Archive for Thursday, July 26, 2012

Town Talk: Retail sales in Lawrence up by more than 4 percent for year; are major changes on tap for the T?

July 26, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• The pocketbooks continue to be unlatched in Lawrence.

There’s a new report out from City Hall that shows the first six months of retail sales in Lawrence continue to be impressive.

Retail spending in Lawrence during the first half of 2012 is up 4.6 percent compared with the same period a year ago. (Note: the city has six months of sales tax collections in 2012, but the reporting periods don’t exactly line up with the first six months of the year. The totals represent sales made from about mid-November 2011 to mid-May.)

In fact, shoppers, diners, car buyers and others have spent an additional $30 million in Lawrence compared with last year. Even if you adjust the sales totals for inflation, Lawrence is still having its best year since 2008. Here’s a look at those numbers, with the numbers in parentheses representing the inflation adjusted sales totals:

2012: $666.46 million ($666.46 million)

2011: $636.58 million ($649.43 million)

2010: $611.64 million ($643.68 million)

2009: $616.51 million ($659.45 million)

2008: $639.48 million ($681.58 million)

The latest numbers, however, did show a little sign of weakening. The June totals (which represent sales made from about mid-April to mid-May, grew by 4 percent from the same period a year ago, which is slightly lower than the 4.6 percent average that has been posted for the rest of the year.

But 4 percent growth is still very healthy, so worrying about that would be like worrying about the mud created from last night’s rain. (Over an inch in my eastern Douglas County rain gauge.)

• The sales tax numbers should create a little less worry for budget-makers at Lawrence City Hall as well. The new sales tax numbers have city officials estimating the 2012 sales tax collections will exceed the budgeted amount by about $1.2 million. Assuming all other things are equal, the city should start 2013 with another million dollars more or so in its savings account than once anticipated.

Of course, as budget-makers are quick to point out, we still have another six months of economic gyrations to survive before we can count those chickens. And, they point out, rarely are all other things equal.

The city may see some revenues come in lower than expected. One example is the category of franchise fees. Utilities — read utility customers — pay what is kind of like a special sales tax to the city for the use of its rights-of-way. It is a significant revenue source for the city.

The city has a six-month report on those totals, and most utilities are about right on budget. But one is not: cable television franchise fees. With half of the year gone, cable television franchise fees have only produced about 39 percent of their budgeted amount.

I’m no expert on franchise fees, so I don’t know exactly what to make of the lower than expected number. But certainly there has been a lot of change in the cable television world in Lawrence with the entry of Knology into the market. Plus, there long has been speculation that more and more people will start cutting the cord when it comes to cable and start getting their video entertainment through the Internet. There very well could be some other explanation for why it appears cable usage in the city is less than expected, but it might be something to keep an eye on in the future.

• It appears the city’s bus system also will be worth keeping an eye on.

As we have reported, the city is seriously going to start looking for locations to house a new transit hub. That search will include many places outside of downtown Lawrence. But whether the city is really willing to shake up its transit system by making it less downtown-centric has always been a question.

Well, I’ve heard comments recently that make me think such a shake-up is likely. City Commissioner Mike Dever, who is one of the more active commissioners when it comes to watching over the transit system, recently made public comments suggesting significant changes are on the way for the T.

The question came up at this week’s public meeting on the proposed northwest Lawrence recreation complex about whether the city’s bus system would serve that location. City officials said it most definitely would. But Dever went a couple steps further and said he will be advocating for changes to the transit system that make it easier to get from one side of Lawrence to the other without going through downtown.

“Hopefully we will have a re-tooled T so that not all the buses go downtown first,” Dever said. “Hopefully we will have a better hub system. I think we will have major changes to the T between now and when this recreation center may be built.”

That means between now and 2014, perhaps. Where the city decides to build a new transit hub will go a long way in determining how the system functions in the future. I have had some city officials tell me that they do not see an obvious location for a transit hub in downtown Lawrence. If I were a betting man, I would bet KU’s park and ride lot on West Campus will receive serious consideration as a hub location.

In the meantime, T officials continue to tweak routes. A new set of tweaks go into effect on Aug. 1. You can click here to get more details on those.


bmoody51 5 years, 10 months ago

Another reason for the slow franchise fees from Knology could very easily be the fact that more people are leaving Knology because they absolutely do not provide quality service. Include me in those considering the jump...I am waiting to see if Wow can right the ship. I realize you can't correct a long-term issue in a short time, but Wow, too, is on a short string.

