Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Bus ridership soars

More elderly patrons, high gas prices help increase

June 23, 2006


The way Joe Loring figures it, he's sort of getting paid to listen to music or read a book.

Loring has been using the city's public transportation system - the T - for just a few months. He kills the time spent waiting at bus stops reading or listening to tunes.

"I don't mind it because I figure I'd be doing the same thing if I was sitting at home anyway," Loring said.

What's different is that Loring isn't putting gasoline in his car, which has been broken down for the past six months.

"But even if my car was working, I don't think I would be using it," Loring said. "Gas is just so outrageous."

Lawrence youngster Luke Dunlap, 5, drinks his soda Thursday while he waits for the bus driver to open the side door as his mother, Julie Dunlap, corrals his sisters. The Dunlaps rode the T for the first time Thursday on their way home from downtown Lawrence. Records released by the Lawrence Transit System show that ridership through the first six months of the year is up about 15 percent from last year.

Lawrence youngster Luke Dunlap, 5, drinks his soda Thursday while he waits for the bus driver to open the side door as his mother, Julie Dunlap, corrals his sisters. The Dunlaps rode the T for the first time Thursday on their way home from downtown Lawrence. Records released by the Lawrence Transit System show that ridership through the first six months of the year is up about 15 percent from last year.

It appears Loring isn't alone. Ridership numbers for the T soared in May, jumping 25 percent compared with May 2005. For the first six months of the year, the numbers are up 15 percent.

"I think a couple of things are going on," said Cliff Galante, the city's public transit administrator. "I think there is a growing acceptance of public transportation in our community, but I think rising fuel costs are playing a factor in it as well."

The transit system is planning on conducting a survey of riders this September to determine why they're riding the bus, but Galante said a recent promotion in June gave him a good idea that gas prices are playing a role.

The system had its single busiest day - 2,038 riders - on June 9 when it participated in a national "Dump the Pump Day" event. All riders that day were allowed to ride for free as part of a promotion to raise awareness about how riding the bus can reduce gasoline bills.

Loring said he actually took the time to figure out how much he'd save by taking the bus from his home to work. He said he saves only about 25 cents per trip by taking the bus from downtown to his job as a lifeguard at the Indoor Aquatic Center near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. But that adds up to a couple bucks per week, plus it doesn't count any savings in terms of money he's not spending on car maintenance, insurance or other related expenses.

Riding the T

Several Lawrence resident spoke Thursday about riding the T, the city's transit system, to get around town. Enlarge video

Some riders on Thursday said they thought the bus service also was becoming more popular with the elderly. Harold N. Fakhoury, a retired Kansas University employee, said he was looking for ways to save money in the face of rising prescription drug costs.

"Plus, there's a lot of us who don't have vehicles anymore," Fakhoury said.

Galante said he suspected the majority of riders on the system were still people who the industry terms as "dependent riders," or people who don't have other forms of motorized transportation. Galante, though, said he thought the T was doing a better job of attracting people who had vehicles but were choosing the T anyway.

He said the system is trying to market its buses as a good way to do a little downtown shopping on a Saturday, or as a way for youths to attend after-school events.

The number of people riding the T is climbing, thanks to higher gas prices and greater community acceptance. The No. 6 T Bus is reflected in a pool of water as it heads downtown Thursday afternoon.

The number of people riding the T is climbing, thanks to higher gas prices and greater community acceptance. The No. 6 T Bus is reflected in a pool of water as it heads downtown Thursday afternoon.

Loring said the system may have a little more work to do before it starts attracting large numbers of the "choice riders."

"The big thing is that they'll probably need to have the buses start going by each stop every 10 minutes or so," Loring said. "People in this country still like to move fast."

Galante said the city is studying with KU and the KU on Wheels bus system opportunities for more coordination or consolidation that could increase the frequency of buses. A report on the subject is expected to be completed by November.

