital start-up costs and about half of all other operating costs, according to City Manager Mike Wildgen.

According to Bartlett, officials hope that fares collected from riders will cover about 15 percent of the total operating cost.

"From the perspective of the community, we're trying to round ourselves out and become more 'multimodal,' which is a word a lot of planners use," Bartlett said. "We've done a lot of work recently on improving facilities for bicycles; now we're doing work on buses. To have a really successful transportation system, you need more than one mode."

Besides giving city officials an idea of how many bus riders they could expect, the DeShazo report also identified a network of six potential routes.

Although Lawrence has grown considerably since 1992 and those plans are now considered somewhat dated, they did serve as the basis for the seven proposed routes now under consideration.

The first of two public meetings to discuss those routes was held last week.

"We got some really good comments," Bartlett said of the first meeting. "I think what we're going to see (when plans are finalized) are some deviations from what we've done so far, but not real big deviations."

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

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