OLATHE – Johnson County transit officials now are proposing to retain some bus service to the University of Kansas Medical Center, but riders could see a fare increase of as much as 20 percent by the middle of next year.
The change for KU Med is part of a revised cost-saving proposal for next year, which the Johnson County Transportation Council considered at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Council members also are looking at the revenue side of the equation by contemplating the first fare hike in three years. Fares on the popular K-10 Connector route between Lawrence and Overland Park could increase by as much as 40 percent by July.
Final authority to make the changes rests with the Board of County Commissioners.
Johnson County Transit would serve KU Med with two runs Monday through Friday, under the revised service reduction schedule. An initial plan unveiled earlier this year would have eliminated the route, which now has four weekday runs.
“Our KU Med service is obviously very poor,” Transit Planner Shawn Strate told the council.
“It will remain poor,” he added. “We don’t have a lot of KU Med riders now because there are not a lot of options for them.”
Johnson County Transit is looking to close a projected $1.3 million deficit for next year. Officials said that without any cuts in 2013 the department could face a deficit of $2.8 million in 2014.
The initial proposal called for eliminating nine of the system’s 20 routes. The latest plan would eliminate five routes and reduce or combine services on the other four.
Staff revised the plan based on public comments and after a federally mandated review of the cuts to ensure they did not disproportionately hit minority and low-income populations.
Among the organizations that raised concerns about the proposed service cuts were SAFEHOME, which serves victims of domestic violence, and The Whole Person, which helps disabled individuals live independently.
One commenter, who worked at the Wyandotte County office of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said her clients used many of the routes slated for elimination to get to and from work.
Strate also highlighted a comment from a KU Med nurse who commuted on the bus. The nurse was dismayed that given the state of the economy, “the county is cutting back on something so essential as a transportation system.”
Council members accepted the revisions with little discussion.
The council is expected to vote on a final recommendation at its next monthly meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Sylvester Powell Community Center, 6200 Martway St. in Mission. The proposed cuts are slated to go before county commissioners Oct. 18.
In separate action, council members voted 8-2 to recommend that the county increase by 50 cents the $3 one-way fare on the K-10 Connector beginning Jan. 1.
As part of the same motion, the council indicated it might recommend increasing fares across the board by as much as 20 percent effective July 1.
That timeframe would give staff and council members time to evaluate first-quarter financial results, said Transportation Director Alice Amrein.
If the county implemented the full increase, it would mean K-10 Connector riders would be paying $4.20 per trip by this time next year.
The final vote was a compromise.
Some council members wanted to push ahead quickly with a fare increase on the K-10 Connector, recommending perhaps a $1 increase by July next year.
“I don’t think we should wait another minute,” said Tony Privitera.
Others, such as ex-officio member Steve Klika, recommended a phased-in approach to determine the effect on ridership.
Anything too steep and too sudden, Klika argued, “is going to shock the system, it’s going to shock the ridership – and that’s scary to me.”
Meanwhile, Chairman George Lafferty convinced a majority of his colleagues to focus on the system as a whole, rather than solely milking the K-10 Connector route.
“I don’t understand why, just because this is a plum route, we should just try and gouge this one and not the others,” he said.
Assistant County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson told the council that county leaders expect to start discussions next month with Lawrence officials about sharing the costs of the K-10 Connector.
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