COLUMBIA — From an outsider's perspective, the city's new FastCAT bus route and MU's Tiger Line shuttle service appear to be cats of different stripes. Despite their distinct roles, the two will see some overlap in routes and ridership.
Tiger Line, which began operating in 1985, links the MU campus with several university parking lots during the day and provides transportation downtown and to southside shopping centers at night*. Tiger Line is operated by MU Parking and Transportation Services and gets some of its funding from a fee of $16.85 per semester that all students pay, regardless of whether they use the shuttle service.
Tiger Line is restricted to MU students, their relatives and friends, as well as MU faculty and staff. The evening shuttles operate along three bus routes, extending from Providence Road on the west to East Campus Drive on the east. One of the three takes students to shopping centers along Nifong Boulevard.*
Tiger Line operates only while MU residence halls are open, and ends service at 1:30 a.m. It is intended to serve students living in Greek houses, married-student housing, residence halls and apartments surrounding campus. The buses can be flagged down anywhere along their routes.*
The new downtown-centered FastCAT will run year-round, with weekend hours extending to 2:30 a.m. It has the potential to serve the several thousand students who live in downtown apartments and on the campuses of MU, Stephens and Columbia colleges, as well as non-student residents of the central city.
FastCAT began operations last week.
Roger Harden of Columbia, who works at University Catering and Event Services, was one of only a few passengers around 9:30 a.m. Monday on the 40-seat, black-and-gold FastCAT bus as it moved from Eighth and Elm streets to University Hospital.
Harden had mostly praise for FastCAT and said he's glad the city is expanding its transportation options.
"They get just about anywhere in the city now," Harden said. "I've been here 10 years, and there wasn't much when I first came, and this is a big improvement."
Harden had some uncertainty about the consistency of FastCAT's off-peak and weekend services.
MU senior Lucinda Winter rode FastCAT for the first time Monday. She said she'd rather take the bus than drive to campus because it stops right at her front door. She said she'll consider using FastCAT at night and on the weekends to connect her with downtown.
FastCAT will remain free until Aug. 27. After that, it will cost $100 for a semester pass or $1.50 per ride. The FastCAT semester pass is equal to the price of a campus parking pass. In an effort to attract student riders, the city is offering semester passes for $62.50 when they're purchased in quantities of 20 or more. That's a deal that the owners of several apartment complexes have seized.
The Odle brothers, developers of the Brookside apartment complexes at College Avenue and Walnut Street and at Tenth and Locust streets, entered a contract with the city to buy $80,000 in passes for residents and pay $10,000 to advertise on FastCAT buses in each of the next five years.
Both FastCAT and Tiger Line intend to offer real-time mobile applications that will allow riders to track buses. FastCAT had hoped to launch its application by the end of last week, said Public Works Department spokesman Steven Sapp. However, the city is still working with AT&T to accomplish that. Tiger Line is still working to add GPS capability to its fleet.
On Monday afternoon, finding a seat on the Tiger Line shuttle, which is smaller than the city buses, was difficult. Joe Ahlbrandt, an MU senior majoring in engineering, was among the passengers who crowded onto the bus as it traveled the Reactor Field Loop. He said he's a satisfied customer.
"A mobile app would be nice, but wouldn't make a huge difference for commuting," he said.
Despite potential overlap in ridership, neither the city nor MU see the services as competitors.
"FastCAT is just another option for students," Sapp said. He added that the city also has hired a marketing specialist who will begin work next week and focus on driving up FastCAT passenger numbers.
Karlan Seville, spokeswoman for MU Campus Facilities, acknowledged the services are similar. Like the city, MU is trying to spread the word about the convenience of Tiger Line's service, she said.
"Our main goal is to provide a safe service to students and connect them with the campus."
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