COLUMBIA — Try Transit Day offered many Columbia residents a free commute Thursday as part of the Bike, Walk and Wheel Week campaign that public transit advocates hope will boost ridership on Columbia’s public transit system.
Ian Thomas, executive director of Columbia's Pedestrian and Pedaling Network, said 3,454 passengers used Columbia Transit during the day, short of the 5,000-rider goal but still good enough to break the one-day ridership record of 2,961, set on 2011's Try Transit Day.
PedNet coordinated the weeklong campaign and worked with the Columbia Public Works Department Transportation Division to organize Try Transit Day.
“I’ve ridden in three different bus routes with probably 60 people,” Thomas said.
City Manager Mike Matthes, Sustainability Director Barbara Buffaloe, and former Mayor Darwin Hindman also made appearances on buses as "Transit Ambassadors," welcoming riders and highlighting the benefits of public transit.
Anita Armstrong, 32, got off her last ride of the day at Wabash Station downtown. She said she was happy to take advantage of Transit Day.
“It was fun because my kids love it,” said Armstrong, who had ridden with her children earlier that day. “We’d been on some roller coasters this weekend, so my little boy was raising his hands up.”
However, like many commuters in Columbia, public transit is not usually Armstrong’s first choice.
“The last bus downtown came at 9:50, so we had to arrange to be picked up by my husband,” Armstrong said. “Otherwise, the next bus would have been at 2 or something like that.”
Infrequency has been an issue cited by bus riders in the past, along with questions of reliability and the number of hours the bus schedule runs.
“I think if it just went more often, that would make me think more about taking the bus,” Armstrong said.
Rajendra Bandari, a postdoctoral fellow at MU, commutes on the transit system nearly every day. He’s impressed by Columbia’s public transit system, and said it’s a necessary but underused service.
“The transit system is very good, and if more people come, it will increase,” Bandari said. “We need to conserve fuel. We have a very good system for it. I don’t know why more people don’t come.”
Bandari hails from India, where he estimates "100 percent of the population" uses public transit. His concerns lie in the overuse of fuel by American drivers. He estimates they commute only three or five miles a day.
“They’re losing their pocket money and also the entire country’s natural resources,” Bandari said. “If we save 5 to 10 percent of our gas, the next generation will get that benefit. We need to think about that."
“We have a very good system. Even the drivers are fine."
Bob Davis, a driver with Columbia Transit for 2 years, hoped that Try Transit Day was an opportunity for new riders to learn the system.
“It’s going busy,” said Davis, enjoying a break between routes. “There’s a lot of new faces."
Davis said he hopes those new faces will come to better appreciate Columbia Transit’s efficiency.
“Riders are always more than free to ask us questions,” Davis said. “Be at the bus stop on time, try to have your pass or money ready to go, and be educated on the routes.