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Columbia City Council members ride bus with constituents, discuss changes

Thursday, September 15, 2011 | 8:51 p.m. CDT; updated 7:35 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 18, 2011
Tom and Tenniel Simmons talk to First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt about problems with Columbia's public transportation system. Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe also rode with Columbia residents on a bus ride to review the transit system.

COLUMBIA — Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe wants to make sure people in Columbia get where they need to go when they need to get there. That's why, after a bus broke down, Hoppe drove four stranded riders to their destinations, making sure they got to work or home on time.

Hoppe was at Wabash Station on Thursday with fellow council member Fred Schmidt to ride the bus with their constituents and listen to their concerns. The main concerns discussed were cuts to routes, fare increases and the need for more frequent service.

The event was organized by Columbians for Modern, Efficient Transit, a part of the PedNet Coalition, which hopes to bring reliable and convenient transit service to Columbia.

In a speech before boarding the bus, Schmidt said that Columbia needed to "grow our way out of the problem" instead of continuing to cut services.

Hoppe boarded the 104W Route while Schmidt rode the 103W Route.

Schmidt, who was wearing a neon green windbreaker, moved up and down the aisle of the bus, talking one on one with riders, asking about their experiences. Some had come to the event, and some were simply riding the bus.

One rider on Schmidt's route was Miguel Rodriguez, a resident of Columbia and transit customer since 1985. Rodriguez said that though there was more to do, transit had improved considerably in his 27 years of riding. He has gotten involved in CoMET because he wants the community to "be aware of what's going on."

Christiane Quinn, who is also involved with CoMET, missed a day of picking up her teen son from school so she could ride the bus with Schmidt. She was there to talk about the needs of students like her son who rely on the public transit system.

Quinn lives too close to the school to qualify for school bus service, but the public bus arrives more than an hour after school lets out, limiting her son's extra-curricular activities.

The bus is "never around when it's needed," Quinn said.

On the same bus, Krystal Purnell, the program coordinator for Healthy Community Initiatives at PedNet, also moved up and down the aisle with a clipboard and CoMET buttons. She sees her role as helping the community advocate for better transit.

Back at Wabash Station, Dorothy Vetter, another rider, was evacuated from her bus amidst the smell of smoke and the sound of beeps when the bus broke down.

"All in a day of riding a city bus here in Columbia," Vetter said. She and several other riders were stranded because of the break down. Hoppe was able to transport four other passengers before another bus was available.

Despite the trials she faces on transit, Vetter enjoys the drivers and the service.

After returning to the station from her shuttling of citizens, Hoppe called her experience on transit both "enlightening" and "educational."

What she learned from the day was that Columbia needs to "work at having more efficient direct routes" to the main areas in town such as Walmart.

The City Council will meet Monday to finalize the city budget, which includes cuts to the transit system budget.


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