COLUMBIA — For Columbia resident Jacqueline Miles, the city bus system was never an option. She lives north of town near Prathersville Road, and the nearest bus stop was almost two miles away.
Miles has never used city buses. “You have to walk too far to the bus stop,” she said.
- 10 a.m. to noon: Lake of the Woods/Fairway Meadows Subdivision area
- 2 to 4 p.m.: the parking lot of Patricia's Foods, 900 N. Keene St.
- 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Health Department, 1005 W. Worley St.
- 2 to 4 p.m.: Lucky's Market parking lot, 111 S. Providence Road
- 10 a.m. to noon: Activity and Recreation Center parking lot and Columbia Farmers' Market, 1701 W. Ash St.
The new COMO Connect bus system, which begins Aug. 4, will reach areas of Columbia that no bus has gone before.
“It will allow people like her, that haven’t been able, to ride,” said COMO Connect bus driver Robert Garrett.
Garrett spent two hours Tuesday outside the Central Pantry of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri at 1007 Big Bear Blvd., to help get out details about the new routes and schedules.
The COMO Connect Information Bus will tour Columbia through Saturday to provide pamphlets, maps and schedules on the new bus routes. The bus makes two-hour stops at various locations in hopes that visitors will stop by and find out what all the fuss is about.
"We're just handing out the new schedules and letting them see the new routes," Garrett said.
The schedules take the form of a small, colorful booklet that features each of the 11 new routes as well as a fold-out map at the back displaying all the routes at once. It also includes helpful tips for riding and points of interest on the routes.
"The current maps that we had were not really user friendly," said Teresa White, marketing specialist for Columbia Public Works. "It's a lot easier to look at the routes side-by-side with their schedules."
In addition, Garrett provided visitors with any information he could about how the new system worked, the cost and the schedules.
When Miles stopped by, she learned that the new routes would extend all the way to Prathersville Road, as well as Scott Boulevard and Battle High School, allowing her to start riding city buses for the first time.
COMO Connect will be free to use from opening day, Aug. 4, through the end of August, allowing people like Miles to get a feel for the new system before having to pay for it.
Miles loved that idea, and said she would be sure to test it out in August.
Encouraging those who hadn't ridden the transit system before was one of the reasons for the month of free rides, White said.
"We have two goals, marketing-wise: Inform current customers about changes — we want them to be fully prepared — and design a transportation system that is a viable option to everyone."
When Tim Robertson walked up to the information bus on Tuesday, he knew exactly what he was looking for. While Miles was one of the many who were drawn by curiosity, Robertson heard about the information bus via Twitter and drove to the food pantry.
Robertson, who doesn't have bus service where he lives, said the best feature of the new system for him are the routes that will serve his neighborhood.
“I’d like to use it because overall, it’s cheaper than a car,” he said.
Robertson holds fond memories of riding city buses: He often took his three sons on rides when they were children as a treat.
"We'd ride it out to the mall, or just ride it around and come back home," he said. "They think it's great."
Robertson began using the bus less and less, he said, because route transfers were only possible at the Wabash Station downtown.
Originally, if one bus was late to the station, the others could become late waiting for it to return, Garrett said.
COMO Connect will prevent the need for all the buses to return to Wabash with the addition of connector points on the bus routes, where passengers can connect to other buses nearby.
"What that allows is for them all to operate on their own route," Garrett said. "Hopefully that right there will help it run more efficiently."
"The new system will make it to where you can move around town faster," Garrett said. The hope is that wait times at connection points will be five to 10 minutes.
In addition to providing free bus rides to all passengers in August, visitors to the COMO Connect Information Bus can enter a drawing to win a 25-ride pass. One bus pass will be given out for each information bus stop.
Supervising editor is John Schneller.