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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fuel costs tough on university’s bottom line

Kansas University employees Brian Patton, left, and Larry Rawlings fill state cars at KU's Facilities and Operations garage on West Campus. Rising fuel costs have taken their toll on most departments on campus.

Kansas University employees Brian Patton, left, and Larry Rawlings fill state cars at KU's Facilities and Operations garage on West Campus. Rising fuel costs have taken their toll on most departments on campus.

August 16, 2008

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Most mornings Brett Sury parks his vehicle at the Park and Ride bus stop at 23rd Street and Crestline Drive, locks his doors and waits for a bus to take him to campus.

The Kansas University senior lives just across the street. For him, the Park and Ride system is quick, it's easy - and it's free.

"I usually ride the buses just because the lot is closer and more convenient," Sury said. "Also, I've heard horror stories about people who get yellow passes on campus and can't find a place to park."

Sury is not alone. Between August and May of the 2007-08 school year, the campus Park and Ride bus system provided more than 250,000 rides, said Derek Meier, student transportation coordinator for KU on Wheels.

Fuel savings

Most of these rides were provided to students, faculty and staff members who simply don't want to try to find a place to park on campus. Others choose to ride buses to preserve gas - especially now that gas prices have reached close to $4 in the Lawrence area.

"The thing with Park and Ride is that its primary goal is to get from the satellite parking lots to campus," Meier said.

With the increasing cost of fuel, students aren't the only ones trying to preserve gas.

"I know it's hurting us," Steve Green, associate director of Facilities and Operations, said about the price of gas. "We're doing some carpooling. I know in the last newsletter there was a note reminding people to pay attention, to not make extra trips and to get all parts and tools before leaving."

One hardship the maintenance department faced this year was relocation, Green said.

"The problem I've got is that they've moved all maintenance to West Campus," he said. "We have to drive from a shop that's about a mile off campus."

Because of the relocation, Green said consumption is up about 12 percent from last year.

"I think that's most of our increase in consumption," Green said. "The trouble is, it came during a time when we're paying more for gas."

The maintenance department has approximately 80 vehicles, Green said. Each semester, 20 vehicles are leased out to departments for 31 cents a mile or 40 cents for larger vehicles.

"We did not increase that when fuel increased this spring," he said. "We've kind of resigned ourselves to taking a lot this year just because people had their travel plans made and budgets set. It seemed terribly unfair to do a mid-year increase."

However, rates started going up the beginning of July, Green said.

"I think some of the departments will definitely be affected," he said.

One area of KU life that will be affected by the steep price of gas is the athletic department.

"We are trying to make sure that we do everything we can to use our vehicles economically," said Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director for administration. "We're having everybody keep in mind that we should use the vehicles judiciously."

Some ways the athletic department is trying to preserve fuel is by decreasing the number of extra vehicles sent to and from events.

"We won't use two cars when we could use one," Marchiony said. "The kinds of things you do at home. It's just common-sense use of vehicles."

KU on Wheels

Other areas of KU are changing in response to fuel prices.

The university's KU on Wheels program will now be a required fee for all KU students, regardless of whether they use the busing system.

Adam McGonigle, student body president, said he expected the change to increase ridership by 20 percent.

Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit, said with the new pool of money coming in from students, KU on Wheels can afford to combat the increasing cost of gas by providing students with more service than last year.

"We know how much service we can provide," Kaiser said. "We anticipated the increase. We'll run at least the number of service we did last year, probably a little bit more."

Sury remembers using the KU on Wheels buses his freshman year. Since then, he hasn't had to use the buses to get from place to place. Instead, he walks around campus.

"I can see the advantage for a lot of other students because when I was a freshman, I had to pay the 100-and-some dollars to ride the bus," he said. "If they'd had this when I was a freshman, I would have been ecstatic."

Even though he'll be paying the annual fee to use the transportation, Sury doesn't foresee himself riding anything but the Park and Ride buses.

"I just walk around everywhere," he said. "Sometimes it's faster. It's a little bit easier to be in charge of my own schedule."

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