Archive for Wednesday, April 19, 2017

City leaders want clearer picture regarding future of Lawrence transit

A Lawrence Transit System bus stops just south of Seventh and Vermont streets, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

A Lawrence Transit System bus stops just south of Seventh and Vermont streets, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016.

April 19, 2017

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With about half of the funding for Lawrence's public bus service not guaranteed after next year, some Lawrence city commissioners are hesitant about advancing plans for a transit center.

At their meeting Tuesday, commissioners delayed approving a location study for a multimillion-dollar transit hub. Instead, commissioners said questions regarding the transit system’s public funding needed to be answered first.

Commissioner Mike Amyx said he thinks the local funding is the most important part of the discussion, and the commission should concentrate on the effort to renew it.

“We should be doing that and that only,” Amyx said. “Until that happens, a lot of the rest of this is just words on paper.”

Less than 10 percent of the city's bus services are supported by fares, with the rest coming from federal, state and local funding. In 2015, state and federal funding supported 48 percent of operating expenses and local sales tax revenues supported 44 percent, according to a recently completed operations analysis.

The local transit funds are generated by a .25 percent citywide tax. The city’s budget for this year estimates the tax will generate about $4.4 million for transit. The tax is set to sunset at the end of 2018, and it will be up to Lawrence voters whether it's renewed.

In response to Amyx, transit officials said that Lawrence would still have a transit service if the sales tax doesn’t pass, but it would be reduced significantly.

“If we continue to get the federal funds that we get now and get the state funds that we get now, we could put out about $2-3 million worth of service, which would be less than half of what we do now,” said Lawrence Public Transit Administrator Robert Nugent.

Amyx noted that one of the expectations is that the sales tax would help fund a transit center for the bus service. Transit lacks a dedicated facility, and a previously completed study identified several possible locations for a transit hub, but none materialized. Some locations were opposed by neighborhoods, and a location on the University of Kansas campus didn’t win the grant it needed to proceed.

All but approximately $10,000 of the cost of the new study will be covered by a Metropolitan Planning Organization grant. Last month, the commission voted to make a request for proposals for the study, but it agreed not to move forward with a contract without further discussion.

Currently, bus transfers are primarily done along the curb in the 700 block of Vermont Street. The transit operations analysis indicated that location lacks sufficient space, amenities and pedestrian safeguards, and Nugent said those issues would have to be addressed if the transfer point remains there.

“We have a lot of activity going on out there,” Nugent said. “We have traffic going both ways, we have people parked on both sides, people trying to get to buses cutting in and out of buses.”

Nugent said in addition to analyzing current ridership data, the new study would get more input up front from the commission, the public and the University of Kansas. For KU, Nugent said that included identifying potential locations for the transit hub on university or KU Endowment land.

The commission agreed that more information regarding the timing of the sales tax referendum is needed to inform the transit hub decision, but differed on whether another location study is needed.

Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she is concerned there aren't enough viable locations for a hub to warrant another study, and Commissioner Matthew Herbert said he doesn’t think another study will provide drastically different results. Herbert said he thinks the commission should either choose a location now and build the transit center, or wait until 2018 to see if the sales tax referendum passes.

“We have to take some ownership of this and instead of just spending money doing survey after survey and study after study, we just have to say, 'Here’s where the thing’s going to go,'” Herbert said. “That’s the leadership we’re going to have to demonstrate. And you’re not going to find a neighborhood that’s going to beg to have this in their backyard.”

Commissioner Stuart Boley said he thinks the commission should go ahead and do the location study, especially given that the grant money to fund the study needs to be spent this year.

“I don’t think our transit system is going to go away,” Boley said. “I think we need to make a good decision, and have good information and good advice and actually engage the community in the process.”

In the end, the commission took no action regarding the transit hub location study and instead directed staff to review the study’s timing in relation to the sales tax referendum and the deadline to allocate the grant money earmarked for the study.

The topic will come before the commission again in May.

Comments

Chris Ogle 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Lawrence voters chose to fund general Public Transportation, and I agree with the decision. However, the general public (not KU students) don't really need, or expected the City to provide 45 passenger buses. My guess..... KU student ridership accounts for at least 85% of passengers per bus hour.

In my opinion, if we are going to pay consulting fees, then pay for an independent study on actual KU student ridership versus the general Lawrence population... KU/City funding may be balanced by ridership usage, but we (the City) should know the facts before making further financial commitments.

Mark Kostner 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Lawrence is spending money on the train station. Why isn't it a transit hub? Lawrence should have two hubs, downtown and KU. And ideally one should be a stop for Amtrak, Greyhound, the K-10 bus and airport shuttles in addition to city buses and obviously the railroad doesn't go through KU but a hub in that area should have multiple services as well. As a transit rider I would prefer that scenario. Hopefully Amtrak and city transit will prevail in their challenges.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Trump's budget cuts out Kansas for Amtrak anyway. What will the use the station for then?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 months, 3 weeks ago

With Trump and his band of Republican cohorts in the congress, Amtrak is doomed. They have been against public support of a viable rail service (like the rest of the civilized world) for years now and they would scrap the National Railroad Passenger Service in a heartbeat if they could.

