Karin Rexroad has taken a flurry of phone calls the past few weeks from parents who want to know how to get their children to school on city buses.
"I had a lady drop in today so I could show her son how to ride," said Rexroad, public transit administrator for the city of Lawrence.
The increased interest in city transportation comes on the heels of a Lawrence school district decision to limit the number of students who qualify for free bus rides. Lawrence school board members approved the new pay-to-ride system this summer as part of a series of cuts and fee increases to aid the cash-strapped district.
As a result, ridership has dropped by more than 1,000.
At the end of last week, the district, which contracts its buses from Laidlaw, had enrolled about 1,300 riders, said Rick Gammill, director of transportation, safety and facilities planning for the district. With the 300 or so registration forms that have come in during the past two days, ridership is now hovering around 1,600.
"That's down from about 2,800 we had last year," Gammill said. "But we anticipated certainly a decrease in ridership this year."
Just one day into the new school year, with only first through seventh grades and 10th grade meeting, Wednesday was too early to tell whether the hundreds of children who won't be boarding school buses will instead catch rides on city buses.
"It will probably be next week before we see what the impact has been," Rexroad said.
And it will be a couple of weeks before district and Laidlaw officials meet to make decisions about cutting and consolidating bus routes. Nearly all the district's 90 buses are running now, Gammill said. It's likely five to seven of them will be cut.
"We know some of the buses didn't have that many kids on them today," he said.
Some of the children who did ride the bus were allowed to do so without bus passes. That will continue the rest of this week, Gammill said, and then a letter will be sent home with children.
The district's pay-to-ride fee for students in first through 12th grades who meet distance eligibility requirements is $260 per year. A monthly pass for city buses is $17.