COLUMBIA — It's been a chaotic year for public transportation.
Budget constraints have forced fares up, service hours down, and the black and gold routes, which take thousands of students to and from campus each day, could stop running in May.
Beginning next week, the city will sponsor a series of trips to explore bus systems in other Midwestern college towns. City Manager Mike Matthes organized the trips — to Ames, Iowa, on Feb. 17 and to Lawrence, Kan., on Feb. 24 — in hopes of exposing city and college leaders to successful bus systems in similar-size cities.
Matthes said he hopes to schedule a trip to Urbana-Champaign, Ill., home of the University of Illinois, in March.
Ames and Lawrence partner with Iowa State University and the University of Kansas, respectively, by using student fees to fund part of their bus systems' budgets — the model Mayor Bob McDavid has continually endorsed for Columbia.
Matthes said the trip is a good opportunity for the mayor’s Transit System Task Force, charged with identifying a solution to transit problems, to gather with other leaders to do “field research.”
“The goal is to get everyone at the same place at the same time,” Matthes said.
Seven of the 10 members of the task force, however, have said they will not attend either of the trips, including all the representatives from Stephens College, Columbia College and MU.
Jackie Jones, MU’s vice chancellor for administrative services and its representative on the task force, said she would send Falisha Humphrey, a representative from Solstice Transportation Group, the consulting firm hired by MU to assess the transportation needs of students, in her place.
“If they can’t make it I understand,” Matthes said. “(Each trip is) an entire day, and I get that.”
Three student representatives from MU, Anne Ahlvers, James Hatler and Todd Oberlin, who are separate from the task force, confirmed they would attend both trips. They are members of the Tiger Transit Movement, a student organization meant to educate students about public transportation.
“The group was formed in collaboration with PedNet,” said Brittany Perrin, the group’s founder. “It’s an outlet to reach the students and find out what they want.”
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she would attend the trip to Ames. She is the only council representative to confirm her attendance on either trip.
Hoppe said it was important for decision-makers to attend because they’ll notice things about the bus systems that you can’t just by reading about them.
“It’s to experience firsthand how it works, how it functions,” she said.