COLUMBIA — In September, the City of Columbia doubled bus fares. Now, City Council is exploring ideas to create free public transit.
Free transit would mean a $350,000 loss in transportation revenue, only ten percent of transportation’s budget of $3.5 million, according to a city staff report.
City staff studied four cities similar to Columbia that provide free transportation and reported their findings at the City Council meeting Monday night.
Three of those cities are affiliated with local universities. Council members expressed positive opinions about the city of Clemson, S.C., which receives a contribution from Clemson University and federal government assistance to provide a free transit system.
First Ward representative Paul Sturtz discussed a similar plan. “If we have upwards of 30,000 students, and each of those students paid $10 that would give you $300,000 right there, which doesn’t seem too far fetched,” Sturtz said.
City staff said Monday night they have contacted MU and affiliated student organizations, neither of which is interested in adding another student fee.
Amanda Shelton, student speaker for Missouri Students Association, said she was unaware of the city’s suggestions.
“I’ve heard nothing about this, and I would be interested in learning more,” Shelton said. “Free transportation seems on the surface like a wonderful idea. There are so many positive benefits you get. But I would be skeptical of one university supporting the free transportation for tens of thousands of citizens who are in no way affiliated with the university.”
Sixth Ward councilwoman Barbara Hoppe showed interest in furthering communication between the city and MU.
“This could be a good opportunity to have transportation so young people that are not in college can get jobs, be employed,” Hoppe said Monday night. “So it’s worth looking into. I know I’ll do some contacting myself to student organizations.”
Sharon Kramer, a junior at MU, rides a bus to campus from Gateway Apartments, which provides free busing.
“I personally would like it because I would use it. I think a student fee is the least abrasive way to do it,” Kramer said.
Lauren Rahm, a sophomore at MU, lives on campus and rarely uses public transit.
“I think it could be a good thing or a bad thing,” Rahm said. “If it’s already paid for, people might use it more. Although I could see how some students would be bothered if they don’t use the bus.”
City Manager Bill Watkins reminded the council that there were other options.
“The important part is that in all cases, the necessary capital and operating expenses are paid via some form of increased taxes or fees, either to the student population or our community,” Watkins said.
No decision on further action was discussed by the council Monday night.