The city and university bus systems haven't merged, but City Hall is expected to give Kansas University a major assist in expanding public transit on campus.
Commissioners are expected to approve a request by KU leaders that will allow the university to access Federal Transit Administration funding to buy five buses that will be used to operate a 1,500 space park-and-ride parking lot on West Campus. The new parking lot is expected to open by Aug. 1.
"It is very important for us to offer more parking," said Donna Hultine, the university's director of parking. "In the fall semester, when we are at our tightest, there are days there is not one space to be found on main campus."
Under the deal up for approval at tonight's City Commission meeting, the university would pay for 20 percent of the total $1.34 million purchase price. The remaining 80 percent of the purchase price would be paid for with federal transit funds. The city would not pay for any portion of the buses. But the city must act as the conduit to receive the federal dollars, because it is the only government in the county that went through the certification process to receive FTA funds.
The new park-and-ride lot is already under construction just north and west of the intersection of 23rd and Iowa streets. Hultine said the park-and-ride system was being designed to accommodate both faculty and students.
But because federal funds are being used, the buses also have to be open to the public at large, said Cliff Galante, the city's public transit administrator. That means area residents who want another way to access the university will be able to use the park and ride system. The buses will be free to ride, but people will have to pay to park in the lot, either by buying a permit or paying a parking meter.
Galante said the KU project should not affect the ability of the city to continue receiving FTA funding to support the city's public transportation system, the T.
"This is really two separate pots of money we're talking about," Galante said.
Galante said the city would be asking FTA for several million dollars in funding in future years to build a new maintenance garage and begin replacing the 12 buses in the city's fleet. Those buses all have about three years of service left before they will need to be replaced, Galante said.
Galante said the city was happy to help the university acquire the buses. The city and university are currently studying whether their two public transportation systems could be merged or could better cooperate. A feasibility study on the issue is expected to be completed by the end of the year.