COLUMBIA — Isaiah Isma's tires burst on his way to the pawn shop where he wanted to pawn a ring for extra cash. 

Without a working car, he was out of both cash and reliable transportation. 

Isaiah Isma was the name Central Missouri Community Action volunteers gave Doug Geshell when he arrived at the Transportation Simulation at the United Methodist Church on Tuesday afternoon. Central Missouri Community Action and the Public Transit Advisory Commission hosted the simulation, which was designed to open people's eyes to the realities of getting around Columbia on a low income.

Angela Hirsch, the community services administrator for Central Missouri Community Action, moderated the event. She directed Geshell and about 24 other participants at the simulation to adopt fictional identities and play out different scenarios.

Role-playing as Isma, Geshell had to figure out how to pay the bills and get to and from work on a monthly income of $511. After his character's tires burst in the simulation, Geshell said he was afraid of being fired from his fictional job at a factory.

Besides car problems, the simulation emphasized how unreliable and expensive public transportation can define low-income residents' ability to move freely throughout the city. Arnold Larson, a volunteer for Central Missouri Community Action, said that a major problem with Columbia's Go COMO bus system is that there are simply not enough buses on the routes. 

In a round-group discussion after the simulation, Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas spoke about how a shortage of funds is to blame for limited bus service in the city. He said he hopes that events such as the transportation simulation will help build the political will among citizens to increase public funding for transportation. 

"This is beneficial to all in the city," Thomas said, not just low-income residents or students.

Thomas said he is working with the Missouri Students Association to potentially partner with MU to improve the bus system. He said Vice Chancellor for Operations Gary Ward expressed interest in the partnership, but that there were no concrete plans in place moving forward. 

Thomas also referenced a report released earlier in the year from Olsson Associates about how to revamp the Go COMO bus system. The system was overhauled in 2013, but the number of passengers continued to decline, and Olsson Associates was tasked with finding additional ways to improve the system.

The City Council will hold budget hearings Aug. 21, Sept. 5 and Sept. 15 to discuss the public transportation budget and the proposed elimination of three bus routes in southern Columbia. 

Supervising editor is Claire Mitzel.

  • I'm a magazine writing graduate student and a fall '17 community beat reporter. Contact me at

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