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Archive for Monday, May 21, 2012

Financial concerns escalating over K-10 Connector bus service

May 21, 2012

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Almost every Lawrence motorist knows Jo. It is the big bus run by Johnson County Transit — the Jo, for short — that motors along Kansas Highway 10 taking riders between Kansas University, Johnson County Community College and KU’s Edwards Campus.

What motorists may not know about Jo is this: It is a round-trip bus with a one-way funding plan. Even in prosperous Johnson County, that’s starting to draw some questions.

“I can tell you that the question has been asked multiple times why Johnson County is operating that route and bearing the full brunt of the operational costs,” said Chuck Ferguson, deputy director of Johnson County Transit.

The route, known as the K-10 Connector, costs about $840,000 a year to operate. Ferguson estimates 60 percent of the riders on the route reside in Lawrence or Douglas County. But currently no Douglas County entity, such as the city’s transit department or KU, helps pay to operate the service.

Ferguson said he expects serious discussions about whether Douglas County support will be required for the service to continue operating for the long term.

“From an administrator’s standpoint, I think it would be appropriate that they help us with these costs because there are benefits from the service that go beyond Johnson County,” Ferguson said.

Uncertain benefits

Transit leaders with the city and Kansas University, however, said they need a better understanding of how the system fits into the overall goals they are trying to accomplish in Lawrence.

“When voters approved the transit sales taxes in 2008, they talked a lot about improving transit in the Lawrence community,” said Robert Nugent, the city’s public transit administrator. “But they didn’t talk much at all about our role in providing transit to other communities.”

Danny Kaiser, assistant director for KU’s Parking and Transit Department, said he does think the K-10 Connector service makes it easier for some Johnson County residents to attend KU. He said the service also likely benefits local streets and Kansas Highway 10 by reducing traffic volumes on the road.

“I suspect there are benefits to us, but how do you quantify them?” Kaiser said. “That probably is not for me to determine.”

Nugent said before that he wanted more information, such as how many Johnson County residents use the service to commute to a job in Lawrence, before the city would consider a financial contribution. He said if the primary users of the service are Lawrence residents who attend Johnson County Community College, the city would want to consider whether it wants to subsidize that use of the service.

“It is really hard to say what could happen in the future,” Nugent said. “If we could get a good idea of who is using the service, it could happen. But right now that information is murky.”

Budget bullet

Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the K-10 Connector service was at risk of closure in 2013.

But Ferguson said his department recently received word that it would not see a $400,000 reduction in its budget from the Johnson County Commission. That likely will keep the service intact for 2013.

“At this point in time, it is our intention to not do anything dramatic to the K-10 Connector service in 2013,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said his office wants to find a way to keep the service for the long term because ridership numbers have been very strong.

The service provided about 150,000 passenger trips in 2011, up from about 130,000 in 2010.

“The popularity of the service is immense,” Ferguson said. “It is a route that has a perfect storm surrounding it. It connects three educational campuses, there are very few stops on the route, and that makes it one of those transit options where there is very little difference in the amount of time it takes you to ride your bus versus taking your car.”

The service charges $3 for a one-way route. Fares pay for about 40 percent of the approximately $840,000 in operational costs. Ferguson said the department has considered a significant increase in fares, but said there is concern ridership could drop significantly.

Ferguson said his department will now await direction from Johnson County leaders on whether to formally ask Lawrence, KU and perhaps even Douglas County for funding.

Hate to lose it

Lawrence City Commissioner Mike Dever stopped short of saying he would be willing to provide city funding to the service, but he said local leaders need to monitor the situation.

Dever, who was a leading proponent of the 2008 transit sales taxes, said the service will have a growing value as Lawrence works to stay in compliance with new EPA regulations related to air quality.

“I’m confident there is a reduction in cars traveling between Lawrence and Johnson County as a result of this service,” Dever said. “The more cars we can get off the street, the more it helps our cause. We need to work together to see how we can keep that route in place.”

