Providing free parking and shuttle service from downtown Lawrence to Memorial Stadium on Kansas University game days is a great idea, but it comes with a certain amount of irony attached.
Lawrence City Manager David Corliss announced Tuesday that free shuttle buses would carry fans to Memorial Stadium Saturday from the city's parking garages in the 900 block of New Hampshire and at Riverfront Plaza. The buses will start running at 4 p.m. and operate until an hour after the game.
The service will use KU on Wheels buses funded by $13,000 from the city parking fund and the city guest tax collected on local hotel and motel rooms.
Given the additional revenue that will be generated downtown, it's a good investment for the city. People will park downtown and shop and eat in downtown businesses before and after the game. Those businesses will benefit from the additional traffic, and the city will benefit from additional sales tax revenue. Win-win.
There are, however, a couple of points of irony to this system.
Demand for downtown shuttles was greatly enhanced this week by the announcement that there would be virtually no free parking on the KU campus for home football games. The new football practice facility near Memorial Stadium has permanently eliminated spaces that previously were reserved for Williams Fund members. To make up for those spaces, KU Athletics has expanded its reserved spots to other parts of campus.
During construction near the stadium, free parking and shuttle buses were offered at the large parking lot south of Robinson Gymnasium. This week, it was announced that parking in that lot will cost $20 this year. (The shuttle's still free, but give them time.)
KU may need that money to defray the costs of operating the lot, but the $20 fee is almost certain to prompt more people to seek parking spots in neighborhoods surrounding campus. That already is a source of complaints from city residents. It will be interesting to see whether the free downtown parking will be enough to offset the neighborhood parking pressure created by the new parking fee.
The other ironic aspect of this is that the downtown-stadium shuttle plan depends on the use of public transit at the same time that city commissioners have told the public that its T system isn't important enough to save unless voters approve a 0.2 - or maybe 0.25 - percent sales tax to fund it. If the city and KU on Wheels can work together to provide shuttle service on game day, shouldn't they be able to work out a plan for an ongoing joint bus system to serve both KU and the rest of Lawrence?
It looks like Saturday is going to be a great day for football and, after last season's Orange Bowl, fans are pumped about the 2008 Jayhawks. Let's just hope that the journey to Memorial Stadium doesn't dampen their enthusiasm.