COLUMBIA — Is this seat taken? It might be.
The city said Wednesday that public transit ridership surpassed 2 million passengers during the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. The increase in passengers occurred despite the first fare increase in 22 years. Beginning October 2008, fares increased from 50 cents to $1 for adult passengers and from 25 cents to 50 cents for children, seniors, students.
Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, said the fare increase was largely due to rising fuel costs and maintenance.
Stedem said the city has done more to promote the bus system, which likely explained the increase in passengers.
"We've done a number of things to advertise on campus to reach college students," she said. "We've advertised on television, just letting people know about the bus service — letting people know it's safe and reliable."
Stedem said college students have added significantly to ridership.
"We've seen an increase in numbers since we've added the Gold Route, which serves apartments on Old 63," she said. "That's been one of our more popular routes as far as students."
As buses came and went at Wabash Station on Wednesday afternoon, a few passengers lingered under the covered terminal.
Dakota Raynes, a sociology and women's and gender studies major at MU, was waiting to catch the 301 Orange. He said he has been riding the bus for the last three years and finds the system reliable.
"The Downtown Orbiter is nice because it runs every 15 minutes," he said.
But Raynes didn't think other routes were as convenient.
"Through the middle of the day, you can't get a bus but every 45 minutes or so," he said.
Raynes said the bus system is simple, but the city could do more to make it easier to navigate — for instance, putting route indicators on bus stop signs.
"Numbering on the signs would be cool," he said.
Another passenger, Joseph Davis, said he rides the bus all over Columbia to meet clients. Davis performs freelance computer repair and network maintenance.
"It works," he said. "I've never had a problem with it."
Stedem said the city has no plans to add routes in the near future, but the city does have five new buses on the way courtesy of a $1,794,000 stimulus grant from the Federal Transportation Administration. The new buses will replace five buses that have been in service since 1997.
Stedem said the city plans to continue to promote the bus system as a safe and reliable way to get around.
"It is a convenient service and it works well for people's schedules," she said.
Raynes said the increase in passengers has been noticeable.
"When I first started riding I'd be one of five people on the bus," he said. "Now often when I ride, I stand."