COLUMBIA — The brakes hiss as the big blue Columbia Transit bus rolls to a stop in front of Campus Lodge apartments. Crowds of MU students push each other to climb up the bus steps, vying for a good seat before the bus pulls away to campus.
"Sometimes I can't even sit. We're all just packed in standing, trying to crowd all of our stuff in too," MU freshman Angel Rivera said while on her way to visit friends at Campus Lodge. She said some freshmen have been catching the bus more than 40 minutes before their classes start so they can be sure to get aboard.
The record number of freshmen this year has led to some freshmen being housed off-campus at Campus View and Campus Lodge apartments. That, in turn, has led to the overcrowding of the transit buses some of those students use to get to campus.
According to Columbia Transit spokeswoman Jill Stedem, two buses have run the Gold Route in recent years. The route runs down Old 63 to The Reserve and Campus Lodge, down Grindstone Parkway, Nifong Boulevard and Green Meadows Road to Campus View, then back to Brady Commons at MU. The bus runs every 20 minutes when classes are in session, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Stedem said.
But this year, with the surge in numbers, Columbia Transit quickly added two more buses in each direction and a third one during peak times, from 7 to 9:30 a.m.
"We've been super pleased with the city's response. Within two days, three units were added and they're continuing to monitor the transportation system," said Jim Joy, director of MU Parking and Transportation Services.
Joy said a new bus can cost up to $100,000 and usually takes more than a year to receive. The transit system has also added a new route to the Cottages at Nifong Boulevard and Bearfield Road.
Columbia Transit and MU have a contract that allows students reduced pricing when riding from the parking lots to campus and Brady Commons. MU pays Columbia Transit through a transportation fee charged to the students. The fee accounts for 90 percent of the transportation cost. MU Parking and Transportation picks up the other 10 percent.
With more students riding this year, the cost of campus transportation has risen. The question of who should pick up the tab was quickly answered by MU Residential Life and MU Parking and Transportation, which split the cost.
Students may ride the transit system from their apartments to campus for 25 cents with a student ID. Some apartment complexes, such as the Reserve and Campus Lodge, are free with apartment IDs. Their travel fees are included in their rent.
Stedem said Columbia Transit noticed the Gold Route was full from 7 to 9:30 a.m., but then leveled off in the afternoon. Stedem said students never had to wait for more than 10 minutes for a bus. "We've been able to accommodate most students on most routes," she said.
Columbia Transit provides three other bus services for students.
The first is a day-commuter service from the Reactor, Trowbridge and Hearnes Center parking lots. It runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The second is a night safety route that runs from downtown Broadway to the residence halls and Greektown that goes from 6 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. The third service is a disability transport system that is arranged by contacting Columbia Transit.
Joy says the overcrowding has "forced people to look more closely at transit. It works well if it is frequent, convenient, goes where you want, and when it's the only option that exists."