COLUMBIA — James Cook has been riding city buses since 1972, when he was in junior high. A self-described "bus veteran," he was among those trying new routes that began Monday.
Cook thinks the new COMO Connect, which replaces the central depot at Wabash Station downtown with interconnecting neighborhood routes, will run more smoothly than the previous system — once the kinks are ironed out.
"Overall, it's gone really well," city transit manager Drew Brooks said Monday afternoon. Brooks reported that some buses had missed bus stop signs, but said other than that it was a successful morning.
Anyone can ride for free through August, and Cook thinks that will help entice those who haven't ridden before.
At the same time, novice riders can slow things down for others, he said.
"A lot of the passengers make it slower than it needs to be," Cook said, because they might not have their fares ready when they board or they might ask the driver questions about routes.
Nonetheless, he expects the new routes will be faster than the previous ones. He rides the bus five days a week to his job at the 63 Diner on north Highway 763. While he used to have to walk 20 minutes after getting off the bus to reach work, the new routes bring him about 10 minutes closer.
Cook said he loves riding the bus and hopes that more people will learn how to take advantage.
"It's kind of stress free, if you know where you're going," he said.
In addition to the new routes, COMO Connect will allow passengers to change routes at predetermined "transfer points," instead of traveling to Wabash Station.
“The biggest problem with the old system was that it was an orbital pulse system; all the buses had to come to Wabash Station," Brooks said, adding that since all transfers used to be done at one location, one late bus meant all buses would be late.
Mary Adekunle has been riding the bus home from her job at Boone Hospital Center for the past 13 years. On Monday, she was unable to get home after her night shift because of her unfamiliarity with the new route.
With the old system, she always knew she was headed to Wabash to catch the next bus. With the new system, she was unable to figure out what part of town to get off in to catch the next bus she needed.
"I prefer the old system," Adekunle said. "I'm so confused now."
After trying two different buses to get home, she said, her frustrations became tearful. Even after a woman helped her get on another bus, it wasn't the one she needed to get home.
When Adekunle described her predicament to a bus driver, he radioed other drivers to learn which bus she needed and guided her to the appropriate stop.
"It's going to be confusing for customers at first," Brooks said. "It's always hard to figure out something new."
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