The T receives the bulk of its funding through a federal transportation grant. In 2006, local taxes provide about $600,000 in revenue, while fares are expected to generate about $150,000. The system is expected to provide about 500,000 rides this year.


lunacydetector 11 years, 3 months ago

i propose a citizen's review board to evaluate these numbers. a 25% increase is pretty insignificant when the T bus needs over 10,000 riders a day to turn a profit. i recall an article stating that federal funding had decreased dramatically a few years ago and lawrence was picking up a significant portion to subsidize- with ONLY $600,000 in a taxpayer subsidy, i guess some money must've been loosened on the federal level again.

on a side note: doesn't KU have a wonderful retirement / benefits package? why is the retired KU employee riding the T to pay for prescription drugs? is working for KU not all its cracked up to be?

snoozey 11 years, 3 months ago

Every morning I follow an empty T-bus to an empty T-bus stop. The only person to get off & on is the driver. If one person rode, there would be a 100 percent increase in the traffic volume and a follow up story could be done remarking on how T-bus ridership soars.

Rhoen 11 years, 3 months ago

Give it time ... I read a quote the other day from, I believe, a European politician who said that $3.00 per gallon of gas was "relatively inexpensive."

Gas prices will probably continue to rise and that will cause use of mass transportation to rise as well, unless the sharks move out of government, law, and "development" and into ownership of mass transit companies ... another logical assumption though, unfortunately.

bankboy119 11 years, 3 months ago

I still think the T should be scrapped.

bendaddy 11 years, 3 months ago

Best day = 2038 riders $.50 per ride = $1019 per day 10 drivers @ 12 hours per day = 120 hours 120 hours X $8.50 per hour = $1020

So, as long as each bus has no maintainence, no fuel costs and actually spits out a dime a day, we're golden!

Sigmund 11 years, 3 months ago

Why do they continue to use those full-sized buses? A huge waste diesel and the bigger heavier vehicles are harder on our already pot-holed street surfaces. Can't they use those half-sized buses, except on those rare routes and times where there are more than 3 riders? Can't we hire illegal .... I mean undocumented drivers for $6.50/hr?

Surely at some point in time the Kommission will look at the bus system and find some way to reduce the T's expenses or try and match the service to what the ridership actually is? If they are smart enough to forbid new retail if there is a 8% vacancy rate, surely they are smart enough to manage a bus system that runs 80% empty.

bankboy119 11 years, 3 months ago


You're asking for common sense which the 3 amigos have demonstrated time and again that they do not have.

staff04 11 years, 3 months ago

More elderly people are riding it because they just hit the donut hole in their medicare coverage...

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 3 months ago

give the t time and I think it might start to pay for its self but it need a lot of work. The t reminds me of a baby trying to learn how to crawl, just keeps falling and dragging its self around. maybe we should have some big city expert come in and give ideas.

conservative 11 years, 3 months ago

They must be expecting one heck of a surge in riders if they are projecting 500,000 riders this year. My understanding is that May was their busiest month ever and only had 35,676 passengers. 12 x 35,676 is only 428,112. Seems to me that someone is pulling yearly numbers out of thin air.

Redzilla 11 years, 3 months ago

All these comments make me despair of civics education in America. Do most people really imagine that public services like paved roads and sewers and parks pay for themselves? They didn't in ancient Rome, they don't now, and they never will. Either citizens pay for the niceties of civilization or we learn to do without them, including public schools, national parks, paved streets, interstate rest stops, road signs, emergency services, and yes, bus service for the poor, elderly and disabled.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 3 months ago

redzilla, I'm sure people are lining up to dump on your post, but I, for one, am in agreeance with you. Public transportation is a necessity. However, I think that most people are simply sick of HOW this city spends it's tax $s on things we truly do not need like roundabouts and giant libraries, and are just taking their frustrations out on anything that uses tax $s. Maybe if they had just 1 member of their family that relied on public transit, they would feel differently. I'm sure they would. No one in my family does but I'll gladly cough up a little money to help out those that rely on this service.

weterica 11 years, 3 months ago

Public transit is just another granola-eating, Ahmadinejad-loving way to sicken our families with hip-to-hip seating that makes our families unstable.

