The Columbia City Council is considering hiring a consultant to help combat the continuing decline in city bus ridership.
The Public Works Department added new bus routes in August to serve more people in the Columbia area, but now city council members are reevaluating how transportation funding should be allocated.
The city currently has a half-cent transportation sales tax that provides funding for the transit system as well the Columbia Regional Airport and road repair.
City council member Karl Skala supports the idea of retaining a consultant to study the problem.
“We have to really try and calculate the extent to which we need to support the transit system because that’s a vital service that the city provides as well; not to mention road repair,” Skala said.
According to the Public Works Department’s Multi-Modal Manager, Drew Brooks, the decline in ridership began in 2012 after the city council voted to raise bus fares, and has continued since then.
“In 2011 city council voted to raise the fares at that time, and restructured some of the fares for students as well, and we saw a decline—we’ve basically seen a decline in ridership since that time,” Brooks said.
Brooks also said that ridership for Para-Transit, the bus system that services the elderly as well as residents with disabilities, is fairly consistent in growth each year. Para-Transit also received new bus routes, but it runs separately from the city bus system.
Skala attributes some of the decline in ridership to the lack of support from MU students. He said many students prefer to use the bus services provided by private contractors associated with student housing instead of the city transit system.
While bus ridership has decreased, the city council has seen success with the expansion of the Columbia Regional Airport. This would be an important factor if the council were to discuss the reallocation of transportation funds.
If the council were to retain a consultant, Skala said he would like to see an evaluation of the changes that have been made to the bus system, and why they haven’t been successful.