Survey finds Columbians want more from bus service

Friday, November 16, 2007 | 3:59 p.m. CST; updated 9:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — MU student Matt Webb finds it expensive and inconvenient to own a car.

“Everything is expensive — insurance, maintenance, gas and parking,” Webb said. “I’m graduating in May. If I was here a lot longer, I would probably buy a bike.”

Bus service would seem to be a good choice for Webb to get back and forth to campus. Buses run from early morning until 6:25 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and 10:25 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.

But Webb describes himself as a student who doesn’t like to study at home, so he stays on campus almost every weekday evening.

“I wish the bus could open as late as the library opens, but obviously it’s not feasible,” he said.

Webb isn’t alone. In two recent assessments conducted by the city, Columbians placed transportation high on their list of concerns the city needs to address. It appeared among the top three most important issues for Columbia when citizen groups voted on strategies in September as part of the city’s Vision Plan.

A survey was sent randomly to 1,800 households in the city this spring to measure citizens’ satisfaction with public services. The results indicated that 74 percent of respondents considered the availability of bus service an important issue to Columbia.

Among the nine public services listed, bus service was ranked close to the bottom. It received the second lowest satisfaction rate, 39 percent, putting it just ahead of the last-place city airport.

Those who didn’t rank the bus service as satisfactory or above rated it lower than a 4 on a 5-point scale. That puts it far behind the next service, drop-off recycling, which had a 78 percent satisfaction rate — twice that of the city transit system.

A total of 807 households responded to the survey with a 95 percent level of confidence and a precision of at least plus or minus 3.5 percent.

The results included:

— The most satisfied bus service areas were scattered near downtown Columbia, as well as throughout the southwest part of the city.

— Residents east of Highway 63 said they were “very dissatisfied” with city buses. That area currently has no bus service.

— Those living between Providence Road and Highway 63 marked themselves “dissatisfied,” as did people in pockets around Fairview Road and west of Scott Boulevard.

Despite these differences of opinion, Columbia’s bus service has more riders this year than last.

In the past year, Columbia Transit had an 18.5 percent increase in riders, from 583,000 to 696,000, according to Jill Stedem, the public information specialist in Public Works Department.

To encourage people to take the bus, Columbia Transit is proposing changes to its schedule.

Two major items in Columbia Transit’s draft master plan will be taken to the City Council in early 2008, Stedem said. The proposals would end bus service at the same time every day and introduce a Dial-A-Ride program for reserved rides.

The plan calls for ending service at 8:25 p.m. Monday through Friday so workers could leave the office late, shop in the evening or “simply go out to eat with the family,“ said Transportation Manager Ken Koopmans.

Between 8:25 p.m. and midnight, and from 4 to 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, riders could use the Dial-A-Ride service to travel to and from school, work, the hospital and Columbia airport. The program includes weekend operation. Passengers would need to make reservations in advance and all rides are $3 per trip.

While this would give Webb more options, he said would find $3 a little bit expensive, as “the parking fee for one day is only $3.30.”

“I would be more willing to take it if it is a dollar ride,” he said.

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