Your Turn: Ensure a sustainable future with public transit

Friends of Lawrence Transit, a group of Lawrence citizens, supports the renewal of a sales tax of .2 percent for public transportation. A special question election will be held with the general Lawrence election on Nov. 7. A “Yes” vote on Question Number One will provide funding for operating the Lawrence Transit System, known as The T, for 10 years, beginning April 1, 2019. The current .2 percent tax has funded transit operations since 2009.

Local dollars are required for the City of Lawrence to secure state and federal funding for transit operations. Operations include contracting with a bus company for drivers and maintenance, signage, benches, shelters, schedule booklets, bus-tracking software, and more.

Passing the 2017 referendum will assure the continuance of solid management and careful planning of the city’s transit system, The timeline has already begun for issuing a request for proposals for the next bus contract; the existing contract is set to end concurrently with the current tax funding.

The 2017 referendum on sales tax of .2 percent for transit operations is a decrease from the last tax referendum, held in 2008, which passed two questions–a .2 percent sales tax for transit operations and .05 percent for transit expansion. The capital funds for expansion, created by the 2008 referendum, have been set aside for vehicles and for building a transfer hub. The 2017 tax renewal will not go towards a transfer hub.

System efficiency has steadily improved since The T began operations in December, 2000. The anticipated transfer hub will add considerably to efficiency by balancing and stabilizing routes, with a goal of running all routes on a maximum of 30-minute frequency. The hub can be built as soon as a location is approved by the City Commission. Once routes have been stabilized, amenities such as benches and shelters can be added.

Since the 2008 tax went into effect, The T has tripled ridership, reduced costs per rider, increased productivity, added routes and amenities, enlarged routes, and extended hours. It has collaborated with the University of Kansas “Hawks on Wheels,” as required in the 2008 sales tax referendum, mutually benefitting both parties.

Lawrence Transit–which includes twelve fixed routes, T Lift, and Night Line–has provided free or low-cost bus passes to populations needing them. It has entered into community partnerships with Cottonwood Inc., Independence Inc., Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority, Lawrence Community Shelter, and Lawrence Public Schools, to name a few.

The Lawrence Transit System will only continue to advance over the next 10 years of operation.

If the 2017 sales tax proposal fails, The T would be faced with dramatically reducing or eliminating service. No workable alternative proposal has been put forth for local transit funding.

The bus service is for everyone in Lawrence, citizens and visitors alike. Riders who use the bus or who may need it in the future include K-12 students, the elderly who no longer drive, people with disabilities, those without a car, those who temporarily cannot drive, or those who merely do not want to drive. Riders rely on The T for work, school, medical appointments, shopping, and a variety of other purposes.

The City of Lawrence Sustainability Division names as an objective advancing the health, safety, and welfare of all residents through strong multimodal transportation planning, to reduce energy dependency and traffic congestion.

In April, 2017, the mayor of Lawrence joined hundreds of other United States mayors signing declarations that their cities will address climate change by reducing emissions through various practices. The International Panel on Climate Change recommends shifting from driving to walking, bicycling, and transit as a key mitigation strategy against climate change.

Since 2008, the entire Lawrence Transit System bus fleet has been replaced with four hybrid electric vehicles plus new-generation, low-emission diesel buses. Lawrence Transit offers fuel-efficient transportation with far lower greenhouse gas emissions than personal automobiles, less expensive to riders than owning and operating cars, while reducing street and parking congestion.

A “Yes” vote on Question One–20 cents of every $100 spent–will ensure a future of expanded, convenient, and environmentally friendly transportation for all: Bus for Us!

–Phyllis Farrar serves voluntarily as chair of Friends of Lawrence Transit, with 30 members including David Aber, Michael Dever, Carey Maynard-Moody, Susan Tabor, Laurie Ward, and Tom Worker-Braddock, who have helped validate the information presented.