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DAVID ROSMAN: Columbia's dysfunctional transit system needs complete overhaul

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | 2:44 p.m. CDT

Rosman Rule No. 3: Do not complain unless you have a solution.

It was shameful. Last week’s Columbia City Council meeting included discussion of the proposed 2012 city budget and fee increases across the board, from Public Health and Human Services to Parks and Recreation.

Yet the chambers were only half full, and City Manager Mike Matthes' budget would have gone unchallenged if it were not for one item.

Before the chamber doors opened, Grass Roots Organizing had its table — really, an ironing board — set up, waiting to snag people, asking them to sign postcards to the mayor and council members in opposition of the transportation rate increase.

Its argument: Those on fixed income, especially those with disabilities, will no longer be able to afford public transportation.

I was not planning to say anything at the meeting. I really wasn’t. Until our city manager fondly compared Columbia to Boulder, Colo.

I needed to make an important point here.

The Regional Transportation District covering Boulder is successful on two levels. First, Boulder’s buses run from 5:30 a.m. until midnight during weekdays, from 7 a.m. until midnight on Saturdays and from as early as 7 a.m. to at least 9 p.m. on Sundays.

They run in both directions per route every 10 to 20 minutes.

This is the argument I made at the meeting. Boulder is serving those who need it to get to work, to get to school, to shop, to save gas expenses, to have a lift home.

Second, Boulder’s local service provides seven active routes designed as a grid system without a central hub like Columbia’s Wabash Station, where riders have to transfer buses to continue their trips.

Boulder’s routes do not have circuitous routes like Columbia’s 104 Red Line or the 102 Blue Line, which seem to have no real destinations or design, meandering the length and breadth of Columbia, in only one direction. All of that takes time.

How much time? For my good friend Kathleen Goff Weinschenk, a trip to Walmart on Clark Lane should take about 15 minutes, at most, by car from her home near I-70 and Paris Road.

This is her route via Columbia Transit: Jump on the 102 Blue Line, change buses at Wabash and transfer to the 104 Red Line — which first makes its way to Industrial Drive and IBM before heading back to Walmart.

She would travel for one and a half hours to the city's southern extremes. In her motorized wheelchair.

If Matthes and the City Council want to use Boulder as an example, then emulate Boulder’s schedule and route design.

The reality of public transportation is that a fare increase is inevitable, but to raise it to $1.50 is not enough.

Let’s raise the fare to $2 for a daily ride and offer the following discounts:

  • Daily Single Ride: $2, CPS Students and 65 and Older $1.50, Eligible Riders $1.
  • Ten Ride Pass: $18, CPS Students and 65 and Older $12.50, Eligible Riders $9.
  • Monthly Pass: $60, CPS Students and 65 and Older $45, Eligible Riders $25.
  • Children 5 years old and under ride for free.

Allow college students to purchase monthly passes through student services at a negotiated discount.

Sell ride passes at the supermarket and convenience stores.

One more thing: I want to know where to find the crystal ball that told council members and the city manager things will be better next year, and that cuts in budget and services will be reversed.

This is what I thought I heard from Matthes and council members Fred Schmidt and Helen Anthony: We do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, much less a year from now.

So remember this: Although transportation is the squeaky wheel, everyone will be affected by increased user fees.

Columbia’s transit system is broken, and the only way to repair it is, like the phoenix, allow it to die a fiery death and rise from the ashes newer and better.

The council will vote on the new budget Sept. 19 after final public comment on the proposal for fiscal year 2012.

Be there and say something. You have no basis to complain unless you voice your opinion and propose a solution.

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

Paul Allaire September 14, 2011 | 3:47 p.m.

I believe that the intent of many of the people who influence the policy in this area is not as much to provide transportation for people but to be allowed to state that their municipality provides such. I cannot recall ever riding a Columbia city bus. I have been disappointed enough with similar service in larger metropolitan areas. I should note that the hour and a half of time in your example is for one half of what should inevitably be a round trip and that this does not include the time that would be spent waiting for the bus at the beginning of each leg of the journey, which makes the time spent closer to four hours, or slightly longer than it would take most people to walk the same distance. Also, I should note that the length of time required to make the journey necessitates that the individual must leave the destination AT LEAST an hour and a half before the buses quit running, further limiting any potential use of the service.

I have oscillated between bicycling and driving for most of my life. I don't believe that there are any two points in the city of Columbia that I could not easily span in less than an hour on a bike. I pity those who have to rely on our public transportation service.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 14, 2011 | 10:04 p.m.

Does Boulder subsidize their bus system as Columbia does (until next year's budget theoretically) or is it self-sustaining for whatever reason?

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton September 16, 2011 | 12:03 p.m.

Here is a thoughtful analysis from FB. Since I have a Missourian account and the user doesn't, I thought I'd repost them:

In my opinion, there are several things that set Boulder apart from CoMO –

First- Population and Population Density. In 2009, the official Census declared Boulder to have a population of just under 100K, with a population density of 3,900 per square mile. This is over a city area of 25 sq miles and is actually higher than Denver.

Compare this to Columbia, with 108K and a population density of 1,600 per sq mile, spread over 60 sq miles, ie less than ½ the density as much in more than twice the space.

This lends itself to Boulder being allowed to operate a system on more efficient routes- servicing more people in a timelier manner.

In addition, the people of Boulder are more affluent (with a median income of $50K compared to a median income in Columbia of $33K), and its very easy to say that the culture there (rightly or wrongly is not in debate here) is more geared towards being environmentally friendly. This trend (also coupled with the weather) could influence ridership.

Speaking of Ridership, the Regional Transportation District mentioned in the article (which actually covers 8 of 12 Counties in the Denver/Boulder/Aurora region) has 313,590 DAILY Boardings (in 2007) and services an area of 2,300 sq miles. That is an annual ridership of 114 MILLION a year. This includes light rail and over 100 buses to Denver While in Columbia, they are happy to tout an annual ridership of 2 Million.

Comparing the resources that are available to RTD to that of the city owned Columbia Transit system is like comparing apples to oranges, especially when you consider that Columbia is a city unto itself – whereas Boulder has the commuters from Denver (and vice versa) and the surrounding area to draw upon, ie - well over 3 Million people in the Denver/Boulder/Aurora Combined Statistical region. The operation budget $382 Million in 2009 is comparable to the $403Mill proposed to operate the University of Missouri. Meanwhile, CoMO spent $10Mill in Public Transportation to service 2 Million Riders.

The City Council of Columbia needs to wake up and realize they are a small fish in a big pond. Comparing Columbia to cities with greater population, resources and tax revenue only shows that they have pie in the sky aspirations. To me, Columbia cannot financially support a public transportation system as it exists, so either it needs to be curtailed or removed. Perhaps they staff and run full routes only when school is in session, raise the Daily Ride Rate to $3 (or more) or quit putting funding into Bike paths and turn the money inward. Revisiting the routes might have an impact, but I know it will ultimately impact someone/somewhere…which leads to further dissatisfied customers.

My solution, Scrap the whole thing….but only rebuild with substantial independent sponsorship.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 16, 2011 | 2:00 p.m.

Geographic considerations are entirely different. For example, you can drive from Golden north to Boulder in about 30 minutes without ever going through any of the multiple northern suburbs of Denver (which makes Boulder a place to go for a night out if you're faculty or students at Colorado School of Mines), but you can also go anywhere in Denver by going the other direction (south). Don't know about buses (not needed to get around Golden) but there's scheduled service from the Golden campus to and from the international airport (that trip is all super highway).
Of course if you dislike snow...

(Report Comment)

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