COLUMBIA — City Manager Mike Matthes and Mayor Bob McDavid discussed the city's financially faltering bus system on the eve of the city's educational trip to Ames, Iowa.
The duo answered questions and provided opinions Thursday night at the Public Transportation Advisory Commission meeting at City Hall.
The trip to Iowa is one of three excursions the city is going on to explore efficient college town bus systems. The trips will cost $10,000.
"There's only so much you can learn on Google," Matthes said, referring to looking at bus systems on a map. "Then you've got to go and see it."
McDavid spoke frankly about the bus system's recent woes.
"Gloom and doom is accurate. We're at a crisis," he said.
Columbia's transit system is facing a budgetary disaster, losing $1 million per year. Compare that to 2007, when the transit system had a $3.5 million reserve.
Unless it finds additional resources, the city will have to shorten bus routes and limit service hours by October.
McDavid puts some of the blame on ill-advised contracts with off-campus student apartment complexes that dramatically discount student bus fares.
"We established contracts with apartments that were devastating financially," McDavid said. "We're hemorrhaging $400,000 to $500,000 a year on those routes."
Finding an efficient system is one of the city's goals in Iowa. The city thinks students who park at meters and university parking lots could be an untapped source of revenue for the bus system.
The city is also willing to redraw routes, looping them through campus in hopes of picking up more passengers.
"Every route should be on the table," McDavid said.