Richard Quinlan 7 months, 3 weeks ago

The city should prioritize spending appropriate to our revenues. We are not Overland Park with unlimited growth revenues to supply all the things we want. We are a slow growing community with limited revenue and already stressed tax rates , anti growth community sentiments , and previous committments that might not have been prudent like our transit system.

I agree with the above posters in finding out who our riders are , i.e. % of KU , and utilizing the amtrak station.

Ralph Reed 7 months, 3 weeks ago

If the AMTRAK station is used as the transportation hub the city would have to hire people to man the place during open hours and to keep people off of the tracks.

The city would be responsible for retrofitting a barrier between the tracks and the hub to keep idiots off of the tracks.

Trump and his cronies would either charge the city exorbitant rent or make the city buy the facility.

Finally, any monies spent on local projects such as the transportation hub would mean less money going into the pockets of the 1%. That can't happen, so it's not going to happen.

Chris Johnson 7 months, 3 weeks ago

I'd like to see all the bus stops out there be covered like the one near Bob Billings and St. Andrews. There are a couple out on 31st with nice benches, but they are still out in the open. We should finish what we started before paying for consultants to add something new. I'm sure there are still lots of stops across the city with no bench and no cover.

David Holroyd 7 months, 3 weeks ago

Hiring a consultant again is a way for the five commissioners to cover their backsides when they tell the public more money is needed.

Just curious how many times a week each commissioner and their Dr. McCullough along with City Manager Markus...a bad choice for the city, in my opinion, he has no skin in the community!, do these persons mentioned ride the bus system?

What is the auditor's job at the city,,can he not figure out profitability?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 months, 3 weeks ago

As I recall there was a significant amount of resistance to the very existence of the "Empty Bus Company" at the time that city leaders thought we ought to move up to having a system of local busses that run, for the most part, mostly empty or nearly so. The idea, I think, was that people would flock to the bus stops and sell their cars.

Well..........it has not happened.......we still have very large city busses that run nearly or completely empty most of the time (from my limited observations). Thousands and thousands of dollars thrown at a sham that could be better served with free taxi service.

But that is Lawrence.....on the cutting edge of foolishness and waste due to some political wrangling. "Clearer picture???? How about selling those huge busses and buying some vans and setting up a free taxi service. Would probably save a lot of tax money. But no politician I know of would go for that!!

Richard Heckler 7 months, 3 weeks ago

"Commissioner Matthew Herbert said he doesn’t think another study will provide drastically different results. Herbert said he thinks the commission should either choose a location now and build the transit center, or wait until 2018 to see if the sales tax referendum passes.

“We have to take some ownership of this and instead of just spending money doing survey after survey and study after study, we just have to say, 'Here’s where the thing’s going to go,'” Herbert said. “That’s the leadership we’re going to have to demonstrate. And you’re not going to find a neighborhood that’s going to beg to have this in their backyard.”

"Commissioner Lisa Larsen said she is concerned there aren't enough viable locations for a hub to warrant another study,"

Excellent comments ....

In the first place without taxpayer funding there might not be public transportation. Not even air travel. In fact it is my position that air travel and train travel be nationalized thus eliminating high dollar CEO's, their golden parachutes and special interest campaign donations thereby putting those dollars to more fiscal responsible spending.

Our tax dollars going towards high dollar CEO's, their golden parachutes and special interest campaign donations is reckless spending of the people's money.

David Holroyd 7 months, 3 weeks ago

There are not enough viable locations because there is no need for a hub.

When did Mr. Herbert and Ms. Larsen last ride the bus to shop to go to city commission meetings and other meetings. When did Mr. Herbert ride the bus to school to teach?

Remember when the next study comes up for example to repair if Mr. Herbert endorses it. He apparently endorsed $5,000 for Buskers,,,but no money for a Mausoleum that a now deceased resident of Lawrence offered to pay the costs. So, after 30 years the city cannot have any money for that repair?

Just wait till the one at Memorial Park is in need of repair..I guess because it is visilble from 15th street it is protected.

I cannot imagine why Commissioner Amyx a lifelong resident of the city doesn't take the lead and get the Mausoleum in good order by Memorial Day. I suppose it is nothing short of being lazy and the same with the other commissioners. They are too busy fretting about a bus hub.

Herbert thinks...two different things.....which does he really think? Pick one commissioner Herbert or maybe pick an easy thing like the repair of the Mausoleum without a study...but then Mr. Markus doesn't want that and Dr. McCullough isn't good at repairing Mausoleums only....hey maybe that head of the Chamber of Commerce..he has experience with death and crypts and inground burials..and above ground condo burials.

The city commission is best at being lazy!

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