COLUMBIA — City buses in Columbia count far fewer riders, longer wait times and less service hours than similar-sized college towns such as Ames, Iowa, and Urbana-Champaign, Ill.
Columbians for Modern, Efficient Transit asked community members in the First Ward how to improve the city's bus system at a forum Thursday night.
About 80 people ate dinner in the basement of Russell Chapel CME Church and then answered three questions in small groups about the future of Columbia transit.
What do we want Columbia Transit to look like in five years?
Deb Wende said Columbia's bus system should model the one in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., where she lived for 20 years.
"Don't just focus on the campus; don't just focus on low income people," Wende said. "(Buses should) be attractive to everybody," including professionals.
Aamer Trambu, a graduate student at the UM Trulaske College of Business, said the system should be easier to understand.
"If I want to go from my house to a friends, I want to be able to go on Google Maps and check out when and where to go to use the buses," he said.
What challenges do we face as we try to realize that vision?
Mary Harris, who has been riding the buses for 35 years, said the media's coverage of the issue has been misguided.
"Every time you see publicity on the buses, they focus on the poor people and the students," Harris said. "What about everyone else? There's a huge green population in this town. If the buses were more convenient, they'd use them."
Pat Kelley, an MU employee, said transit's budgetary issues are the result of bad policy decisions.
"We spend so much for the airport," Kelly said. "That's diverting money from the buses."
John Ott said MU's policies have created a "mentality that you have to have a car 50 feet from where you sleep."
"I walk through Greek Town and it looks like a used car lot," Ott said.
Ott said his son goes to the University of Minnesota and does not have a car.
"He rides the buses, and he loves it," he said.
What should we do in the short term and the long term to overcome the challenges?
Jim Quinn said the key is to develop partnerships with Columbia Public Schools, the local colleges and MU.
"If the student population rides the bus and it's a good system, they'll go on using it if they stay in town," he said.
Quinn also said business should offer incentives for employees to use the buses.
"What's most important is when you see full buses," he said. "You say, 'Oh, that's the thing to do.'"