Douglas County leaders soon enough are going to have to figure out whether they want to financially help Johnson County with its strapped transit system.
That’s right, at least in the area of transit, Douglas County has the financial upper hand over its wealthy neighbor to the east.
Now, Douglas County leaders have to decide whether they want to provide financing to the K-10 Connector bus service that runs between Lawrence and the campuses of the Johnson County Community College and Kansas University’s Edwards Campus.
Bob Nugent, the city’s transit administrator, told the city’s Public Transit Advisory Board on Tuesday that he needs some guidance on how to proceed. He said the service has value to the overall region, but he’s not sure whether it falls into Lawrence’s public transit mission.
“The local referendum we had several years ago was to improve service here in Lawrence,” Nugent said, referring to the 2008 election that approved two sales taxes to support transit. “Do we want to spend money to help a regional organization? I think that is what we have to discuss.”
Area leaders will have some time to discuss it. Nugent said Johnson County leaders have told him the K-10 Connector service is safe through 2013. Johnson County also hasn’t requested a specific dollar amount to help the service meet its funding challenges.
Currently, neither Lawrence nor Douglas County provide funding for the commuter service. Nugent said several leaders from the city, Douglas County and KU have agreed to meet with Johnson County officials and the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Johnson County estimates about 60 percent of the ridership originates in Lawrence, and both sides agree the service is primarily used either by students or people who work at KU or one of the Johnson County campuses.
But Danny Kaiser, assistant director of parking and transit for KU, said KU likely will not be supportive of any idea that involves increasing student fees to subsidize the K-10 Connector service.
“The number of students being served by the service is relatively small when you compare it to the whole student body,” Kaiser said. “I think we’ll get a lot of push back if this isn’t user-fee driven but rather student-fee driven.”
Johnson County transit officials estimate 825 riders use the service during the school year. The service — which provides about 160,000 rides throughout the year — costs about $940,000 to operate.
Members of the city’s transit advisory board said figuring out how much to support the K-10 service will be a balancing act.
“It seems like there is some benefit to our community, so we don’t want to completely cut it off,” said Jane Huesmann, a member of the advisory board. “But we don’t want it to detract from what we’re trying to do locally, especially from a funding standpoint.”
Nugent said he expects elected leaders and staff members from the two counties to begin discussing possible partnerships within the next one to two months.
In other transit-related news:
l Nugent said his office has begun work to move the city’s main transfer location for the buses back to Ninth and Massachusetts streets, away from the current area in the 900 block of New Hampshire street.
Nugent said the move is needed to accommodate future development of the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, which is slated to house a new multistory hotel/retail building.
Nugent also said the city is working to create a request for proposals that would hire a consultant to study long-term locations for a new transit hub.
As he has said before, the consultant will be expected to study sites outside the downtown area because sites that could accommodate a number of buses and provide indoor waiting room space for riders is limited in downtown.
Nugent said he expects the request for proposals be issued within the next month. He thinks the study, which likely will cost about $40,000, to be completed by mid-2013.
l City officials want to hear from residents about how a late-night bus service should operate.
The city’s 2013 budget includes $250,000 to fund a pilot program that would extend the hours of the city’s public transit system to cover the time period from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
City officials have said the service likely would be a demand-response system, which means riders would need to somehow request a ride rather than simply wait at a bus stop.
Transit officials want to hear ideas residents have for the service. The city is asking people to fill out a survey on the city’s public transit website at lawrencetransit.org.
Nugent said his office hasn’t yet developed a timeline for when the service could begin.