COLUMBIA – Improving Columbia's public transportation is a recurrent theme these days, whether because of the rising price of gas or the need for a healthier life style.
Another issue has been put on the table: the importance of an effective public transportation for young people, as it affects their everyday mobility.
The ideas for the coalition of more than 70 individuals and organizations — including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri and Columbia Public Schools — to focus first on public transportation came from Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe.
She was present at the annual dinner of the Healthy Community Partnership last month for the launch of the CoMET campaign, part of a local initiative to counter obesity that's aimed at improving Columbia Transit's services.
"I was impressed by a 14-year-old high school boy who spoke there and explained how important bus services are for people of his age," Hoppe said. "It gives them a psychological feeling of independence as they can get around town on their own."
The collaboration between the council and the youth coalition will be a two-way process, Hoppe said.
"We can ask them to look specifically at some issues, as we did, and they can also bring things on the table," Hoppe said.
Ryan Worley, executive director of the Youth Community Coalition, said the organization decided to create a working group to collect input from youth about transportation. The group plans a survey focusing on accessibility of public transportation, operating hours and schedule as well as overall satisfaction of the younger population. It will work to coordinate its efforts with Columbia Transit and other transportation organizations.
Being able to participate in after-school activities, play sports, go shopping or see friends are some of the many possibilities an efficient bus system could provide for youth as they grow and are trying to gain independence and responsibilities, Hoppe said.
Heather Windham, a member of the work group and director of the Homeless Youth Program Sol House, said that an efficient transportation system is also a way to fill social gaps related to mobility.
"Most youth in our groups don't have cars, it is difficult to go to groceries stores, to school and to work," Windham said.
The role of the coalition with the council will be to report annually on community issues affecting youth. As with any other advisory board or commission, its reports will be analyzed by the time the council makes budget decisions.
"We came up with the idea of YC2 because they were already involved in the community and served as a catalyst for agencies to gather and work on projects with youth," Laura Nauser, former Fifth Ward councilwoman, said.
In the 1980s, a youth coalition was also working with the council, but it never reached its goals.
"It was never an effective commission, it was hard to get people and youth there to participate. They had a lot of internal problems, and we were never really able to get off the ground," Nauser said.
In the end it all comes down to what the people in the coalition will be able to deliver to the council.
"I think the real benefit is going to be to give kids in our community, especially those who are at risks, a voice in city government," Nauser said.