COLUMBIA — A coalition of community groups wants to expand the city bus system to improve public health.
Columbians for Modern, Efficient Transit — one of several groups working under a $400,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to combat childhood obesity — has set a goal of expanding Columbia Transit’s bus services in three years, including:
- Doubling the frequency of the buses.
- Extending service on evenings and weekends.
- Adding additional routes.
The campaign was announced Thursday evening at Healthy Community Partnership's annual dinner. The partnership is a coalition that brings organizations together to identify activities that will create anenvironment where Columbia residents can be more active.
Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, said accomplishing these goals would require more money for Columbia Transit. One possibility, he said, would be redirecting funds from a city transportation sales tax to the bus services.
Increasing ridership would also help with funding because it could potentially allow for more federal grants, Thomas said. “There is a much better chance to bring in federal money because it will be well spent if the transit system is well used.”
New routes, extended hours and increased frequency of service could help increase ridership, Thomas said.
“We want to build community support for the change with educational campaigns and public relations campaigns to promote transit,” Thomas said.
Thomas believes that getting more people to use the system would result in economic savings for the city and individuals.
The transit campaign is part of the Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods initiative designed to identify and address policy and environmental barriers to public health.
“It has been well documented that communities that have good transit services are less overweight,” Thomas said.
Stacia Reilly, health promotion coordinator with the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, said increasing public transit helps solve the obesity problem because riding the bus requires some type of physical activity on either end of the journey.
“You get natural physical activity built into that travel by having to walk or bike to the bus stop, and we want to get that activity as part of your daily lifestyle,” Reilly said.
Another benefit, Reilly said, was providing individuals better access to health care, especially those who are relying on the transit system and sometimes have difficulty getting to appointments.
“Expanding the bus system will allow people to have more access to the health care that they need,” Reilly said.
Other benefits the campaign hopes to achieve are improved air quality due to fewer gas emissions and fewer motor vehicle accidents from fewer cars on the road.