UL-Lafayette, city-parish still hashing out bus deal

A week after the start of classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, city-parish government is still hashing out the details of a deal to provide buses for campus transit.

A proposed agreement for the school to use city buses to carry students between campus and the parking lot at Cajun Field was back before the City-Parish Council on Tuesday after UL-Lafayette proposed boosting the annual bus lease payment in an effort to address concerns by some councilmen.

Council members last month protested the initially proposed annual lease payment of $10,240 as too small and asked that UL-Lafayette also pay the 20 percent match required for the federal funds used for city bus upkeep should major repairs be needed.

In a counteroffer discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting, UL-Lafayette proposed increasing the annual lease payment to $35,000 but passed on taking financial responsibility for any major repairs.

Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux said the tweaked deal “is certainly more appealing,” but he and other council members gave no guarantee of support when the proposed agreement comes up for a final vote on Sept. 16.

“It gives a better coverage, but there is still that risk out there,” Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux said he would like the administration to once more evaluate the deal to determine if city-parish government would make enough to cover the risk should major repairs be needed on the buses.

City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley said the $35,000 annual lease payment should be adequate, considering the types of repairs expected over the next two years.

“I think we are pretty comfortable now in seeing the numbers,” he said.

Stanley said the proposed agreement is a pilot project that would be revisited in two years and would be shelved if city-parish government is losing money on the deal.

The general plan is to lease UL-Lafayette eight buses for campus transportation services, enhancing the university’s existing fleet of buses and shuttles.

In addition to the annual lease payment, UL-Lafayette would agree to buy fuel for the natural-gas powered buses from a fueling station owned by the city.

Lafayette also is expected to bring in more federal transportation dollars because the students would boost bus ridership for the municipal bus system — a metric used by the federal government in divvying up transit money.

Lafayette’s bus system now has about 4,000 riders a day, and the additional UL-Lafayette students might add another 2,500 to 3,000 daily riders, according to figures provided last month by City-Parish Chief Development Officer Kevin Blanchard.

“This is a huge shot in the arm for our system,” he said at the time.

The administration had initially proposed another provision that might have boosted ridership even more — giving all university students and faculty free bus rides anywhere in the city.

Council members stripped that provision last month, with some councilmen questioning why the city should give away bus service only to certain residents.

Lafayette City-Parish Transit and Parking Manager Mike Mitchell said the city has no interim agreement with the university and the buses will not provide campus transportation services unless a deal is inked.

UL-Lafayette spokesman Charlie Bier said the university is holding off on comment until the agreement comes up for a final vote later this month.