Comments

grimpeur 2 years, 7 months ago

Yes, it's correct to say that the Jo keeps cars off our streets. Unnecessary cars. Saves me money as a resident and taxpayer.

This system should be expanded and dovetailed with Lawrence and KU service.

From the story: “When voters approved the transit sales taxes in 2008, they talked a lot about improving transit in the Lawrence community,” said Robert Nugent, the city’s public transit administrator. “But they didn’t talk much at all about our role in providing transit to other communities.”

Then it's time for you, sir, as the admin, to start talking about it, especially about reducing trips of less than a mile within the city and reducing the number of cars traveling from KC and Topeka.

Should read, "...providing transit between KU and park-and-ride lots in Topeka and KC." So let's get cracking.

KU needs to be all in on transit, because no more parking shall be built on campus. Evah.

John Kyle 2 years, 7 months ago

It's not free. It costs money to ride the JO. Why do you stay around Lawrence if all you do is complain about it?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm sure glad that you aren't prone to blanket statements about people you've never met.

jonas_opines 2 years, 7 months ago

"Besides we have to keep the deadbeats riding around in circles in Lawrence."

I drove the routes on the T for a year and a half. I suppose it is possible that ridership has changed in the five years since I did, but the ridership of the T (which did have good ridership on a few of the routes, not so much on others), was generally people trying to get to work (work that probably did not pay high enough wages to finance a vehicle), students going to classes who didn't live in areas that KU buses served, and people trying to get to the big shop centers like 31st and Iowa area.

Not to mention the paratransit routes.

I won't say that the T couldn't stand structural improvements, changes in the vehicles used, or anything else, but to write its users off as deadbeats, or people who think it beneath them to use other methods of travel such walking (highly impractical in a town as spread out as Lawrence), or bicycling (lots of people have plenty of problems with cyclists too, thread on that today), seems rather problematic.

Centerville 2 years, 7 months ago

That's $5.40 per ride, which is cheap for the trip between Lawrence and Jo Co, plus not having to do the driving. Why not charge that?

mom_of_three 2 years, 7 months ago

they are thinking about raising it to that, I have heard. It would be a significant jump for the riders to take on, to go from $3 to say $5 one way would be an additional $4 for a roundtrip. While many riders could probably do it, some would take a big financial hit. Yes, still cheaper than gas for most, but still a hit for those who are watching their pennies. Hopefully something can be worked out as I know several people who use the JO.

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence needs a community college, not just a bus to one 25 miles away. We also need a vo-tech. Do we not have any unused schools that could serve the purpose until we can afford a proper facility?

chootspa 2 years, 7 months ago

We already have a satellite campus of JCCC in Lawrence.

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

So why not have a full campus DCC instead? Is there a reason we shouldn't have our own community college and vo-tech?

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

Universities and community colleges serve different purposes. Not everyone can attend English 101 at 9 am. Some have to work during the day. Other simply can't afford a world-class university like KU, even in state, and let's face it, not everyone can meet the the mental demands of university classes.

I agree Lawrence is just on this side of too small for something like JCC, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a smaller college in our community where people can get a basic associates degree or learn new skills to replace their job lost to China.

"Do you think the state with the help of the county should make it an even 20 junior colleges?"

Florida has 28 community colleges. I don't see why Kansas can't have 20. I wouldn't mind a tax increase specifically to fund a small but expandable community college. You have to start somewhere.

This is all predicated on the citizens of Lawrence utilizing the school. If an independent study shows it won't be used, we don't deserve it and we can just keep bussing the most promising students that can't afford KU and not worry about the rest. The world needs ditch-diggers too.

Maybe I'm just lucky that I came from a state that values providing the opportunity for higher learning to the less fortunate than Kansas does. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the free ride (plus stipend) through grad school at KU, but if I were from Lawrence, I may never have gotten it because I never could have gotten my foot in the door.

gatekeeper 2 years, 7 months ago

Oh good grief. The population of Florida is 19 million and the population of Kansas is 2.9 million. Hmmm, I wonder why Florida has more schools than Kansas. Is math taught in FL?

