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Columbia Extends Public Transportation Waiver

Columbia’s City Council has extended its temporary waiver of public transportation fares.

Since March, Columbia’s transit system has been operating fare-free in response to COVID-19. An amendment passed Tuesday will extend this policy through the 2021 fiscal year. Columbia’s City Council Member for Ward 4, Ian Thomas, says that bus drivers were the City’s first concern.

“By going fare-free, it meant the drivers didn’t have to handle money,” Thomas said, “And it also meant that at least for those busses that have both front doors and backdoors, that they could keep the front doors closed, and thereby reduce the exposure of the drivers to passengers who might be positive.”

In addition to driver safety, Thomas also said he hopes the removal of fares encourages more people to take the bus. To reach the sustainability goals outlined in the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation plan, nearly 40% of Columbia residents will have to use public transportation, rather than their own car.

Thomas said that early responses from riders make it seem like removing fares is a step in the right direction.

“I have heard from a few people that they do like it, it’s much more convenient to just jump on and off the bus without worrying about having the right change,” Thomas said.

One challenge for the City in making public transportation more popular is offering bus routes to more remote parts of the city. Unrelated to elimination of bus fares, the City of Columbia decided to cut the number of bus routes they provide by around half, with only six remaining.

Thomas said that the routes which are no longer offered had very low ridership, and that this move allowed the City to consolidate resources into their current routes.

“I wish we could fund a robust bus system throughout the entire city, but there's a lot of factors working against that…There's a culture in the city of car ownership and car utilization, and it’s hard to persuade people to consider riding the bus instead of driving a car.”