Columbia to hire specialist to market bus system

Thursday, June 28, 2012 | 2:46 p.m. CDT; updated 5:41 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 28, 2012

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia will hire a new marketing specialist who will focus on raising awareness and promoting use of the city's bus system.

The Columbia City Council approved the new position for the Public Works Department on June 4. It carries an annual salary of $59,615, including benefits, but the city will pay the worker nearly $7,000 through the end of fiscal 2012 on Sept. 30.

The position will deal specifically with Columbia Transit rather than Public Works as a whole. Duties will include preparing an annual marketing plan, increasing brand awareness of the bus system and increasing customer loyalty.

"This is a person who will go out and actively communicate with all of our customers," City Manager Mike Matthes said.

The specialist also will approach the bus system on a route-by-route basis. This is one of the ideas city officials have adopted from visiting bus systems in Lawrence, Kan., Ames, Iowa, and Champaign-Urbana, Ill., earlier this year, Matthes said.

"The ultimate goal is to enable the transit service to become self-sufficient," Matthes said.

The specialist's first challenge will be marketing the FastCAT program, a new bus route that will consist of a 30-minute loop from MU to student residential areas in downtown and the central city.

"This person really is in sales," Matthes said, adding that his or her job will be to connect with various organizations in Columbia and to describe the benefits of FastCAT first. "FastCAT's most important now."

The specialist's agenda also will include creating more user-friendly bus maps and guides. Many groups, including the PedNet Coalition's Columbians for Modern Efficient Transit, have complained about the current bus maps and guides.

Sam Robinson is director of Healthy Community Initiatives at the PedNet Coalition and spokesman for the efficient transit campaign, which promotes alternate transportation for pedestrians as well as public transportation in general. He thinks that producing user-friendly maps and guides will help create brand awareness for the bus system.

"We firmly believe that there is a benefit of developing more user-friendly information on how to use the bus system," Robinson said.

The full job description for the position can be found on the city of Columbia's website. The Public Works Department will accept applications until July 3.

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Catalina Zimmerman June 28, 2012 | 3:42 p.m.

I relied heavily on the city bus system in Columbia as a teenager; it seemed more user-friendly in the past. I hope this new system will allow MU students to feel they can go without cars in Columbia by making the schedules and routes more relevant.

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