CoMo Connect looks at possibly serving elementary schools in after-hours

Friday, February 21, 2014 | 7:21 p.m. CST; updated 9:16 p.m. CST, Friday, February 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — With a new city bus system going forward later this year, transit planners are toying with another new idea: providing service to more schools.

CoMo Connect, the newly approved bus system, could be further expanded to include elementary schools, city transit manager Drew Brooks said during a joint city, Boone County, Columbia School Board and Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday morning. The meeting included a discussion of using CoMo Connect to fill the gap in direct service to schools.

"There are parents who need to get to teacher conferences, and we don't have as much coverage for elementary schools," Brooks said. "It's just not covered by the current budget."

Brooks said service to Columbia schools would have to be on a fixed route and would operate from 6:25 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Federal Transit Administration laws and regulations limit the use of public transportation in competition with school bus systems, but Brooks said a "supplementary system" could service before and after school programs and give public school employees a means for public transportation.

City planners will assess public interest using phone surveys in April or May, Brooks said.

"We would gauge the temperature of community interest by talking to the public to figure out a funding model," Brooks said.

Brooks said more funding for public transit could come from tax or utility fee increases. A new master plan for the system will be created in the fall and will depend on the outlook for funding.

Columbia City Council gave the new CoMo Connect bus system the OK with a unanimous vote Monday. The 11 new routes will be in service throughout Columbia at full capacity by Aug. 4 with a GPS tracking system equipped on all buses along the routes.

School Board member Jan Mees said the GPS service would be a valuable feature for Columbia Public Schools to "ease anxieties of parents and give them information on exactly where their children are."

"This is very impressive. I've got my fingers crossed that it will all work out," she said.

City Manager Mike Matthes said historically, changes in public transportation routes see a dip in passenger numbers, but they slowly climb back and increase.

"They've done a great job with this," Matthes said. "We're reaching neighborhoods we've never been to — we're hoping to see increases in numbers early on."

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