COLUMBIA — After more than a year of planning and preparing for the new COMO Connect bus system, it will finally be introduced Monday. To celebrate, a launch party was held Saturday at the MU Student Center.
About 100 Columbia residents came throughout the morning to check out the gathering. They came to eat food, listen to music provided by Y107 FM, watch a ribbon-cutting ceremony and get information about the new routes.
"It was really great to see the enthusiasm today," said Multi-Modal manager Drew Brooks. "To see that excitement and that people are really interested is really a great thing."
Although part of the promotion for the new system aimed to attract college students, it also looked to bring in riders from all over Columbia.
"I was interested to see what changes they made," said Eric Farless, who has been riding the bus under the old transit system for seven years. "I think in the past they've targeted the students so much that they've kind of neglected the rest of the residents that are using it to get to work."
Farless said that he is pleased with the extended hours of the new system and that he will primarily take the Blue route to Indian Hills Park on Aztec Boulevard.
The new system is also aimed at attracting Columbia residents who don't already use transit systems, which is partly why August is free for all riders, Brooks said.
Kerry Haller, who lives in north Columbia, said she rarely rode the bus under the old system. Instead, she opted to ride her bike through the Katy Trail to where she works on Vandiver Drive. With the new system, she said, she thinks she will take the bus more frequently.
"Before, you would have to go all the way down into town (to Wabash Station) and then switch and go back, and there just wasn't time to get me where I needed to go," Haller said. "I like to ride to work, but it's really hot when I ride home, so now I'll be able to ride the bus home."
"Most of the questions were very specific about how the routes will affect them," Brooks said. "Once we sit down with them, they realize the changes aren't very dramatic."
For some, however, the changes will have a negative impact.
"It affects me quite a bit," Sheila Gavin said of her new route. "Part of the route that I take to work has been cut off."
Gavin, a self-identified senior citizen, will now have to walk about four blocks from her home on Weymeyer Drive through Brown Station Road to her stop at Starke Avenue. She takes the bus to Prairie Ridge Road, where she works at the Latter House Childcare Center.
This route is inconvenient for more than just the walking distance, though.
"There are no sidewalks on Brown Station Road," Gavin said, "so I will have to walk on the road."
Gavin said the old system took her right to her street. She talked to several people at Columbia Transit months in advance about how the new route would affect her, and they suggested that she sign up for the Para-Transit system, which provides curb-to-urb service for people who qualify under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Signing up for the Para-Transit system will cost her more a month, Gavin said. It costs $55 for a 30-day unlimited full-fare COMO Connect bus pass and $25 for a 30-day unlimited a half-fare pass, which is available to people with disabilities, the elderly, children ages 5 to 17, and Medicare and Medicaid recipients. It costs $2 per ride on the Para-Transit system.
"I think they should at least let me ride Para-Transit at the rate that I'm riding now," Gavin said.
Negative effects from the new system are unavoidable, Brooks said.
"There's going to be some folks who have to walk a little further to get to their bus stop simply because we're trying to make much more efficient routes that go into heavily dense population areas and then travel as quickly as possible to other destinations," Brooks said. "For most people, I think they'll find that they might have a slight walk but the bus is going to get them there a lot more efficiently."
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