Voters won't be armed with many details about a proposed merger of the Kansas University and city bus systems when they decide a pair of key transit-related sales tax issues on Nov. 4.
In fact, there's no guarantee that such a merger will happen, even if voters approve the two sales tax questions.
City Manager David Corliss on Tuesday said that he's optimistic KU and the city can reach an agreement on creating a larger, more efficient bus system. But he said until the two sides do the hard work of creating routes for a new system, there's no certainty that an agreement can be reached.
That work won't be done by the Nov. 4 election, when voters will decide on a package of transit sales taxes totaling a quarter of a percent.
"Both KU and the city will want to take a look at the resources on the table and the routes before making a commitment to merge," Corliss said after speaking to a Chamber of Commerce crowd about the sales tax proposals.
City commissioners in June were presented with a letter of intent from KU leaders to merge the two systems by July 1, 2009. But commissioners have not signed the letter of intent, instead saying they need to work out more details.
Corliss said he now expects commissioners to sign the letter of intent in October. But that doesn't mean all the details will be worked out. Corliss said, for example, he doesn't expect to be able to present voters with a proposed route map or schedule for a new combined bus system.
Such detail could be helpful in winning over voters. Several opponents of the sales taxes have said the current system doesn't deserve support because it is too inefficient.
Corliss did tell Tuesday's chamber crowd that the city is committed to revamping the current system, with or without KU's help.
"I think the City Commission to a person believes we have to start with a blank slate when it comes to routes," Corliss said. "I do not think the current system is the best system we can operate."
Danny Kaiser, KU assistant director of parking and transit, said he's optimistic that the city and university can reach agreement. But he said the routes will be critical because the university won't move forward unless new routes are well-received by students.
Kaiser, though, said a possible merger already has cleared a key hurdle. He said KU leaders have agreed that if the proposed sales taxes are approved, they would provide the city with enough money to cover its share of expenses related to a proposed system.
"We're meeting weekly now with the city," Kaiser said. "We're getting the issues identified, and doing the research that we need to do."
The possible merger already is playing a role in the campaign to approve the two transit sales taxes. Supporters of the sales taxes often have held out the promise of a better system if the sales taxes are approved.
"We can only improve it if we first save it," said David Smith, an organizer of the Campaign to Save the T.
But sales tax opponents have said the city has a responsibility to provide more details about what a new system would look like before voters go to the polls.
"Maybe I'm just showing my age, but isn't that called buying a pig in a poke?" said Bill Reynolds, a T opponent.