The Future of Public Transit

It seems that everyone agrees that Columbia Transit needs to expand exponentially — but it appears that students aren’t ready to foot the bill.

Mayor Bob McDavid has proposed to expand the transit system to have more routes, covering more area and running more frequently. He has previously stated that he would like to model the system after university cities like Ames, Ioaw, Champaign-Urbana, Ill. and Lawrence, Kan.

As a way of trying to implement the system, McDavid started the Transit System Task Force, which included students from MU, Columbia College and Stephens College.

With no further meetings scheduled and no consensus on how to implement such a bus system, it seems the views of McDavid and the views of the students are incongruous.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Brittany Perrin, one of the students representing MU on the task force, spoke to council members about how she perceived the situation.

Her message was clear: students want better public transit, but they don’t believe the full “burden” should fall on the shoulders of students.

One of the reasons for better public transit was noticeable yesterday when Columbia got its first snowfall of the season. With so many cars on the road, accidents were high because city trucks were unable to salt the crowded roads. With buses, more students could ride, reducing the burden of the city to try to salt crowded roads.

The way some other cities with major universities run their bus systems is through student fees. Students pay between $60 and $100 a semester and ride the bus for “free.” The university gives the revenue generated from the student fees to the city, which runs the bus system.

It seems Perrin is averse to this idea that the system is primarily student funded. If Columbia emulates other cities, however, non-student riders would pay their share. Where students would get to ride by presenting their student ID, others would have to pay a fare.

If the students and the city cannot come to some agreement by September, Columbia Transit may be forced to cut several routes, including some of those most heavily used by students.

While students perceive this as a threat, the realities of the transit budget are grim. If the city hopes to keep the bus system out of the red, massive changes need to be made. Either the city needs to find more funding or it has to cut services.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the students and McDavid can shape a public bus system that all of Columbia can be proud of, or if cuts will cripple the system.

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