For the first time in more than three years, officials with the Columbia Transit System are planning significant changes to the city’s bus routes, but they won’t do it without giving the public a chance to comment.
If accepted by the Columbia City Council, the route changes could be implemented as early as June. The main goals, Columbia Public Works Director Lowell Patterson said in a December report to the council, are to ensure the buses run on time, to boost the number of riders and to expand routes to popular destinations in the city.
“Ridership on the Columbia Transit System has fallen in the past year,” Patterson said in his report. “While this is consistent with trends in other cities, staff does feel there are things that can be done to improve the number of people using the bus system.”
Mark Grindstaff, public works supervisor and director of operations for the Columbia Transit System, told council members during a Monday night work session that passenger numbers in fiscal 2003 dropped every month except September from fiscal year 2002. Total passenger numbers dropped 11 percent over the period, from 541,768 in fiscal 2002 to 482,207 in fiscal year 2003.
One proposed strategy for boosting the number of riders is to establish a theater commuter route on Thursday and Friday nights and on Saturdays.
“One example where staff observed a marked decline in ridership was ... to Columbia Mall when the movie theaters were eliminated,” Patterson wrote. “New destination points such as Hollywood Theaters and Hy-Vee have been identified by customers as desirable locations for service.”
Transit officials also hope to establish a new downtown orbiter route that would eliminate the need for other fixed routes to serve the heavily congested central business district. Changes to the red, green, orange, yellow and blue routes are also expected.
The first reading of the proposed changes could occur as soon as the Feb. 16 council meeting. From there, the transit system will hear recommendations from council members. If plans to tweak the system get the council’s OK, transit officials will conduct informational town meetings on Thursday and Friday nights to let the public voice its concerns.
A public hearing and final vote would take place as early as April 5. If approved, an eight-week public information campaign would take placed before changes would be implemented.