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Lawrence transit system ranked No. 36 in the country; construction firm purchases North Lawrence property


There used to be a time whenever you mentioned Lawrence’s public transit system – The T – you would inevitably hear a joke about how its more appropriate name was the empTy. But those jokes have lost their luster, and there’s a new study out that shows why. The T isn’t empty, but rather is the 36th most used public transit system in the country, at least by one measure.

The journalists at FiveThirtyEight.com have looked at the ridership numbers that transit systems report to federal regulators each month. Then they took that data and compared it to each city’s population. The result was number of trips per resident. Of the 290 cities ranked by that criterion, Lawrence was No. 36 with 33.2 trips per resident.

So, not exactly empty. If you want to look at empty, gaze to the south. Our friends in Wichita ranked No. 245 in the country with 4.5 trips per resident. Nearby Topeka was a little better at No. 170 with 8.2 trips, and the Kansas City metro only was No. 139 with 10.9 trips per resident.

In fact, you could argue that Lawrence has the second most used transit system in the entire region. Who has the top spot? Iowa City checks in at No. 11 in the country with 66 trips per resident. Iowa City, like Lawrence, is a university town. The study by FiveThirtyEight did show that compared to other university towns, Lawrence still has some room to grow. Four of the top 11 cities were university communities, with Athens, Ga. No. 4, Champaign, Ill. No. 7, and State College, Pa. No. 8. All those cities more than doubled Lawrence’s usage rates, so it seems the city’s system still can grow.

Certainly, KU students play a large role in Lawrence’s ridership numbers. Although the city and the university technically operate separate bus systems, they are coordinated, which means riders from each system can transfer between the two systems. When it comes to counting ridership, the federal regulators combine the KU and Lawrence systems and count the riders under Lawrence. Without the KU riders, Lawrence’s standing on this list would look much different.

While Lawrence still has some catching up to do with some university communities, it is clearly ahead of some others. Columbia, Mo. ranked No. 108 with 13.9 trips per resident. (Note: I don’t think it is accurate or appropriate to say that the reason for Columbia’s low ranking is because they have to take the buses off of the cement blocks each morning.) In fact, Lawrence was the top ranked city of all the Big 12 communities that were ranked. (Ames, Stillwater, Norman, and Manhattan weren’t large enough to be ranked.)

I’m sure these numbers won’t dissuade some from continuing with the empTy jokes. Indeed the ranking system isn’t perfect. It measures per capita volume more so than efficiency, but it is interesting to think that Lawrence has one of the more heavily relied-upon systems in the entire Midwest. It also is interesting to think about four years from now. Lawrence voters likely will be asked to save the system again. It was in November 2008 that voters approved a pair of sales taxes to fund the transit system, which at the time was hurting for funding. The ballot language, however, made it clear those taxes only would last 10 years. The transit vote won easily with 70 percent of the vote back then, so perhaps fans of the transit system don’t have anything to worry or about. Or, on the other hand, take a bus on Wall Street and you’ll find many a poor soul who has relied on past performance to project future returns.

In other news and notes around town:

• Maybe a mobile home is more your style than a bus. If so, you already have noticed that Webster’s Mobile Home Sales in North Lawrence has gone out of business. We reported on that quite a while ago. But there is now news about a new business that will take over the company’s longtime real estate at 801 N. Second St. A group led by Manhattan-based Hi-Tech Interiors has purchased the property, and will use the existing building for its Lawrence office staff. But a company official told me the construction firm also is considering building a warehouse and a construction yard on the site. The firm has had offices in Lawrence at 616 Arizona St., but has been looking for additional space as work levels in the Lawrence and Kansas City areas have been increasing. The Lawrence office serves the Kansas City market, which has been the company’s best growth market. The firm specializes in steel framing, drywall and exterior finishes. It is a subcontractor for a lot of large projects, including the Theatre Lawrence project and the downtown hotel project that is underway.


Tricky Gnosis 3 years, 8 months ago

Todd, that's like when football fans say "well, if you take away the interceptions, they're a great team" or when stock analysts say "well, when you deduct that one-time extraordinary expense, they're a profitable company!"

The numbers are the numbers. If the students ride, it's still cars off the street. Which, in a town of 100,000 with roads built for a population of 50,000, is a pretty good deal.

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