COLUMBIA — Plans for a public transit advisory commission are moving forward after the City Council unanimously approved a report during Monday’s meeting. The next step is for city staff to draft a set of bylaws for the commission.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked for the report during a council meeting in March, and she expects that it will be introduced for first reading within the next two meetings.
The new commission would advise the Public Works Director and the council on issues relating to public transit. Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala approves of the commission but suggested that it deal with issues of transportation in general, instead of just the bus system.
The staff report suggested a commission with seven to nine members, and the council agreed that it should have nine members. City Manager Bill Watkins said the city is basing the commission off the Airport Advisory Board, which makes recommendations to the council about the development and use of the Columbia Regional Airport.
One of the nine members will be an MU employee appointed by the chancellor. Watkins said the university is the biggest customer for public transit because of students using the bus system, so it’s important that it be represented.
The report recommended that two members of the commission be business people, that three come from local advocacy groups and that three be picked from the community in general. Members would serve two-year terms and would be appointed by the council.
Hoppe brought up the idea of ensuring each ward's representation, but Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade thought that could hurt advocacy group representation. He stressed the importance of finding the right people for the commission, since it will report to the council.
“The commission is to make recommendations to us, and the quality of the recommendations depends on the quality of the people,” Wade said.
Hoppe said after the meeting that improvements to the bus system are long overdue.
Improving public transit could reduce the need for street-widening projects, she said. She cited the $20 million Stadium Boulevard project and said that widening the street wouldn’t be necessary if the money had been used to improve the bus system.
“I hope it’s the beginning of a comprehensive, well-used bus system,” Hoppe said of the proposed commission's work.