COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid unveiled a plan to revamp Columbia's bus system at a City Council public transit work session Monday night.
The plan outlined a more university-centric system and would create a transit task force that McDavid hopes will quadruple ridership in the near future to 8 million riders a year.
"There are six million customers a year we're not serving," McDavid said. "I think we have the wrong model in Columbia for a university town."
The models McDavid wants to draw on are more student-centric, he said, and feature frequent routes, extended hours, and strong collaborations between colleges and cities.
First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt agreed.
"I think it's a wonderful idea and I'd really like to pursue this," he said.
The mayor's plan will have to wait, though. It's too late in this year's budget process to start putting his new ideas into action. Instead, City Manager Mike Matthes laid out the public transit budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
John Glascock, the city's public works director, detailed Matthes’ proposal, which includes:
- Reducing services, such as eliminating Thursday through Saturday routes after 6:25 p.m.
- Increasing all fares by 50 percent to 67 percent.
- Making half fares available only to those mandated by federal law.
- Shortening three bus routes.
- Eliminating shuttles to MU football games.
Glascock said half-fare eligibility would be reduced and would no longer include students, people on Medicaid and children younger than 5. Those no longer eligible for half fares would see a 200 percent increase in the cost per ride. Also, semester passes for students would increase from $60 to $100.
"A year ago we had a problem," McDavid said. "Now we have a crisis."
Because the federal government matches a lot of what the city pays for transit, it was difficult for Matthes to effectively cut this section of the budget.
"You cut a dollar and you're only saving 50 cents," Matthes said. "You have to cut so much deeper ... than you would otherwise. It is a frustrating exercise."
The PedNet Coalition, a local transportation advocacy group, recently did a survey that looked at some of these issues. In it, more than half of the 907 respondents indicated they'd pay as much as $1.50 per ride.
That's in line with what Matthes proposed, but some of his other changes didn't match the survey results. It found, for example, that most survey respondents supported extended service hours.
City council members weren't completely satisfied with the plan, but there was sentiment that it had to be done.
"We don't like it, but it's the best we can do," McDavid said. "That has to be done. There's no money in the bank."
Members of the public weren't allowed to speak at the meeting, but a few presented their ideas at the first public budget meeting last Monday.
Christian Young, a Columbia resident since 1998, uses the public transit system frequently and spoke then.
“When I arrived, I didn’t drive, and the buses were my only way to get to work,” Young said. “Limitations on times that the routes ran, particularly on the weekends, limited my ability to do my job and damaged my employability.”
Young said cutting service on evenings and weekends and changing routes disproportionally harms people who most need that service, including students, seniors with disabilities and others who are most vulnerable.
The Public Transportation Advisory Commission will discuss the budget proposal during its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 701 E. Broadway.
The council's next public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at City Hall.