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DAVID ROSMAN: Cuts to the transit system hurt the city and punish its residents

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 | 4:26 p.m. CDT; updated 8:01 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Among the multitude of tweets I received this week, two came from the Missourian indicating that the city is considering reducing evening bus routes — exactly the opposite of what it should be doing.

That is if the city wants to increase jobs and education opportunities and make Columbia the Queen City of the Midwest for business. And I do not mean more retail.

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Here are my thoughts:

Mike Matthes: You’re the city manager, but it seems you haven’t heard the citizens of Columbia nor listened to me when we talked about Columbia’s public transportation system.

Did you not hear me say that cutting mass transit services is not the answer, but expansion is?

I thought you heard me; I might be wrong. So let me start again.

I have written about this before (Columbia Transit system service is lacking, but new committee could help, March 2009, and You can't get there from here — at least, not on Columbia Transit, June 2010) as well as expressed my opinion to you when you first came to Columbia for your interview.

Allow me to repeat what I told you a fortnight ago and what I have written before.

Evening students — those who go to MU, Columbia College, Stephens and Moberly Area Community College from 5 p.m. until well past 10 p.m. — have no access to the transit system.

Employees who work retail at the Columbia Mall (evenings) and the stores along Nifong Boulevard and Grindstone Parkway have no access to the transit system.

Citizens who live in the northwest, southwest and southeast quadrants of the city have no access to the transit system.

The citizens who live in the newly annexed neighborhoods east of U.S. 63 on Route WW have no access to the transit system.

Columbia is more than MU day students.

Now you want to restrict public transportation even more? Are you planning to provide fewer services to those who need it most, the economically low-middle and lower classes?

Columbia's retail industry, our third biggest employer, consists of 690 retailers and over $3.1 billion in sales in 2007. The average employee made less than $20,000 a year.

In 2007, the Federal Poverty Level placed poverty for a family of four at $20,600. Using that bar, 11,700 working Columbians could not hit the poverty line.

For 2011, the FPL for a family of four is $22,350. We will not have the 2012 economic census until 2013 (completed every five years), but considering today’s economy, bets are good that the average retail pay will be dropping to about $19,000.

Health insurance provided by these employers, large or small, is rare because the majority of employees are limited to part-time.

These are the people the city is currently neglecting, and your action will make it worse. These are the people we are now neglecting because public transit is not running when our citizens, who service customers for minimum wage, need it most.

Poverty is growing. Transportation is shrinking.

Columbia is “College Town USA,” and the institutions here are some of the finest in the United States, if not the world.

The MU day students are very important, but so are the evening students at all four colleges, plus Central Methodist University, Bryan College and others in the area.

Corporations look to our colleges to supply employees, innovation and loyal customers. So why stymie the ability to receive an education by limiting public transportation, especially in economic times where $50 weekly for a tank of gas might prohibit someone making minimum wage from going to school?

This makes no sense, economically or academically: No support of nontraditional students plus no support of retail and manufacturing employees working evening hours plus no mass transit equals no corporate interest.

Ian Thomas of PedNet was correct on Monday in criticizing your plan, Mr. City Manager, when he wrote, “This proposal also goes beyond reason because it will exacerbate the very problem that has, in large part, put the city in this budget crunch … Instead of cutting service, the city should be developing a long-term plan for transit expansion.”

Another Rosman Rule: “Do it. Do it right. Do it right now.”

Listen to Ian, myself and others who want to use mass transit but cannot because of schedules and restrictions:

Fix it. Fix it right. Fix it right now!

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.


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Comments

Louis Schneebaum August 24, 2011 | 6:24 p.m.

I agree wholeheartedly. Furthermore, any 'real' municipality has a bus system that runs until 10pm. How can Columbia charge more for a service that is light-years below what could be described as a 'good' bus system. I'm speaking as a current bus rider, an MU student, and a citizen of Columbia for over 10 years.

