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COLUMBIA — The proposed FastCAT Express bus route appears to be on the policy fast track.
Here are additional details about the proposed FastCAT Express Route listed in an agreement with developers helping to finance the route:
– The deal between the city and Brookside would last for a term of five years. After this term, it would be automatically renewed each year unless one party requested otherwise.
– The developers would pay $10,000 each year to sponsor the bus route in addition to the cost of passes for their residents.
– A bus would visit each stop on the FastCAT loop every 15 minutes for the first year. Subsequent years would have a goal of every 10 minutes.
– The FastCAT Express Route would operate Aug. 15 to Dec. 15 and Jan. 15 to May 15.
– The FastCAT route's hours of operations would be as follows:
Monday through Wednesday: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Thursday through Saturday: 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. to 1:45 a.m.
– Each bus would be equipped with a television set tuned to ESPN.
– Each bus would include a GPS locator, and riders could look up the estimated time of arrival using a free app on their cellphones.
Mayor Bob McDavid said it is important to have the route in place by the time students return in the fall and to tailor marketing toward students. McDavid announced his plans for the downtown and campus loop on May 24.
If approved, the route is slated to start operating Aug. 15.
Initial details about the proposed route, including hours of operation, costs for semester-long passes and plans to have televisions in the buses tuned to ESPN, are part of an agreement with Jon and Nathan Odle, the developers of Brookside on College.
The proposal will go before the Columbia City Council on Monday.
The overall cost of the route would likely be between $300,000 and $400,000 per year, McDavid said. He said the cost depends on the quality of the service provided.
A single bus running non-extended hours would cost about $100,000 per year to maintain. Additional hours could bring that cost up to $200,000.
The contract with developers requires at least two buses for the route. The mayor said he envisions three or four buses running on the route during the day.
"I’d be tickled pink if there were four buses running on the FastCAT loop during peak times, and if demand is good enough, that’s what we’ll have," McDavid said. "Then you would have buses coming by every five or 10 minutes, so you’d never have to wait."
The new city budget for fiscal year 2013 is due to the City Council in August for final approval in October. For this proposal, however, City Manager Mike Matthes plans to ask for an amended version of the current budget in July. This would allot funding for the new route so that it would be implemented in August.
Matthes also said he intends to recommend to the City Council that a new sales position be added to the fiscal year 2013 budget. The new official would be in charge of increasing the system's customer base.
"Seventy-five percent of our riders are students right now," Matthes said.
However, a majority of those students live off campus. Matthes would like to see more students living on or near campus riding the bus.
"That’s who we need to convince to try the service," he said.
McDavid has spoken to the owners of Brookside on College since a fire caused $7 million in damage to the complex at Walnut Street and College Avenue. He said they are still committed to the FastCAT route.
The mayor said he's looking for a similar commitment from other apartment complexes such as the ones along the Black and Gold bus routes on Old 63 and Providence Road.
Black and Gold riders would be able to board FastCAT buses to shuttle around campus at no additional cost, McDavid said. The routes would connect at the MU Student Center.
Complexes that fall along these routes, such as The Reserve and The Grove, have been approached about purchasing FastCAT passes for their residents and will be approached again, McDavid said. Under the proposal, these complexes would be able to purchase semester passes at a group rate of $62.50 per student.
McDavid said the intent is for all routes to connect to the FastCAT loop at some point. Buses coming from the west could converge at the Fifth and Walnut streets parking garage. The Black and Gold routes in the south could join FastCAT at the MU Student Center. Bus routes from the north and east could converge with FastCAT at the intersection of College Avenue and Walnut Street.
The whole purpose is to create a bus route that "actually goes where people live and work," McDavid said.
"Each route is important, but this one will be the showcase route," he said.
Matthes said this is part of a new concept of thinking of the transit system in terms of individual routes instead of the network as a whole.
"It kind of shifts your focus when you think about it that way," Matthes said. "It’s enabled us to become more entrepreneurial."
The agreement going before the City Council states that the city would reserve the right to charge passengers an additional fee for entering other routes from FastCAT buses. McDavid and Matthes both expressed a desire to keep the entire transit system open to FastCAT riders, however.
The FastCAT deal takes the place of the Odles' previous plan to provide private shuttles for residents of their downtown properties. Instead, McDavid said he wanted a downtown route that would be open to all Columbia residents and help revitalize the transit system.
For their part, the Odles have agreed to purchase $80,000 in passes for residents and pay $10,000 to advertise on FastCAT buses each year for the next five years. This agreement would be automatically renewed each additional year unless one party opts out.
The Brookside owners were unavailable for comment.
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