Chelsea Kapfer 5 years, 10 months ago

i jumped ship long ago. i was having problems with my TV pixilating. After 3 techs came out and tried to fix it, i was told that I was just "going to have to learn to live with it". Mind you, it was so bad I couldnt even watch. I switched to AT&T, and the quality was better, but the customer service sucks. I dumped cable altogether and just have netflix. And I am very happy with it.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 10 months ago

Could also be people shifting to Direct TV and Dish. Although they have problems as well, they are nothing like the problems Knology is having.

somebodynew 5 years, 10 months ago

Having just experienced Wow/Knology customer NO-service, count me in on the people looking for alternatives.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 10 months ago

• It appears the city’s bus system also will be worth keeping an eye on. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Seems like they only keep an eye on any part of the empT other than what it really is... a freeking money pit that caters to those who can't or won't pay their own bills. The best answer is to quit throwing money at it and/or trying to make it fit. Imagine the boost to sales in this town if the sales tax was reduced by that 1% or that 1% was used to fund something that we really need.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 10 months ago

You need to ride a bus so that you have a little experience to back up your comments.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 10 months ago

The empT is just another way to encourage sheeple or moochers to become more dependent upon the system, which in turn, keeps politicians in place. At $9 cost or so per ride and they only charge a buck or less for that ride... yea it is worth having. How about funding a whore house with tax dollars for those who like hookers. It would be basically the same thing. Using tax dollars to support the habits of a very few. There is no good argument to keep this money pit of the empT other than taking from the producer and providing a service to non producers or those who choose not to pay their own ways.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 10 months ago

The market should dictate the wages. All the raising of the minimum wage or your so called living wage has done is taken away entry level jobs from high school kids, thus reducing their ability to learn a work ethic.

You see, some people were born to work entry level jobs. Sounds like you are one of them.

Julie Jacob 5 years, 10 months ago

What are people that are dumping WOW/Knology doing for internet?

bornon7 5 years, 10 months ago

AT&T U-Verse bundle package. No problems. So far.

Julie Jacob 5 years, 10 months ago

Uverse is STILL not available for my address despite the fact that I have been getting direct mail for it.

Chelsea Kapfer 5 years, 10 months ago

i kept at&t for the internet. havent had any problems.

Jean Robart 5 years, 10 months ago

ATT uverse. There have been some transitional roblems and pain, but their service is FAR SUPERIOR to Knology. As soon as uverse tv comes to my neighborhood, I'm completely dumping cable.

Hoots 5 years, 10 months ago

Yeah, KU Transit and The T only moved about 2.8 million passengers last year making it the largest transit system in the state by ridership. So not worth having.

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

First, that includes students, who essentially ride for free. Second, how many cities in Kansas have a bus system? Third, let's talk revenues. What's the percentage of costs that other city's bus systems generate? Fourth, let's talk unique riders. What percentage of Lawrence taxpayers actually use the bus system at all. Fifth, that number probably includes the Connector going to and from JOCO, which is actually useful. Remove that and the students and you've got about 18,000 rides a year.

gccs14r 5 years, 10 months ago

All students are charged a transportation fee every semester, so no, they're not riding for free.

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

How much of that fee goes to the M-T? What's the cost per ride for a student taking your student fee into consideration? A nickel? Like I said. Free.

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

And I just noticed you included KU transit in your 2.8 million. Way to make a totally nonsensical argument from the outset.

Hoots 5 years, 10 months ago

Why would I count students. They only live here and are a huge part of the economy. We'll just pretend they don't exist. That would make complete sense. Oh, and that 2.8 million is made even more impressive when you figure in the fact KU Transit only operates 8 months out of a year. The T and KU Transit do operate out of the same facility.

1southernjayhawk 5 years, 10 months ago

Yea, and Micky Mantle and I hit 61 homers combined back in the 60's.

tweetysvoice 5 years, 10 months ago

My only problem with both of these options is that the speed doesn't touch the 50mb download with 250g usage that wow/knology does. Don't get me wrong, i'd do anything to have sunflower back and want to drop wow/knology so bad, but there is no good alternative.

Uverse only gets 24mb download max (half the speed for only 10 dollars less) and freenet is only 10mb. These are fine if you don't stream movies online or play online games. There really is no comparison right now when it comes to internet.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

The "T" needs a new hub primarily because 9th and NH is now the property of Compton, et al, and they won't allow "those people" on their intersection.

