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.


MacHeath 1 year, 8 months ago

I have to say that I have not experienced any difference in my cable service, since Knology took over. I can always reach someone when I have a problem. Granted they are not in Lawrence, but seem to give me the same service that I had before. If Wow is better than Knology, then I would conclude that Wow is better than Sunflower broadband. I looked at U-verse service, and it is not available where I live.


JackMcKee 1 year, 8 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"


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 8 months ago

The T experiment continues and willl continue to do so until a Director is hired that sets forth a plan and sticks to it!..The most probable way to solve the T issue is for the Fritzel Family's not for profit foundation to take over the Bus System. After all, Scam 101 is about to begin for the Rec Center and the City Commission is leading the Scam class.


mikekt 1 year, 8 months ago

The article assumes that the government accurately counts inflation !

What politician, Democrat or Republican, wants to really truly know what inflation really is or for the public to blame them for it or their party ?

I know !...... There really is a Santa, Claus, a Tooth Fairy, Peter Pan & Tinker Bell,.....and if you just believe hard enough !,.......and of course, no politician would rig the count, of the real increases in the cost of living !


Richard Heckler 1 year, 8 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 1 year, 8 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.


billpayer 1 year, 8 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.


JackMcKee 1 year, 8 months ago

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


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 8 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.


Keith Richards 1 year, 8 months ago

I use Uverse. Pretty great service, but also a little expensive.

I have heard that Lawrence Freenet has great speeds, local service and decent prices. I use ATT because of the bundled tv service.


Hoots 1 year, 8 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.


1 year, 8 months ago

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


Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 8 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.


somebodynew 1 year, 8 months ago

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


flyin_squirrel 1 year, 8 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.


Keith Richards 1 year, 8 months ago

Interesting about the franchise fees. Is it safe to assume that ATT Uverse pays the say fees for 'cable' tv as Knology does? Obviously with only 39% of the budgeted amount that would be a lot of subscribers going the way of the internet or satellite tv.


bmoody51 1 year, 8 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.


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