Columbia Transit drivers to start enforcing evening fares

Monday, October 17, 2011 | 6:15 p.m. CDT; updated 10:33 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — For two weeks, many students have ridden the city bus route running between MU's campus and several student apartment complexes on Old 63 South for free despite fare increases that technically took effect Oct. 1.

Starting Monday night, bus drivers will end their period of "leniency" and start collecting the fares, Public Works Department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said. Bus drivers did not collect the money consistently these past few weeks because some riders were unaware of the fare increase, she said.

"The bus drivers knew that not everyone knew about the changes," she said. "There was just a lot of confusion on everyone's parts. Starting (Monday) they're going to be collecting the fare."

Fares for the evening routes are supposed to be $1.50 per ride for students 18 and older. Stedem said the city was unable to provide counts on the number of passengers or the revenue collected on the evening shuttles since Oct. 1 because it only produces those numbers month by month.

On Sept. 6, the Columbia City Council rejected two contracts that would have continued free bus service to the apartment complexes at no charge to students from 6 to 10 p.m. on weekdays. The council reasoned that the contracts fail to cover costs and that it would be unfair to raise bus fares for other users and not for students.

Campus Lodge and The Reserve at Columbia would have paid the city $13,709 per academic year for the evening service.

Stedem said drivers were told at the end of September about the fare increases and were instructed to be lenient about collecting money from passengers for the first two weeks.

For the past two weeks, bus fares on the Gold East route have been collected inconsistently. Last week, some bus drivers checked passes and collected the new fare, while others seemed unsure about the policy change. One asked passengers what they had heard about whether the key-fob passes they received from their apartment complexes were still valid. On one night, a student offered to pay and was told she didn't have to because she had a daytime pass from The Reserve. 

MU senior Haley Hoffmann said she rides the evening shuttle four nights a week and has not been asked to pay the fare since the city voted to end its contracts for free evening service and impose the $1.50 fare. During the day, Hoffmann always shows her bus pass to the drivers, but she said she rarely has to do so on the evening shuttle.

"I've never seen anyone with a pass (from one of the apartment complexes) have to pay," she said.

At the Sept. 6 City Council meeting, Public Works Director John Glascock suggested Columbia Transit wouldn't run the routes if the contracts were rejected. Instead, the council directed Glascock to continue the evening shuttles and find out whether the city could collect enough fares to profit from them.

Campus Lodge and The Reserve still have contracts that guarantee free service to residents from 7:10 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. The contracts are good for three years starting in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

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