Columbia officials want to double bus fares

Saturday, August 9, 2008 | 8:26 p.m. CDT; updated 8:39 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 9, 2008
Mary Shelley waits for her bus at the Wabash station on Saturday. Shelley said it would be very difficult for her if bus fares were increased.

COLUMBIA - The surge in diesel fuel prices over the past year has prompted Columbia Public Works to propose to double the city's public transportation fares for the next fiscal year. If approved by City Council, the increase would be Columbia Transit and Paratransit's first in 22 years.

Fuel costs for Fiscal 2008 put the department more than $100,000 over budget, a cost Jill Stedem, public information specialist, said the department had to absorb. Though ridership has increased about 16 percent since this time last year and continues to rise, revenue from fares and monthly passes is not expected to balance the small fortune the city is paying for fuel.

"The proposed increase will defer some expense of existing services, but will not cover them completely," Stedem added.

The proposed FY09 budget, which City Manager Bill Watkins presented July 30, calls for a 40 percent increase in the transportation department's supplies and materials budget.

Larry Cain, who has been using both paratransit and fixed route buses for more than three years, considered the city's situation while waiting for a bus at the Wabash station on Thursday afternoon.

"Nearly as I can tell, they have two options: They can either cut services or charge more," Cain said. "Neither step will be popular, but we've been fortunate that they have been able to maintain fares so far."

Lauri Garman, an MU employee also waiting for the bus, rides to and from work. She said she didn't think she'd be too happy if the city approves the increase.

"I pay a dollar each day now, and charging more - that's getting up there for me," she said.

If approved, the budget would increase the half fare to 50 cents, the regular fare to $1, and the paratransit fare to $2 per ride.

"If I had to use the paratransit bus every day for medical appointments, groceries, whatever, that would be $4 to use the bus just once within a day, and times five days is $20, times four weeks is $80," said Max Lewis, family law attorney and 10-year Columbia Paratransit patron. "It's an unfair burden to place on an individual with low income."

Other riders said they wouldn't mind paying the proposed doubled fare if the buses would expand their routes and hours.

"I think they should extend the route if they double it," first-time bus rider and Jimmy Johns employee Scott "Pugsly" Ellis said Thursday afternoon. "I had to bike seven miles to get to the bus stop."

Diane Gooch has been using Columbia Transit and Paratransit off and on since 1987. She uses her scooter when the weather is warm but relies more on the bus during the fall and winter. If the increased fares proposal goes into effect, Gooch said she would be fine with it but would want the bus to run longer hours.

"I think time affects people more than cost. You can't get enough done in one day if you're depending on the bus," she said.

The proposal to double public transit and paratransit fares will be open to public hearing Sept. 15. If City Council approves the proposal as-is, it will go into effect when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.






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Ray Shapiro August 10, 2008 | 1:44 a.m.

If the price of gas warrants a fare increase, then maybe it's time to convert these buses to burn recycled cooking oil. With all the fast food places in our town and the limited bus service we have, there should be enough to go around. At the very least a pilot program of converted "french-fry" smelling buses might be a good start, until the next best thing comes around.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 10, 2008 | 9:41 a.m.

I agree totally with the statements post by Max Lewis and others about these fare increases although I do understand why it is being proposed we as citizens still do have the rights to speak up on the issues. With the Federal Government cuts ongoing to the disabled and the cuts at state level as well it hits to close to home when we have to absorb it as well at the city level and those of us on fixed incomes with "Spend Down" rates for medications going up constantly as well as food and health care costs as well it just starts to make life where we have to make decisions about what we do or do not get by with or with out each month.

We as citizens cannot even get the city to fix their dilapidated sidewalks so those in wheel chairs or scooters can get around more easily instead of using the public transit if we do not need to and now they want to raise bus fares?

What next are they going to try to tell those with power chairs and scooters they have to license them because they are forced to ride in the streets due to our city will not fix it's dilapidated sidewalks?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking August 10, 2008 | 4:19 p.m.

Bus service in Columbia is subsidized, as in many places, to the tune of $1.5 million/year. I think only New York and Chicago have self-supporting mass transit services. Be glad we have it at all. A doubling of bus rates would still be a bargain compared to the cost of owning your own car. Prices go up - suck it up and adapt.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr August 10, 2008 | 5:11 p.m.

Sure Mark that is true but you missed the point of Max Lewis' posting of how it effects those on fixed/limited incomes and their daily/monthly budgeting of their over all needs.
Do you know how it is living on disability and your budget is only $665.00 a month and not all people on disability qualify for food stamps either.
Try it some time with all of the normal things disabled individuals have to deal with like Spend Down's,food,rent,transportation fees and more.
Your comment of "suck it up" is rather offensive as we who have disabilities see our Federal Government cutting our services,our State Government doing the same and now at the city level this going on as well and you tell us to "suck it up"?
How about this. Our city fix the dang sidewalks so those in wheel chairs or scooters can use them instead of having to ride in the street and I can assure you alot of those people who you tell to "suck it up" will be able to get around alot better and might not need public transit so much.
Lots of them use public transit to move their chairs or scooters due to our dilapidated sidewalks and they do not want to take the chance of the "crash and burn scenario"!

(Report Comment)

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