COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve CoMo Connect, a new bus system with more routes, more stops and longer hours of operation.
The project will create 42 connection points throughout the city. Connection points are where two or more routes intersect and passengers can transfer buses. Bus stop and shelter locations have yet to be finalized.
At the council meeting, council members talked about creating more routes to the outskirts of town, creating a mobile app for buying tickets, adjusting routes to better serve elementary schools and finding future funding for the program — but support for the plan was nearly unanimous.
"I think the fact that we're picking on you for little things we'd like changed shows the success of what you've proposed," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said to Columbia Transit Manager Drew Brooks.
Some residents were concerned that the new program caters too much to students, whom Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said make up 40 percent of Columbia's population. But Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser pushed back, saying that CoMo Connect reaches all corners of town.
"This is not a student-centered bus system," she said. "This is a community-centered bus system."
Columbia Transit proposed the new system nine months ago, and more than 500 residents have provided feedback through forums, meetings and surveys.
Brooks hopes to phase in new routes in July. The complete system's start date is set for Aug. 4.
Brooks said the first step of implementing CoMo Connect would also be the biggest challenge: training drivers and staff on every new detail.
"Every member of transit staff needs to understand every route thoroughly," he said.
Under the current system, buses come and go from a central transfer location, Wabash Station. Bus routes must be timed precisely because passengers can only transfer routes at Wabash. One late bus causes delays for all the others.
Since CoMo Connect doesn't marshal buses at a central location, the city expects wait times to decrease.
"We've got a long way to go," Mayor Bob McDavid said. "This is only a start."
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