Mayor's bus plan would target students, create task force

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 | 7:56 p.m. CDT; updated 6:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 6, 2011

COLUMBIA — Mayor Bob McDavid presented a comprehensive plan to the Columbia City Council Monday night that would revamp the city bus system.

McDavid's plan would create a transit task force, introduce "hot routes" that would provide fast and convenient service to areas with high concentrations of students, form a partnership with MU and create a transit board separate from the Public Works Department.

In his search for a new model, McDavid looked to cities that had more than quadruple Columbia’s bus ridership per capita.

Ames and Iowa City, Iowa, home to Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, respectively, and Champaign-Urbana, home to the University of Illinois, were potential models for how McDavid wants public transit to work in Columbia.

All three cities have buses that run every 30 minutes, McDavid said during a work session about the bus system Monday night.

“They all have extended hours, and they all have extremely strong collaborations between the community and university,” the mayor said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe agreed and wanted people to know that not only students stand to benefit.

“When they made this connection, a partnership with the university, it has bolstered their bus service for everyone in the community,” Hoppe said. “When you lift one section, you lift the rest of the community also.”

McDavid also came up with a framework for a transit task force. It would include the following: 

  • Three MU students
  • One Columbia College student
  • One Stephens College student
  • One administrator from each of those schools
  • City representatives
  • Council members
  • One member of the PedNet Coalition

“The purpose of this task force would be, as I see it, to completely restructure governance,” McDavid said. “I think we need to choose one of these other models that are far more successful.”

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt thought a few people were left out.

“There are perhaps other institutions that might want to have some affiliation with the task force,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt specifically referred to Moberly Area Community College and members of the public who do not attend any of the schools.

McDavid also hoped that the city could establish hot routes.

“There are probably four or five heavy concentrations of residents on campus,” McDavid said. “And if you have an express service that on the way out stopped at the student union and then headed downtown, I think there’s something special about the Ninth and Elm intersection.”

The intersection, which McDavid described as the nexis of the city and MU, could serve as a secondary hub for buses, he said.

Statistics presented to the council Monday night by Public Works Director John Glascock reflect the notion that students are central to the bus system's success.

Seventy-four percent of all bus riders in 2011 — a total of more than 1.6 million people — were students. That includes those using the Gold Route, the Black Route and campus shuttles. But only 24 percent of the bus system's revenue came from students. Another 22.8 percent, or $980,575, came from the shuttle contract with MU.

For McDavid, the question is simple.

“What I’m saying is to the students ‘What do you want? Show us the design, and we’ll tell you what it costs.’”

The proposal called for hot routes to run until 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and to run until midnight Thursday through Saturday.

McDavid also hoped to follow the example of Ames, Iowa, and create a transit board separate from the Public Works Department.

Should McDavid’s proposal get approved, members of the new transit board would include:

  • Columbia's city manager
  • A city finance representative
  • A council member
  • A mayor appointee
  • A member of the MU administration
  • A member of Missouri Students Association
  • One representative from either Columbia College or Stephens College

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