The free ride that Kansas University and local governments have been getting on the K-10 Connector bus that runs between Lawrence and Johnson County is nice, but it may be time to consider investing in a service that has significant potential for future expansion.
The K-10 Connector provided 150,000 rides in 2011, up from 130,000 rides in 2010. The service makes two stops in Lawrence — at parking lots on KU’s West Campus and at 19th Street and Haskell Avenue — and two stops in Johnson County — Johnson County Community College and KU’s Edwards campus. Riders pay $3 per trip, and the rest of the Connector’s operating costs — about $840,000 a year — are paid for by Johnson County. That’s a good deal for KU and local taxpayers, but it may not last forever. Recent discussions of cutting Johnson County funding for the bus have passed, but they are likely to return — along with requests for funding from KU, Douglas County or the city of Lawrence.
Many local residents probably see no reason to support a transit service that mostly delivers local students to JCCC or the Edwards Campus and, therefore, primarily benefits Johnson County. It’s true that a ridership survey conducted about a year ago indicated that about 60 percent of the K-10 Connector riders live in Lawrence or Douglas County. However, that means 40 percent of the riders are starting their trips in Johnson County and probably traveling mostly to KU to either work or attend classes, a significant benefit for Lawrence and the university. At the same time, the Connector is keeping many vehicles off the heavily traveled K-10, which is a safety benefit for everyone who drives that route.
The survival of the K-10 Connector seems safe for now, but there are good reasons for local city and county officials as well as KU to consider additional support for this system. Rather than thinking small and trying to figure out how to sustain a shoestring system, officials should be looking at ways to expand the Connector to attract more commuters — both students and employees. The current system is working fine for the 150,000 rides it provides now, but both communities should be looking to the future and considering steps like added stops or improved connections to other local transit systems to provide improved, expanded service.
Before investing in the K-10 Connector, KU and local government officials need to know more about how many people are using the bus, who they are and why they ride, but if local partners see a significant benefit from the service they should be willing to consider sharing the financial commitment to keep it running.