Congratulations, Mr. Implementation Specialist.
By the end of the month, you’re likely to be on the job identifying cost-saving, efficiency-boosting and service-enhancing suggestions for bus systems serving Kansas University campus and the city of Lawrence.
And you’ll soon hear from developers of two new apartment complexes, together ready to deliver more than 1,000 potential riders for the bus systems. One builder already is working on a bus shelter.
Too bad there likely won’t be any money available to shift such a partnership into gear. “Just because you build something doesn’t mean we’ll come,” said Danny Kaiser, assistant director of KU Parking and Transit, which oversees the campus system. “It’s economically inefficient, by ourselves — KU on Wheels — to be running a route out there. …
“I would not say that it’s impossible, but I would say that it would be very challenging.”
Recommended to address such challenges will be an as-yet-undisclosed transit consulting firm, considered an implementation specialist because of its expected expertise in making existing transit systems work more efficiently.
Lawrence city commissioners will be asked to approve hiring the firm Jan. 27, as part of a contract to be financed by up to $120,000 from the Kansas Department of Transportation and up to another $12,000 each from KU and the city of Lawrence.
The consultant will be tasked with reviewing schedules, routes, operations and assets of the community’s two dominant transit systems — KU on Wheels, serving KU, and the T, serving the city as a whole — in search of opportunities for coordination.
Transit leaders want initial recommendations back by March 1, followed by a second round in time for the 2010-11 academic year. The first round of recommendations would give commissioners and KU Provost Richard Lariviere time to consider approving changes that could take effect by spring break, when many KU students start deciding where to live for the coming academic year.
And rest assured, bus service often is a major factor in such decisions.
No free rides
With all KU students already paying for bus service through mandatory student fees each semester — currently $44.90 for operations, plus $20 for bus acquisition — living on a bus route can permit students from avoiding having to pay for parking: either $110 per semester for a Yellow Zone permit on campus, or $55 per semester to use the Park & Ride shuttle.
Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, is busy building Remington Square, a $9 million apartment project south of Clinton Parkway and west of Crossgate Drive. The complex will offer 224 one-bedroom apartments, designed for students looking for their own private living spaces.
Two other complexes — The Legends and Aberdeen — already are in place nearby, and another complex is in the works next door.
The area is not yet served by KU on Wheels.
“It’s vital to be on the bus route,” Stultz said. “That’s to service our 224 students, plus the 680 across the street from me, and the more than 500 down the street. There’s 1,500 to 2,000 people who could be serviced by one additional route.”
And that’s only the beginning.
Fairfield Residential, a Dallas-based developer and property manager, is putting up The Exchange at Lawrence, a 324-unit complex southeast of 31st Street and Ousdahl Road. Taken together, the one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments will have room for up to 888 residents — and college students indeed are the focus, as the company’s NotTheDorm.com site attests.
Brett Mauthe, Fairfield’s project manager, said The Exchange would offer features built into the company’s other student-housing projects throughout the southeastern United States: a resort-style pool, sports courts, an athletic club and more.
“There’s going to be a bus-stop shelter that will be part of the amenities,” Mauthe said. “It’s very important.”
Whether the shelter will be used for KU on Wheels for the coming academic year remains unclear.
Hearings to come
Adding just one bus to run a normal KU on Wheels schedule for a year would mean spending an additional $80,000 to $100,000, he said. Normally new routes require two buses, to maintain stops every half hour.
“And that’s the operations cost,” Kaiser said. “That doesn’t even count the cost of the bus.”
KU on Wheels, with an annual budget of $2.671 million, has no immediate plans to add any routes for the coming year, Kaiser said, but no final decisions will be made until the implementation specialist can offer recommendations and others are given a chance to make suggestions.
Members of the public already have provided comments and suggestions to transit officials through personal and online surveys, and KU on Wheels’ Transit Commission will conduct route hearings in early March.
“KU on Wheels doesn’t have a route going out there, or planned to go out there, as of right now,” Kaiser said. “If we’re able to start coordinating routes, then maybe that picture can change. … If we’re able to identify some efficiencies that maybe free up a bus or two, perhaps it makes those decisions a little easier.”
‘There may be opportunities’
Diane Stoddard, assistant city manager, said that leaders of the T were looking forward to having the incoming implementation specialist review the system’s routes.
Lawrence residents voted in November to approve two increases in sales taxes to finance improved transit services, including enhanced coordination between the T and KU on Wheels. Leaders already have heard talk of perhaps running city buses past new population centers — including apartment complexes, such as The Exchange and Remington Square — and then connecting with KU-bound buses at a transfer point, such as the Park & Ride lot near Clinton Parkway and Iowa streets.
“Those are things we will be talking with the consultant about early on,” Stoddard said. “There may be opportunities for us to work together to be serving those areas.”