It appears that a door is opening to the possibility of merging the two bus systems that serve Kansas University and the rest of Lawrence. Combining the two systems long has been seen as a way to make the city's T more efficient and try to pay its way. City officials should pursue vigorously any opportunity to merge with the student-run KU on Wheels.
Although KU on Wheels is entirely funded by student fees, until now, students have been unwilling to consider diverting some of the fee money to subsidize a city bus system, even if the T provided the same service to students. Now, however, it seems that the student position is softening and there may be some negotiating room on merging the systems or at least establishing closer cooperation between the two.
Increased ridership would be a big benefit for the T, but KU students also have much to gain by working more closely with the city. First, it can't be long before KU on Wheels will be forced to replace the vintage (or you could say old) buses used by the system, which will be an expensive proposition.
Because the T received federal funds, it is required to operate buses that comply with accessibility requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act. KU on Wheels buses don't meet those requirements. This can be viewed as an impediment to a merger or it could be viewed as a wonderful opportunity to upgrade KU buses to meet accessibility requirements. Beyond just being desirable, accessible buses would allow the university to meet a basic responsibility to provide campus access to all students, staff and visitors. Providing this broader service, in addition to providing transportation to and from a new West Campus park-and-ride lot scheduled to open next year, would seem to justify broader university funding, beyond the contribution made through student fees.
As is usually the case, the decision will rest largely on monetary considerations. As Danny Kaiser, assistant dean of students and chairman of a task force convened to consider KU transportation options, put it, "Nobody is there to solve anybody else's problems. We'd only do something if it was a mutually beneficial proposition across the board."
That's a sensible approach, but it also seems like a highly attainable goal. Having one bus system that serves both KU and the rest of Lawrence makes so much sense; surely there is a way to make it a reality.