Improved downtown bus routes could boost business

Monday, November 18, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:28 p.m. CST, Monday, November 18, 2013

COLUMBIA — As part of the CoMO Connect project to improve the city's bus system, Columbia Transit proposed three new downtown bus routes during a meeting of the Downtown Community Improvement District Board on Nov. 12. The routes vary in their coverage of the downtown area and MU, and are intended to improve the current FastCat Express bus services.

One of the proposed routes would start at Walnut Street and run south to Hospital Drive. This would cover less of MU, but it would run buses on College Avenue. The other two routes would cover more of the university and downtown area, with both routes extending to Rogers Street.

Columbia Transit's goals for the improved downtown routes are to appeal to demographics beyond university students and make riding the bus downtown an option for more people, Drew Brooks, multi-modal manager for Columbia Transit, said in a meeting on Nov. 7.

"We want to find a route that serves everyone well, not just one specific demographic," Brooks said. "Right now, we kind of have a broken downtown route."

Business owners in the downtown area acknowledge that the FastCat Express doesn't serve the community very well, said Richard King, owner of The Blue Note and improvement district board member.

"In the overall scheme, the current system is not working, and everyone is aware of that," King said. "I'm just really happy Columbia Transit has taken the time to seek solutions."

Improvement district board member Christina Kelley anticipates business would increase at her shop, Makes Scents, on Ninth Street with the changes to the bus routes.

"I want to look for easy ways for people who not only go to school downtown but also work or just want to have fun downtown, to be able to get there," Kelley said. "I think any time you make it easier and more convenient, it opens that reach to more people."

If people are able to avoid paying parking fees downtown, that will increase the amount of discretionary income they have to spend at restaurants or in her store, she said.

Kelley lives near downtown, as do many of her employees. The two routes that extend further into outlying neighborhoods near downtown would benefit her employees and her by making getting to work easier. It would also eliminate the need to pay for parking.

Columbia Transit will continue holding public forums to discuss the entire CoMO Connect plan until February when the City Council votes on the project. A meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at Daniel Boone City Building will ask for public feedback specifically on the three downtown routes, as well as the two connector routes and seven neighborhood routes also proposed in the project. A link to an online survey of the downtown routes is available on the CoMO Connect website.

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