*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated what additional costs would need to be covered if the transit service is extended beyond changes addressed in CoMO Connect.
COLUMBIA — Applause was the final sound heard Thursday night at a public forum and presentation of Columbia Transit’s plan to improve the bus system.
The plan, called CoMO Connect, would expand service hours, redesign bus routes and decrease wait times. Attendees offered support for the plan and suggestions for ways to improve the project to serve the community.
Among the positive comments was the opinion that increased frequency of bus service, reducing wait times from 40 minutes to 15 minutes or 30 minutes depending on bus route, would help riders get around town more efficiently.
Redesigning the routes from the current system, which requires all buses to depart and return to the Wabash Station , would increase access to more areas of the city. As part of the plan, Wabash Station would no longer serve as the hub for Columbia Transit and routes would be redesigned to include two main connector routes and seven neighborhood routes.
“Overall, I can say I really like the new system,” said Ronald Minner, who relies on the bus and his bicycle for transportation. “There are some things that need changing, but overall I like it. The availability for people to get to more places and the speed of the routes is really good.”
Susan Marshall lives off Stewart Road near downtown and said she does not ride the bus because it can be unpredictable and is often late. She hopes to ride the bus more often if the CoMO Connect plan is implemented.
“It’s going to be a big improvement, and then we’re going to need to go to the next step,” Marshall said.
Criticisms of CoMO Connect and suggestions to improve the plan included the question of why service hours cannot be extended later into the evenings. Currently, buses do not operate past 6:35 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 9:15 p.m. Thursday and Friday. With the new plan, buses would run until 8 p.m. each evening.
Some meeting attendees raised concerns that bus riders who ride to and from work are not finished working before 8 p.m. and will still require alternative means of getting home. Adding bus service on Sunday is not a change addressed in the plan.
“There’s a lot of people who work after 8 p.m.,” Minner said. “I get off work at 9 p.m., and I bike in the dark. The plan doesn’t seem to be taking the needs of the community into consideration, the need for later service hours and Sunday service."
CoMO Connect would require no additional funding if passed in a City Council vote at a February meeting. The changes addressed in the plan would take effect Aug. 4.
*Extending hours of operation later into the evenings and adding Sunday service would require additional funding, said Drew Brooks, multi-modal manager for Columbia Transit.
Brooks said in a previous interview that the additional funding would be required for fuel and maintenance, as well as pay and benefits for additional drivers.
The City Council is exploring options to further improve the bus system in the future to include Sunday service and later evening hours.
Until the City Council vote, Columbia Transit and council members will hold meetings to inform the public about the proposed changes in the plan and hear feedback about CoMO Connect. Brochures, route maps and a survey will be passed out at each of the meetings inviting public comment. Public forums will continue until February.
“I’m very, very confident that this will pass through the vote in February, and then the transit staff can get to work to plan all the details of the new system and the transition to the new system,” Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said.
Brooks said he is encouraged by the positive feedback CoMO Connect has received from the public and the council.
“One of the major goals of this project is to live within our means and design a system that’s prepared for future growth,” Brooks said. “Generally we’ve gotten some pretty positive results. The vast majority of complaints are things that require more funding.”
Public meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Daniel Boone City Building and 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Activity and Recreation Center.
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