A full-fledged merger of the city and Kansas University bus systems may be delayed - or less likely to happen - following a new agreement that city commissioners could approve on Tuesday.
Lawrence city commissioners at their weekly meeting are scheduled to sign an official letter of intent between KU and the city regarding both organizations' public transit systems.
But a key component of the agreement has changed since it was first presented to the public in August. The August draft stated a clear goal of a "merger" between the KU and city systems by July 2009. The new agreement now has replaced that language with a goal of "achieving seamless service" by July.
The proposed agreement still holds out the possibility of a full-merger, but also states that better coordination or consolidation of the two systems would be acceptable as well.
The difference may mean that both city and university buses would continue to run in the city, rather than buses that would be part of a single system serving both KU and the community.
City Manager David Corliss, though, said he believes the proposed agreement still accomplishes the goal of making the bus systems easier and more convenient for everyone to ride.
"I don't know that there will be much of a difference to the average rider," Corliss said of the difference between a merged system and a coordinated system.
Corliss said even if the two systems remained separate it is likely that they would operate off of a shared route map, would have the same fares, and would honor each other's transfer passes.
The main differences between a merged and a coordinated system likely would come at the administrative level. Instead of KU and the city pooling resources into one fund, it is more likely that the city and KU would keep its funding sources separate. It's also possible each organization would continue to own their own buses rather than jointly owning buses.
Governing the system also could be different. Instead of a single joint operating board, the city and university could continue to each oversee the management of their own systems.
"I would call it a coordination effort more than a merger effort from a management standpoint," Mayor Mike Dever said of what he expected.
The change in terminology comes two weeks before voters will go to the polls to decide two sales tax questions that would provide funding for the city's transit system for the next 10 years. In much of the sales tax educational material produced by the city, there's been talk of a possible "merger" between KU and the city systems, if the taxes are approved. Talk of coordinated systems has been less frequent in the city literature.
Corliss said he is not concerned that voters will go to the polls confused about what they would receive if the taxes are approved. He said the city and university already are seeing results from a new program where KU students can ride a T bus for free with a student ID, and T riders can ride a KU bus for free by showing a T bus pass.
"I don't think citizens are that concerned with whether we have to fill out two different payroll sheets or two different federal forms," Corliss said. "I think they want to know the system is going to be as efficient as possible, that we're not going to have duplicative routes, that we're not going to have a half-full KU bus and a half-full city bus running the same routes."
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.