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Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Right route

A joint effort between Kansas University and the city has the best chance of supporting a bus system that serves both campus and the rest of Lawrence.

October 25, 2006

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It's disappointing to learn a private consultant has concluded that a merger of Kansas University and city bus systems wouldn't quickly lead to more economical operations and opportunities for expanded service.

That doesn't mean, however, that such a merger isn't worth pursuing.

The consultant advised KU and city officials Monday to move ahead on plans to coordinate services and facilitate transfers from system to system. A full merger of the city's T, KU on Wheels and the university's park-and-ride system will take longer, he said, because of the logistical challenges posed by combining services that are operated by the city, KU student government and the university, respectively.

Supporters of the merger had hoped such a move could quickly produce efficiencies that would free up funds for system improvements. Although the consultant said a merger wouldn't be a financial windfall, it still seems to have long-term benefits for KU and the rest of the community.

Over the long run, it has to be more efficient to run one bus system in Lawrence rather than three, and a single bus system should be in a better position to attract state and federal funding. KU on Wheels is in dire need of such funding to replace some of its vintage bus fleet.

The consultant reached the unsurprising conclusion that what the local bus systems really need is more money. Don't we all? State and federal grants could provide some of that funding, but the consultant also suggested additional money could come from increased property taxes and KU student fees.

A public bus system is only one of many service and infrastructure demands that threaten to overwhelm the city's available tax revenue. One idea for KU is to raise student fees for bus service from $16 per semester to $50 per semester and allow students to ride the bus for free rather than pay $140 for a bus pass.

KU officials think that would encourage more students to ride the bus and leave their cars at home or on satellite lots, but given the rising cost of attending KU, it's hard to be enthusiastic about making students pay an additional $34 in student fees for a service they may not need or use.

Despite the drawbacks and challenges, however, the three bus systems in Lawrence have a better chance of providing a viable service to students and other residents if they band together and pool their resources. A relatively small proportion of local residents ride the buses, but they are an important transportation link for many people who need to get to work or school.

Better coordination may not immediately trigger financial and service benefits for the community, but it's a step in the right direction.

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