A new public bus system in Lawrence may be a boon to some residents, but others especially elderly residents may be left out.
Many local residents are eagerly awaiting the startup next Saturday of the city's new bus system.
But many others are worried about the people the new system may leave behind.
The buses will provide a new way for local residents to get around Lawrence, but for some people, transportation options may be lessened rather than increased.
The new Lawrence transit system will mean the discontinuation of an on-demand system currently operated by Lawrence Bus Company. That system, which provides rides to anyone who calls and makes reservations, serves primarily three groups of people: low-income people, people with disabilities and the elderly.
Able-bodied, low-income people should be able to walk to a stop on the fixed bus route. Some Lawrence residents with disabilities will be able to ride the fixed-route buses, which are wheelchair accessible. Many maybe most others will qualify for door-to-door service on the paratransit service that will accompany the new bus system.
The people most likely to be left out are the community's elderly. For those who are able to negotiate it, the fixed route system probably will provide a service that is more flexible and convenient than the current overloaded door-to-door service, but for others, the new system may simply be overwhelming.
Late last week, Lawrence transit officials expressed concern that not all of Lawrence residents with disabilities had applied to be served by the paratransit system. In order to receive door-to-door service, they must meet the eligibility requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People who would qualify, according to local bus officials, include those who are unable to get on or off a regular bus, walk two city blocks or more to the fixed bus routes, grasp coins or handles or read or understand bus information.
This is where things get a little complicated for the elderly population. Being old, by itself, isn't a disability. Certainly some elderly people will be qualified under the ADA guidelines. But others are likely to fall between the cracks. An elderly person who can walk to the bus one day, may be unable to do so the next because of weather conditions or health issues. Such a person might be able to walk, but not far enough to reach the bus route.
As people age, they also become more easily confused and may find it difficult to negotiate a fixed-route system. Or the person who can walk eight blocks from home to catch a bus may feel unable to make the return trek after visiting a doctor or shopping.
Some of these people may be approved to received door-to-door service under special conditions, but the conditions likely will add considerable stress to people who might not know day-to-day whether they qualify for door-to-door service.
Officials at Douglas County Senior Services say they are encouraging their clients to apply for the paratransit service but they plan to continue door-to-door service while they evaluate who will be left out by the new fixed-route system. They are committed to filling the gap. City and county officials should make sure DCSS has the funding it needs to provide those services.
When the Lawrence buses start running next Saturday, there are bound to be some kinks. One obvious one would seem to be the decision during the startup to have people flag down buses at any intersections along the routes rather than having set stops. Requiring exact change also may present some problems.
The first few weeks are bound to present some challenges for anyone riding the buses as well as other motorists but special attention must be paid to the special needs of disabled and elderly residents.