Editorial: Renew transit tax

The bus system will be increasingly important in Lawrence, and the sales tax that funds it is reasonable.

The city’s public transit service is critical infrastructure, and Lawrence residents should vote to renew the sales tax dedicated to funding it.

In November, Lawrence voters will be asked whether to renew for another 10 years the 0.55 percent sales tax that provides funding for infrastructure (0.3 percent), the transit service (0.2 percent) and affordable housing (0.05 percent). If it isn’t renewed, the sales tax will expire in 2019.

The special sales tax provides about $4 million of the $9 million required to fund the public transit service. The sales tax makes the city eligible for state and federal matching grants that account for a significant portion of other transit service revenue. Bus fares account for only a fraction — about 6 percent — of transit service revenue.

Riders of the transit service, which includes routes coordinated with the University of Kansas bus service, now make more than 3 million trips annually, transit officials said.

“I think sustainable transit is a vital service for our community, more so than individual cars,” Vice Mayor Stuart Boley said. “I think it’s important for our future. As we increase density, I think transit will be more and more important to people.”

If the sales tax renewal doesn’t pass, the city would have to dramatically scale back its bus operations.

Before the special sales tax was approved in 2008, local funding for transit service came from property taxes. Should the renewal fail, the city could go back to using property tax. Or the city could revise the sales tax proposal and pursue voter approval in 2018.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Residents could vote “no” on the sales tax as a rejection of more city taxes, given that commissioners voted to increase the city’s property tax rate by 1.25 mill. Residents might also take out their frustration that commissioners still have not identified a site for a transit center hub, which would allow the city to implement a more efficient route system that would save on transit service costs. For four years, the hub has been at its “temporary” location on Seventh Street.

To be sure, there are issues that must be resolved. But overall the current system works well.

The city’s bus service relieves traffic congestion, is environmentally friendly and provides affordable and reliable transportation to residents. The sales tax approved in 2008 has proved to be a consistent and reasonable way to fund the bus service and the tax should be renewed.