Columbia Transit fare increases approved; service cuts scaled back

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 10:59 p.m. CDT; updated 12:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Hundreds of residents attend the Columbia City Council meeting Monday night. The room was completely filled, so some people had to go to a separate room to watch the meeting on TVs.

COLUMBIA — There were so many people at Monday's City Council meeting, the law was broken.

To correct a violation of the fire code, City Manager Mike Matthes asked some members of the crowd to go to another room and watch a live video feed of the meeting there.

Fare increases

The council approved many transit fare increases Monday. Effective Oct. 1, bus riders will have to pay the following fares:

Half fare: 75 cents

Regular fare: $1.50

Paratransit: $2

25-ride pass: $30

30-day pass: $55

Student semester pass: $100

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The council passed the budget for the 2012 fiscal year. What attracted much of the crowd were the proposed changes to the city's public transit system. Of those who spoke during the public hearing, 25 of 26 addressed the transit budget, which the council unanimously approved.

The bus system has been the most hotly debated aspect of the $430-million city budget that Matthes released in late July. His plans included across-the-board fare increases and some cuts to service. Matthes proposed the changes in an effort to keep the transit's reserve fund from going into the red. The bus system has been losing $100,000 a month, which means the fund, without any changes, would've run out of money by July.

The council approved the budget Monday night after the last in a series of public hearings. But Matthes' proposal didn't go unchanged. Council members kept nearly all the proposed fare increases but scaled back the cuts in service.

One fare that went unchanged, though, was the fare for paratransit services. The council unanimously voted to keep the fare at $2 a ride and to fund the difference using the council's discretionary fund.

Eligibility for half-fares was changed to exclude only students 18 years or older. Matthes had originally proposed eliminating half fares for everyone except those groups which have to receive the discount, according to federal law.

Also, in Matthes’ first proposal, Thursday through Saturday evening service was to be cut. After much public comment on the subject in recent weeks, a budget amendment was proposed and accepted to eliminate only the last hour of service on Thursdays and Fridays, ending it at 9:30 p.m., and not cutting service on Saturdays.

The MU football shuttle, which had also been eliminated from the original budget, will continue with nearly $8,000 in funding from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Mayor Bob McDavid said he knew the challenges facing the council were not easy, but thinks the right decisions were made to keep the transit fund afloat.

"I think the city manager has a handle on it and I congratulate the council members for figuring out a way to minimize route cuts and to minimize rate increases," he said.

More than two dozen members of the public spoke about buses and the transit budget Monday night. Here's a look at what some had to say:

Ian Thomas, director of the PedNet Coalition, applauded the council for the changes made this year as well as for the foresight to look ahead.

"Thank you all very much for the hard work that you've done over the last one to two months," Thomas said, speaking to the council.

Cheryl Price, member of the city's Disabilities Commission, also liked the changes made and applauded the council for their hard work and for keeping the paratransit fares where they currently are.

Matthew Colgin, community manager of The Reserve at Columbia, spoke about bus contracts denied by the city. He asked the council to reconsider the contracts based on the fact that Columbia Transit said the routes would be fully funded by the contracts. However, Matthes pointed out that the contracts would not fully fund those routes.

The changes to the bus system will take place when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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Paul Allaire September 20, 2011 | 1:52 a.m.

That they did not cut the service more was wise. It would have been similar to shooting oneself in the foot.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 20, 2011 | 2:40 a.m.

While I feel that ideally any service like this should pay for itself, the subsidy currently works out to about $15/year/Columbian. I don't consider that a major drain on my finances, and there are a lot of people that need the service.


(Report Comment)
Carrie Edwards September 20, 2011 | 9:28 a.m.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was just doing the math (based on the caption box listed in the article with the ride rates): if the regular far is $1.50 and I ride the bus everyday (30 days), that comes to $45.00. However, a 30-day pass is listed at $55.00. Where is the savings?

(Report Comment)
Grant Huffman September 20, 2011 | 9:51 a.m.

Carrie, your math is off. At $1.50 a ride it would be only $45.00 if you only make one trip. Most people tent to return home after going somewhere, so that makes it 2 trips. This brings to total cost to $90.00 if only used to go one place then back home. However what about days you have to go 2 or even 3 places? That pass still covers you.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 20, 2011 | 12:14 p.m.

They should have increased the fare and increased the service to 9:30PM MON - SAT. Also, the bus needs to run until at least 6:00PM on SUN. When this finally happens, we can all celebrate; it will be almost like a real mass-transit system.

(Report Comment)
Carrie Edwards September 21, 2011 | 10:28 a.m.

Mr. Huffman: I hadn't taken a round-trip fare into consideration. Thank you!

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle September 21, 2011 | 11:02 a.m.

Matthes seems to know what he's doing. Fares get raised (but only a little!) services get cut (but only a little!), and most people who matter in a policy debate like this consider it a win.

(Report Comment)
Ryan macker September 21, 2011 | 1:15 p.m.

Also something important to mention that the article didn't cover;
The funding for the 106 Downtown Orbiter route will now come from the Parking Utility, and there will no longer be a fare charged on this route. So there is now a free route in the fixed-route system.

If you're worried about the fare increase, I found a legitimate way to avoid it: buy a whole bunch of 25-Ride cards at the current rate of $20, verses the $30 you'll have to pay effective the 1st. The people at the Wabash said that this would be okay. These cards don't expire, so if you can, you should stock up.

(Report Comment)

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