For Lawrence residents who depend on public transportation, life pretty much has to happen between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
If they work a late shift or attend an evening meeting or performance, they may find themselves stranded after the city’s T buses have gone home for the night.
Extending the hours of the T is a top request of its riders, and setting aside money in next year’s budget to fund a pilot program that provides limited transportation coverage in the evening and overnight hours is a reasonable experiment.
The budget draft that Lawrence city commissioners will discuss on Tuesday includes $250,000 to fund a “demand response” transportation system between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., Monday through Saturday. The money for the program would come from city sales tax revenue designated for public transportation. The plan is to have two 18-passenger buses available overnight for people who have scheduled rides in advance. Riders would pay the standard $1 one-way transit fare.
City officials still are refining the plan to address such issues as how far in advance rides must be scheduled. The goal of the on-demand bus system is not to replace Kansas University’s safe-ride program, which gives students a ride home after they’ve been drinking, but to provide transportation for people who need to go to or from work or other activities that can be predicted and scheduled in advance.
There are other issues the city should consider as it sets up and evaluates its overnight transit program. For instance, does the city really need to run 18-passenger buses overnight or would smaller, less-expensive vans do the job? Is $1 the appropriate fare or would people willingly pay more, maybe $2, for an after-hours ride? The city also should assess whether this service is a higher priority than other improvements that might be financed with the $250,000. Even one potential late-shift rider interviewed by the Journal-World said it would be more important to him to have a shorter wait time when he changes buses on his way to the grocery store.
To those who don’t need or use public transportation, this service and perhaps the entire T system may seem like a waste of taxpayer money, but for those who don’t have cars or are unable to drive, the city transportation system can be the key to having a job, attending events, shopping and living independently. It’s worth a try to see if the proposed extended transportation system will help more of them achieve those goals.