Yeah, and we definitely need a review board, because one can bet anything that serves a certain population other than ourselves-especially one that is of less means--is just another liberal-progressive-bozo-boondoggle from the depths of Bill Clinton's libido and/or Jimmy Carter's hatred for America. Roar!

I swear to my great God that I will never ride it! NEVER! I won't support anything that hints that I am retreating from the current state of gas consumption, or that I care about others that can't afford cars! If they don't have cars they can stay were they are!

And when the progressive storm troopers try to take away my car and make me ride this embodiment of anti-Americanism, well...they better remember my right to bear arms! Roar! (I'm a Glock owner too!) Roar! Roar! Roar!

Forward thinking, anticipating for future needs, considering the needs of those with less, etc., are just other ways of saying, "Welcome to Stalingrad, Moondancer. Put your rights in the composter and fertilize the community garden!"

I swear, it is getting to the point that I'm going to have to sell my Glock and all my other very expensive and absolutely necessary firearms, my computer, my car, and all the other cool stuff I have, because the Three Amigos and all their grubby, low-income, hippy granny supporters are robbing me blind. I mean, I barely have enough money to keep my internet access.

gccs14r 11 years, 3 months ago

It's amazing how much I saved when I was able to tell my insurance agent that I don't drive to work any more. My annual bill fell by over a third.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 3 months ago

weterica, I hope you never have a parent that has to give up their license. I hope you never get too old to drive. Heaven forbid you should lose your eyesight. I hope you never have a special needs child that is not able to drive, let alone get themselves in and out of a wheelchair. I hope you are never down on your luck. I'm not sure that you could handle it. I do hope that somewhere in your small little world you meet and might even care for someone that falls into one of these categories. Maybe it would crack that hard shell covering your heart. It might even beat a little then. Who is your great God, anyway? Not the same as mine...that's for sure!

Jay_Z 11 years, 3 months ago

I guess it's good the empty bus system is becoming less empty, but I love how the LJW overdoes it...."ridership soars". The fact is, based on their numbers, less than 2% of Lawrencians a day use the bus system. I too would like to see more in depth reporting about the T, such as profitability/losses generated by the system.

moveforward 11 years, 3 months ago

I own a great car... but I love the T.

For repeated, routine trips it is great. But th mapping system is complex and hard to figure out. For a one time trip I spend more time tracking and timing the route than riding. If you miss a stop, you may be delayed a few hours.

I only wish the routes ran later in the day. Accomodating dinner and even weekend bar hours would be a huge public service that would cut down on drinking and driving.

bankboy119 11 years, 3 months ago

ss, I think wet's post was sarcasm. That's how I read it.

flux 11 years, 3 months ago

The T needs to run later in the evenings, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, running back in forth from the downtown strip. Seems like everytime I do the right thing and leave my car downtown on the weekend after a few beverages the next morning I have a ticket in my windsheild. Of course mybe DUI's are big buisness for the city and they dont want to cut into their profits.

b_asinbeer 11 years, 3 months ago

If you look at the rules and regulations of the "T", drinking is prohibited on the bus.

Look what the little kid is doing, and ljworld points out...drinking!

Funny how things work.

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

The more DUI's they give out, the more riders they have for the T. It all works out.

Christine Pennewell Davis 11 years, 3 months ago

well the kid and his mom and sis were most likly the only ones on there so who was going to complain?

sunflower_sue 11 years, 3 months ago

I hope it was sarcasm. Shouldn't we come up with some little sarcasm symbol? Like an asterisk or something? I so missed that one, but I'm a little touchy about some of the things being said today. I'm just gonna get out of here before I do any more damage. Ya'll have a good weekend!

Wet, if I missed your sarcasm, I apologize.

Mr_Missive 11 years, 3 months ago

Well, the question is --- is it now paying for itself or does it still need taxpayer money? What is breakeven ridership? Looks like Eagle Bend to me.

grimpeur 11 years, 3 months ago


Have you checked the occupancy rate of the cars around you? The cost/rider to society is higher for the single-occupancy vehicles which make up 90% of commuter traffic than for the bus. So if you're wondering where to start saving my money, your money, and the city, state, and feds' money, you should be happy that someone had the foresight to return public transit to our streets.

