FastCAT transit proposal set to go before Columbia City Council

Sunday, June 3, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 25, 2012

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COLUMBIA — The proposed FastCAT Express bus route appears to be on the policy fast track.

FastCAT agreement details

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.

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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.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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Louis Schneebaum June 3, 2012 | 3:27 p.m.

This line doesn't even serve most of the students that ride the bus -- those live on the South-side. It is a slightly diminished carbon copy of the 106 downtown route (which is currently FREE to everyone). Current ridership on this bus is AT BEST 50% student. What this route does is cut off the disabled housing on William, Boone Hospital, the corner at Hinkson and William, and Paquin Tower -- these are THE stops where this route picked up the majority of its riders. I'm sure McDavid knows all about riding the bus though, just like all the other people in charge of transit in this town who CANNOT MAKE IT WORK. I can see that this route does effectively remove 'undesirables' -- welcome to the controlled College Zone, Columbia MO; do not upset temporary residents with gruesome scenes of regular and/or disabled people.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 3, 2012 | 5:19 p.m.

I've been meaning to bring this up for some time. Several years ago didn't Columbia hire the guy who was then running CyRide in Ames, Iowa (Iowa State University)?

If so, he's since left (my source says he's now in charge of bus service at Iowa City*). I've been told he has said he had a frustrating and unhappy time while in Columbia, because his ideas weren't given a fair trial.

Can the Missourian verify both that he was hired and when he left?

Remember, expenses for the recent trip to Ames were budgeted at $10K.

*- If he is indeed at Iowa City that's interesting, because that situation is far closer to the one here in Columbia than the one in Ames. The University of Iowa campus butts hard up against downtown Iowa City (sounds like here) whereas there's a fair amount of real estate between the ISU campus and downtown Ames. The situation in Iowa City is further complicated by the main campus being split by a river.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 3, 2012 | 6:32 p.m.

The grossly inept, obviously out of touch, management of Columbia's bus-transit system is unconscionable. Bus transportation CAN work efficiently in Columbia, it is the management who has no interest in doing any 'real' analysis. Geospatial tools should be one component. But, most importantly, bureaucrats should try RIDING THE BUS, under various permutations of possible ridership conditions -- ride the bus like a real person would ride it, do it for multiple weeks under assumed conditions (working a job that is not 9 to 5, going to appointments, doing shopping), take notes on it, then make some real decisions. The last step in the process is to go crap around other towns, riding the bus at some college for a single day, then going and eating a nice lunch with other bureaucrats on the per diem dime.

The perpetually inept implementation of transit planning in this town only gives credence to claims spoken by those who say it will never work.

(Report Comment)
Nicholas Blond June 3, 2012 | 9:14 p.m.

If our City is going to subsidize the transportation needs of a private developer to the tune of a few hundred grand a year, why not use the same "public-private partnership" logic and rent out the numerous still-vacant retail spaces across from the post office to community organizations of local small business owners at a 70-90% discount?

Seriously--if our City has the money to provide bus services for out-of-state, out-of-tax-base college students and their landlords' development companies, then they sure as heck have the money to provide those vacant retail spaces on Walnut to community members at a significantly reduced rate.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum June 3, 2012 | 10:00 p.m.

Whoever's in charge of bus-transit planning simply needs to go. All those who ride the bus in Columbia today do so in spite of abysmal planning, and any increase in ridership largely a result of demographic changes such as transplants from other countries and general population growth (nearly 25% increase between 2000 - 2010). Imagine what would happen if the bus actually worked. How many failures qualify for a dismissal? This has been going on far too long.

(Report Comment)

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