The K-10 Connector bus that carries passengers between Lawrence and Johnson County seems like a service that works — at least for riders.
Unfortunately, government leaders in Lawrence and Johnson County may not be quite as satisfied with the way the K-10 Connector is funded.
The K-10 Connector stops at three locations in Lawrence (19th and Haskell, 19th and Naismith and Kansas University’s park and ride lot at Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive) and two locations in Johnson County (Johnson County Community College and KU’s Edwards Campus). In 2013, the Connector provided about 160,000 rides.
Various groups benefit from the service. Riders have a convenient and relatively inexpensive ($3.50 per ride) way to get between Lawrence and Johnson County. Although some riders may use the Connector to access other activities, the majority of its riders are KU or JCCC students or staff, so both of those school reap a tangible benefit. The Connector also reduces, at least to a small degree, the amount of traffic on K-10, which promotes safety and may reduce maintenance and expansion needs for the highway.
Although many groups benefit from the Connector, not all of them are helping pay for it. Riders pay fares, but KU and JCCC pay nothing. Johnson County funds the biggest portion of the $1 million annual operating budget, but the city of Lawrence currently contributes $120,000 a year and is being asked to consider raising that amount to $320,000. A recent study showed that 53 percent of the riders live in Lawrence.
On the surface, it seems to make sense that KU and JCCC should share in the cost of the service, because they receive the most direct benefit. Johnson County apparently thinks the benefits to JCCC at least partially justify the county’s investment in the service. The city of Lawrence obviously provides many services to support KU from fire protection to the infrastructure at Rock Chalk Park. Should a bus service also continue to be on that list or is there a better way to spend city transit funds?
Stronger connections between Lawrence and Johnson County generally are viewed as a positive step for economic development as well as education. Will the K-10 Connector eventually help deliver students to the new adult technical training center under development south of 23rd Street on Haskell Avenue? Does the city benefit in other ways from the Connector?
Lawrence city commissioners will have to answer those questions and others during their budget considerations later this year. How the K-10 Connector is funded probably will be an ongoing negotiation, but it would be a shame to lose such a practical and well-used service.