I was so happy to see the bus system improving here and now this, a complete undoing of what has been done. I noticed that the new bus design is a tiger motif -- with the new MU-centric system (most of these students are not true Columbians and won't ever ride the bus) this looks like the Mizzou Fantasy World Tram. Faggedabout 'REAL' people. Ride a bus sometime, that's who's on board.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 24, 2011 | 6:49 p.m.

"most of these students are not true Columbians and won't ever ride the bus"

74% of Columbia Transit riders are students.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks August 24, 2011 | 10:07 p.m.

Hell the tax payers are already subsidizing the public transit system 95 cents on the dollar according the the Tribune and Missourian as of last year. Might as well just make it free and cover the entire city. Money grows on trees around here.
Maybe they could cover a few extra streets/routes if the drivers did not take a 15 minute break on the sides of the roads during their shift. I know it is strenuous but come on is it that important to pull over and rest while the passengers sit and wait? If the drivers are union then disregard.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 25, 2011 | 12:06 p.m.

Send them to IRAQ and make them get their own stinkin gas!!!

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum August 25, 2011 | 1:52 p.m.

@ Jimmy

If your statistic is correct, the reason for that number is the fact that the city buses are used as campus shuttles, doing routes every 15 minutes, later than normal bus routes, and on football games. These are not actual bus riders as you would see in any real city. In this case, it's simply a tram for the students...

The public transit system SHOULD be subsidized by the government. It's a tiring argument, hearing about how it (the bus system) isn't profitable... It serves a societal utility, and should be helped along by government. If it gets good enough to start making a profit, that would be great.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 25, 2011 | 2:22 p.m.

Louis, the 74% stat came from the city via Tuesday's Tribune.

Fares need to be increased to cover the cost of operating the system. If you choose to ride the bus and want a more extensive system, you must be prepared to pay the cost of those upgrades on top of the existing operating and capital expenses.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 25, 2011 | 2:27 p.m.

Taxes on motor vehicles and gasoline need to be increased to cover the cost of the road system. If you choose to ride a car and want to travel extensively, you must be prepared to pay the cost of those upgrades on top of the existing operating and capital expenses.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum August 25, 2011 | 2:57 p.m.

I'm primarily a bike-rider, but the bus system has improved to a point that would best be described as 'almost a real bus system'. This step backwards is a terrible idea. I'm willing to pay an increased fare. For instance a 25 ride student pass is currently 10 dollars (this is what I typically purchase). That is a cost of 25 cents a ride -- given the quality of the bus service at this point, I'd be willing to pay an additional 50 cents a ride. I can reach most points in this city by bike within an acceptable amount of time, so, when the service begins costing me 3.00 for a two way trip, I probably won't use it much, especially if I can't even get a ride in the evening. Too often are riders stranded, taking one-way trips, with service ending while they are at work, the store, or wherever.

You simply cannot decrease the quality of a product/service while simultaneously increasing the price exponentially and hope for your plan to be successful. The fact that the Mayor thinks it WILL work is proof that he isn't very brilliant.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire August 25, 2011 | 3:12 p.m.

$10.00/25=.40 (forty cents), but other than that I agree with Schnee.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield August 25, 2011 | 3:51 p.m.

"Taxes on motor vehicles and gasoline need to be increased to cover the cost of the road system. If you choose to ride a car and want to travel extensively, you must be prepared to pay the cost of those upgrades on top of the existing operating and capital expenses."

Fine by me, as long as the government stops diverting a portion of the gas tax to public transportation.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz August 25, 2011 | 4:32 p.m.

How dare Mike Matthes ignore the sage advice of David Rosman. The nerve of some civil servants!

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum August 25, 2011 | 6:12 p.m.

Sorry about the math gaffe, I was upset and the price was so cheap that I never gave it much thought, which, again, is why I'm more than willing to pay an increased fare.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks August 25, 2011 | 9:00 p.m.

40 cents a ride and people are complaining. There are cities with worst bus systems that are 1.50 a ride. City likes to be so progressive then they need to step up to the plate.

(Report Comment)

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