Columbia Transit proposes overhaul of bus system

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 10:34 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA —Branding its new proposal as CoMo Connect, Columbia Transit presented a bus system plan with an expanded service area, a change in operation hours and additional connections between routes during a Columbia City Council work session Wednesday.

The proposal includes two connector routes, one running north and south and another east and west, surrounded by seven neighborhood routes, which could allow riders a quicker trip across town.

The connector routes will each have four buses running at 15-minute intervals during the morning and late afternoon while each neighborhood route will have a single bus running at 30-minute intervals, according to a map of the proposed route presented during the work session.

The new proposed hours of operation would be 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. Currently, buses run from 6:20 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 6:20 a.m. to 9:15  p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 7:05 p.m. on Saturdays.

The proposal also includes expanding the area of transit for the city, with the most extensive addition including a route that runs along Scott Boulevard and Vawter School Road on the western side of the city.

Other expansions include a northern route out to Burning Bush Road, a southern route out to Old Plank Road, and an eastern route that extends further down Clark Lane toward Lake of the Woods Road, with possible part-time service to Battle High School on St. Charles Road. (See the proposed routes here.)

In total, there are 35 connection points among the various routes in the proposal.

"Public Works staff has been doing some soul-searching," said John Glascock, director of Public Works, shortly before the proposal was unveiled. "We need a total transportation system that is interconnected regionally in Columbia."

To pay for the overhaul under the department's current budget, Columbia Transit has proposed raising parking fees in city-owned garages and lots by $10 per month in order to increase annual revenue by an estimated $292,000.

During the proposal presentation, Drew Brooks, the transportation administrator for Columbia Transit, said such a raise in rates would allow the department to receive a matching grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Brooks proposed that if the council were to raise parking fees, individuals that paid for a space in Columbia's lots and garages would receive a pass for unlimited rides on Columbia buses.

Currently, Columbia Transit is working to upgrade technology on all buses by August. The upgrades include the addition of GPS units that will work with smartphone apps, automatic passenger counters, audible systems to announce stops, and a tie-in with Google Transit to inform passengers which route they must take to reach their destination. In total, the upgrades will cost $600,000 to $700,000, Brooks said. 

Following Brooks' portion of the presentation, Barbara Buffaloe, the manager of the Office of Sustainability, proposed that the council should also consider applying for a federal Department of Transportation TIGER grant. The grant awards funding to transportation projects that "will have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area or a region," according to its website.

Buffaloe said that a minimum TIGER grant would be $10 million, which could be used to fund replacement buses that would run on compressed natural gas and to build new bus shelters with digital signage to inform passengers about  buses' expected arrival time.

Sixth Ward councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked Brooks about how long it would take to complete the overhaul of the bus routes.

Brooks said it could take about 18 months to implement the proposed overhaul, as public hearings will need to be held and the city will need federal approval before the routes can be changed.

Brooks also noted that the addition of new technology on transit vehicles will help the department and the council make a more informed decision over the coming months, and perhaps make changes to the plan.

"We certainly wouldn't want to jump into this rapidly, that could be a recipe for failure," Brooks said.

Fourth Ward councilman Ian Thomas said he was impressed with the proposal and that it will "establish a foundation for Columbia's transportation policy."

"We know that it costs us as a city more to provide a roadway system for people to drive their private automobiles on for those same journeys as it would do to provide a public transportation system," Thomas said.

While Columbia Transit has not yet communicated with MU about this new proposal, Brooks said he plans to show the presentation to the university.

"We want to get to a point where people are lining up to ride the bus, not just on campus, but everywhere," said Brooks during the proposal. "Where buses are full and where a broad cross-section of the community makes a choice to ride."

Supervising editor is Hannah Wiese.

Previous coverage:

To learn more about Columbia Transit's previous proposals and changes to the bus system, read the stories in this package, available to Missourian digital members.

As the city considered transit changes, officials toured four other cities to see how their bus systems worked. To read those stories, click here. This content also is available to Missourian digital members.  

Map showing proposed CoMo Connect routes:

If you cannot see the embedded document, click here.

Slides showing the individual routes in the proposed expansion:

If you cannot see the embedded document, click here.

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