Two blue buses parked on Kansas University's West Campus now are less than two weeks away from their new jobs as carriers for students, faculty and staff.
But they won't be alone for long.
Another 26 refurbished buses - total cost: nearly $1.5 million - will join the two 1990 models that were once part of Sacramento's municipal fleet. And plans already are in the works for buying brand-new replacement buses, which now list for as much as $330,000 apiece.
It's a situation that brings a smile to the face of Danny Kaiser, KU's assistant director of Parking and Transit, the department that will be overseeing KU on Wheels for the coming year.
"We'll have them paid off in two years," Kaiser said Monday, less than two weeks from the start of a new era in on-campus transit. "We'll get into a rotation where we can start replacing the old ones with brand-new ones."
Financing the investment in a university-owned fleet is a $20-per-semester student fee, which was approved by students in a spring referendum and takes effect this fall. It will be expected to generate more than $900,000 in revenue for university transit services, the bulk of which will go toward buying and maintaining equipment.
MV Transportation, the same company that runs the Lawrence Transit System for the city, learned last week that it would have the contract to operate the buses for KU. The company submitted the winning bid for the $1.8 million contract, which runs through the end of 2008.
Losing out was Lawrence Bus Co., which has been operating the campus bus system since 1960. Having lost its largest contract, the company plans to close June 29 and sell off its fleet of 27 buses.
Lawrence Bus Co. offered to sell its buses to MV Transportation - for potential use in running charters or other specialized services - but isn't counting on making a deal.
"I just hope that they can do for the city of Lawrence and the kids and the seniors what we have done, and I hope that they can take care of them," said Debbie Kelley, a Lawrence Bus Co. manager who has spent 24 years with the company.
MV Transportation officials are busy this week making plans for a speedy transition of services. The KU on Wheels contract had been expected to start Aug. 1, but the closing of Lawrence Bus Co. required a quicker move.
The earlier start will be expected to add to the cost of the $1.8 million contract, Kaiser said.
Mike Sweeten, who serves as general manager for the T portion of MV Transportation's operations in Lawrence, said the company was recruiting and interviewing 45 people to handle KU on Wheels. The company welcomes the opportunity to talk with Lawrence Bus Co. employees about jobs, including drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and road supervisors.
As a union shop, he said, MV Transportation's wages and benefits generally are higher than others in the market.
"We've met a lot of nice people so far," Sweeten said.
KU chose MV Transportation through a competitive bidding process, and the California-based company offered what Kaiser described as the most "cost-effective" proposal.
The university's contract with MV Transportation also expires at the same time as the city's agreement for the T, a shift that removes another potential barrier between the two systems working together at some point.
"We can make that easier for them, since we'll be operating both services going forward," Sweeten said.