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

Is there nobody on the City Commission that will just say scrap the stupid MT?

billpayer 5 years, 10 months ago

As a result of the 2008 vote on a sales tax increase to fund the T and T-lift, the cost of public transit rose from approximately $3.25 milliion per year to $6.25 million per year. The current cost is closer to $7 million. Don't forget that the $1 million in property taxes which were formerly committed to the T were retained and transferred to other expenses. Fares from T rides were and are approximately $250,000 per year. That is only 6-7% of the total cost of the service and indicates T ridership remains the same.

During the first year of "combined routes" with KU on Wheels, T rides rose from 400,000 to 500,000, however, 200,000 of those were students on route 11. Factually, non- student T rides decreased by 100,000 (25%). Rides on the T-Lift declined by 13% (7,000 rides). Since the number of residents and students in Lawrence have not increased significantly in the last four years, and since T fares remain constant, it is logical that T rides remain in the 300,000 to 400,000 range. Even at 500,000 rides, the cost is approximately $14.00 per ride. A one-way taxi ride from anywhere in Lawrence to anywhere in Lawrence costs $10.00.

To answer how many people actually use the T, remember the difference between rides and riders. If you ride the T to and from work, you are two rides. Based on daily rides and the, there are probably 1100 to 1200 people who ride the T on a daily basis. The highest number of rides on any given day is normally on a free day (example: for sidewalk sale). That is approximately 2200 rides.

In light of that information, it is reasonable that Lawrence could provide good public transportation at a much lower cost. Buses do not have to run on a 30 minute schedule. An hourly schedule during non-peak times would lower costs significantly.

Regarding the $250,000 proposed expense for after hours and weekend ON-DEMAND service, taxi vouchers would be a prudent way to determine anticipated usage; and might demonstrate it was cheaper to provide taxi vouchers than to run two buses.

Please note the above information came from T reports and the city budget. Some info is about 2 years old but is still probably relevant.

In conclusion, the T-Lift is warranted and should probably be free to the users. They depend on the T-Lift for their transportation. Again, it might be cheaper and better if provided by accessible taxis. Lawrence can use public transportation but it appears a portion of those funds could be better spent on other needs; or not spent to avoid future budget problems. Our service does exceed what is normal in similar cities like Manhattan.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 10 months ago

I have personally seen the on call T-Lift drop a welfare woman off at a bar. Bars are, I guess considered businesses you can shop at. If this person has enough money to drink on then we should reduce her check.

Hoots 5 years, 10 months ago

You don't have to be poor to use T-Lift. And you assume this person is on Welfare why? I've seen T-Lift in front of some million dollar homes in this town. T-Lift is for anyone with a disability. So I guess you're saying that a person in a wheelchair isn't allowed to go to a bar on the only form of transportation they have available to them. If you treat people that way you would end up in court in violation of The Americans With Disabilities Act. Pathetic...!!!

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 10 months ago

ADA ... screw you... This woman I have known for a long time and if she has enough money to drink on, then she has enough money for a cab.

The empT is a leech on our tax dollars that benefit only a few at a huge cost to the community.

Hoots 5 years, 10 months ago

You must be one of those judgmental, bible beating, narcissist, busybodies that needs to mind their own business. Who cares how she spends her money... Worry about your own bank account. If she is riding the T-Lift then she is considered DISABLED,,,what do you not understand about THAT? Bet you have no clue what her disability is even though you know her so well. For many of the people that take the T-Lift a cab isn't even an option depending on the disability. Cabs don't have wheelchair lifts for one. Unreal.....

Richard Heckler 5 years, 10 months ago

EmpT cars are the inefficient transportation on the road when considering the thousands it cost to own one plus the $200-$300 million trafficway expansion,31st street expansion,pot hole repair,snow removal expenses and constant resurfacing of local roadways.

I'd say EmpT Car travel is approaching billions of $$$$

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 10 months ago

Good for you merrill, from everyone I have talked to, you have zero credibility in this town and are generally refered to as the village idiot.

Orwell 5 years, 10 months ago

Keep up the name-calling and content-free arguments and you might get a chance to challenge for the title.

JackMcKee 5 years, 10 months ago

I have a new motto for Lawrence, I thought I'd try it out here.

"Lawrence,KS. Where trust funds and inheritances go to die"

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