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GUIDE: Understanding the Columbia Transit debate

Proposed service cuts and fare increases for the Columbia Transit system have been the most debated aspect of the city's proposed budget for fiscal 2012.
Monday, September 19, 2011 | 1:03 p.m. CDT; updated 1:10 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011
Tom and Tenniel Simmons talk to First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt about problems with Columbia's public transportation system. Sixth Ward Councilman Barbara Hoppe also rode the bus with Columbia citizens to personally review the transit system.

COLUMBIA — City officials have indicated serious trouble for the future of Columbia's bus system. The system has been running a deficit, and City Manager Mike Matthes said it will run out of funds by next year.

Matthes proposed reductions in services and increases in fares, according to a July 29 article. The city manager's goal is to develop a self-sustaining bus service, which would make $1.4 million of the city budget available for other purposes.

Proposed cuts included eliminating all evening services on Thursdays and Fridays and the last run on Saturdays. Matthes also proposed dropping miles from three routes, as well as ending the MU football shuttles.

Budget amendments that will be considered by the Columbia City Council on Monday night would cut Thursday and Friday routes by one hour, would leave Saturday service untouched and would use money from the Convention and Visitors Bureau to fund the MU shuttles.

In advance of Monday's 7 p.m. council meeting (the agenda is here), the Missourian pulled together links to our previous coverage of this complex issue.

Raising concerns

In an Aug. 23 article, some students and residents took issue with reducing service.

“If you raise the fares, the buses should go all around here,” said Gary Word, who rides the bus daily. “They need more buses.”

MU students Tamara Jones and Mitch Thaemert agreed buses should run more frequently, citing difficulties with leaving campus at night.

Resident Mark Fuemmeler also pointed out that parking meter rates were just increased.

“It’s unfair to disabled people like myself and to a lot of the college students that have come back,” Fuemmeler said. “I believe they should keep things as they are.”

Cheryl Price, a member of the city's Disabilities Commission, voiced similar concerns at a public hearing earlier this month, according to an article posted Sept. 6. Price suffered a brain injury 30 years ago and said reducing routes would affect her ability to attend support group meetings.

In a Sept. 15 article, Christiane Quinn, who is involved with Columbians for Modern, Efficient Transit, said the bus is "never around when it's needed." She said it's difficult for her son to participate in extracurricular activities because the bus arrives more than an hour after school gets out.

Making buses student-centric

Because students are some of the bus system's most frequent users, Mayor Bob McDavid wants to make the system more student-centric. According to an Aug. 22 article, McDavid's proposal would establish “hot routes” that reach areas with a high concentration of students. The council also has approved the creation of a task force to recommend changes to the bus system. McDavid thinks one key will be to develop a partnership with MU, according to an article posted Aug. 23.

However, it's too late in the budget process to implement McDavid's ideas for the coming fiscal year.

Despite McDavid's eagerness to work with students and Columbia's universities, controversy has arisen around contracts the city has with several apartment complexes that house students, according to a Sept. 15 story.

Students who live at Campus Lodge, The Reserve, Gateway at Columbia and The Cottages of Columbia are given passes that guarantee free bus rides to and from their apartments during the day. In exchange, the apartment complexes pay certain costs, but the contracts fail to cover the cost of providing the service.

Although council members now say students should be paying more, the contracts were originally established to keep cars off the road and free up parking space, which remains a concern.


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Comments

Paul Allaire September 19, 2011 | 1:47 p.m.

What??????

The government is subsidizing parking spaces for the lazy??????????

Make them walk. Forty miles uphill in the snow.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble September 19, 2011 | 4:14 p.m.

Contracts with the big student-housing complexes are a good idea; those things are blights in so many ways that at least reducing the car traffic they produce is a benefit to the city.

But there's no excuse for those arrangements to not even cover the costs of the service. Surely the city can't be thinking of charging higher everyday fees to the many people who use the bus out of real need (after already doubling the fees not so long ago) while absorbing a loss from other, less challenged clients - especially when those clients can use the bus service as a selling point for their mega-complexes.

For a future story, I'd be curious to know how other cities comparable to Columbia are making public transit work.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire September 19, 2011 | 4:29 p.m.

Probably by providing a more usable service.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 19, 2011 | 9:19 p.m.

I wanted to buy a cheeseburger, but they're only selling a bun with cheese on it.

(Report Comment)

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