Don't get me wrong: I love my cars and the ease with which they allow me to travel far and fast, and like many people, I sometimes have to drive alone, but until we make some serious changes in our driving habits, the personal automobile and our sense of entitlement to, dependence upon, and wasteful misuse of it should be the target of attention for anyone who cares about efficiency, cost, safety, congestion, pollution, and waste.

Facilities like the T go in the benefits column. And the T should be optimized to serve even more people, especially those who drive downtown or to KU every day from within the city limits. For every person (carpenter, salesperson, speech therapist, and others) who truly needs their car during the day, there are even more people driving less than one mile each way, each day, requiring space, pavement, access, maintenance, gas, and taxes to pay for all these.

If you think public transit is wasteful for a city our size, you're not serious about transportation or economics. Any such discussion which doesn't start and end with the automobile is even less so.

Godot 11 years, 3 months ago

Tell you what, Grimpeur, if the T is so beneficial for downtwon and KU, specifically, let DLA and KU pick up the tab for the T's budget shortfall. Drop in the bucket.

Farmboy 11 years, 3 months ago

Lawrentians seem to be against the public library, public transportation, Eagle Bend golf course, all of the amenities which make a city a good place to live.

And the newspaper even lets us air our complaints at great length. Hooray for Larryville.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 3 months ago

The T should have been junked a long time ago. It is a money pit for a small community with even smaller minded leaders who are grandstanding their utopian ideas. Lawrence is a bedroom community for the Topeka/KC area and most all of us drive to work. Boog's idea of walking to the grocery store is ludicrous. And just where do these figures come from, huh? Why it is from the carpetbagger bus company that sold this bill of goods to the city. They have a vested interest in such statstics. I don't buy it, They are lying. This was an ill-starred venture from the get-go and continues to sap the tax base with free rides for the lazy, indolent, and yes, a few deserving folks. The city should have invested in a taxi service and given vouchers to those who truly need public ttansportation, and not this wasteful scateregun grandstanding waste of huge amounts of money. This is what you get when you ignore city elections.

Curious 11 years, 3 months ago

I know people who ride the bus around the route all day. Wonder how many "riders" they account for?

I see a bus on the public dole with one rider, passed by car after car after car with one person in, all using my tax dollars - make the road wider, I can't get across town in ten minutes anymore. Don't forget I want to walk or ride my bike too so make the road wider. I don't care if you have to put people out of their homes. I WANT . . . no potholes!

Oh, and by the way, Learn to use the roundabouts and they will work. Go 15 [or the posted] miles per hour; leave room so the next guy can get in; don't stop (unless you have to); merge in and merge out. It's a game guys - like a computer game. How many people can you get around a roundabout? And if some old guy or gal is afraid? When you are in a roundabout SLOW DOWN! It's like a square dance - try it, you might like it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 3 months ago

At the current rate, after about 150 years or so of operation, the bus system will cost about as much as the construction of the remaining 5 miles of the SLT.

Sigmund 11 years, 3 months ago

And the SLT will by used by and benefit orders of magnitude more people than the T.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 3 months ago

And cost per user will be orders of magnitude higher, too.

Rhoen 11 years, 3 months ago

One possibliity: A number of people in Lawrence seem to be too elitist to use public transportation. Who would see their Lexus if they took the bus?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 3 months ago


The mark of good satire is that it can easily be mistaken for what it's not.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 3 months ago

There are actually more ways that the T pays for itself than simply adding up quarters at the end of each day. For example, let's assume that half of those riding are going to/from jobs they wouldn't otherwise have if the T were unavailable. (No, I'm not going to post the link--there are features in the LJW archives that interview some of those individuals.) Those folks now contribute to the tax base--both through income and sales taxes--in new ways they did not previously contribute. Which, in turn, reduces your tax burden and mine to some small degree.

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