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

OK, so you build larger colleges in Florida (which they do). The point is that you can't expect someone to attend a community college 25 miles away. I went to night school for 5 years to get my AA. That opened the door to finally getting a masters. Some people need that cheap foot in the door, and I think it it should be more readily available.

If you guys don't like the idea, then keep bussing students to Jonson county. It's no skin off my back.

gatekeeper 2 years, 7 months ago

Here in KS where many people have to drive that far just to get groceries, most don't think too much about driving 25 miles (once you get away from the KC metro area, people drive a lot because it's so rural). In Lawrence, they can hop on a bus that will take them directly to the school. For a semester, I commuted 40 miles to KU, after transferring from JCCC. Sometimes it's the price you pay to get a good education.

I lived about 15 miles from JCCC when I lived in KC, but because of traffic had at least a 25 minute drive to get there. JCCC is a great community college and those in Lawrence that can travel such a short distance to attend JCCC are usually pretty happy. I have two neighbors that have no problem with it.

Chris Golledge 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm thinking people tend to spend money where they happen to be, when they want to eat or just general shopping. The bus appears to help transfer more people from Douglas/Lawrence to JoCo than the other way. So, it isn't entirely clear what the percentages are, but it sounds like Ferguson feels Lawrence should help subsidize the transfer of money from this area to Johnson County.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

I'd guess that the great majority of those using it are going to KU or JCCC-- why shouldn't those institutions chip in a bit, as well?

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 7 months ago

Why dont people just pay their own way? Why dont they just carpool if reducing the number of vehicles is the reason for the bus. Yada, yada, yada, if you want to go to school, go to work, or go to anywhere, why does the taxpayer have to pay for your transportation. I'll bet if they were doing most anything else, they could figure out a way to get there. Lets put that 850K back into the tax coffers and forget about raising property taxes this year.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

"it is intercity transportation that is a lot more important than intracity transportation"

I'm guessing that any time you want to go anywhere, you just jump in your car, even for intracity trips.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 7 months ago

If you want to get rid of public transportation, then fine. Lets kill the wasteful empTy while we are at it. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ WOOT!

Flap Doodle 2 years, 7 months ago

What the heck, let's whiz away a few billion and make this into a bullet train!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

"let's whiz away a few billion"

We whiz away hundreds of billions every year in the war dept.

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

Like it or not, the constitution demands we have a a war department.

"provide for the common defense" From a source.

You don't really like the constitution very much, do you bozo?

jonas_opines 2 years, 7 months ago

Regardless, there's a great deal of wiggle-room in what it means to provide for the common defense, and how much of our current expenditures address that requirement is certainly up to debate.

But I'm guessing that you at least partially agree with that.

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

Sure. I think we should keep troops on friendly ground in strategic locations if the host countries agree. We can end the wars, but we need everyone to be sure that if they attack our allies, we will defend them in every instance.

FriendlyFire 2 years, 7 months ago

My guess is that the people commenting on or offering up suggestions here have never actually been on the K10 connector. I take this bus quite often and have calculated that it saves me approximately $300 a month that would normally go toward gas. The bus is almost full during rush hour times, particularly during the academic semesters. It transfers numerous KU staff/employees from the Kansas City area to Lawrence. Related, the KU bus system does an excellent job of transferring to main campus, etc. I think Lawrence and KU should realize that it is in their interest to help fund the JO. On several occasions I've seen bus drivers ask riders what county they live in, presumably to get information on ridership. Nugent is incorrect when he says this information would be hard to quantify. It would be extremely simple, actually.

grimpeur 2 years, 7 months ago

Not if we're driving a car, we're not.

jonas_opines 2 years, 7 months ago

Do you take the time to make all those quotation marks as signs with your hands as you're typing them out?

Richard Heckler 2 years, 7 months ago

Thus far Comm. Mike Dever has exactly the right attitude. JOCO students also come to KU. All students are worth dollars and sales tax to this community.

I would imagine some riders do use it as a mode to get to work.

JOCO is furnishing the vehicles surely we could find a way to offer up some type of subsidy.

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