With the Columbia Transit system facing a $1 million deficit for the next fiscal year, City Hall has turned to the Missouri Students Association for help. MSA President Eric Woods and Senate Speaker Jake Sloan met with Mayor Bob McDavid to discuss how the proposed transit cuts would impact students and what MU could do to help the city of Columbia.
“We were asked because the mayor understands that the vast majority of transit riders are students, so we are the ‘customer' that the transit system serves,” Sloan said. “It is for that reason that the mayor wishes to include MU students in the discussions so that the changes to the transit system will still serve the students it does today.”
MU students pay $20 in student fees per semester for shuttles, even if they never set foot on the buses. There has been talk that student fees may be used to aid the transit system, but all discussions are far from being finalized, Sloan said.
McDavid plans to appoint a student task force in the coming weeks, with the goal of designing new cost-efficient, student-friendly routes for the transit system.
“I hope that the changes that will be made in the task force will better the transit system to encourage students to ride the bus which will bring about two things for students,” Sloan said. “One, a cheap way to get to campus without having to deal with parking, meters, etc. And also a system that removes some cars from the road, which promotes sustainability.”
Discussions have been ongoing since the transit issue first gained attention early last August.
“We are staying on top of the mayor’s ideas as they come in,” Woods said. “We are hoping that we can help him figure out a way to make the transit system more student-friendly and hopefully increase student interest in ridership.”
McDavid did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.
“A large chunk of those riders are students who take the shuttles to the commuter lots at the Hearnes Center, and we have a pretty big chunk that take the gold route,” Woods said. “When we make up about 80 percent of their ridership, you can see why it’s important to be a part of the conversation.”
The task force will be composed of MU, Stephens College and Columbia College students, who will work alongside administrative and city officials, Woods said.
“I’m not sure whether the mayor will accept or decline whatever the task force recommends,” Woods said. “I am confident though that since we’ve been asked to participate that the mayor is putting weight on student opinions and will listen to our concerns.”
The proposed transit cuts will be voted on by city council Oct. 1. Following the vote, MSA will continue to explore ways to make the transit system more accessible to students.
“Columbia Transit is facing a pretty substantial deficit in the coming fiscal year and chances are whatever recommendations come out of this task force will probably be what we feel is necessary,” Woods said. “It’s another way to alleviate that crisis but also to benefit students.”
According to Woods, McDavid is looking at other major college town’s plan to determine how to revamp Columbia’s transit system.
“The mayor has said that realizes that there are a lot of problems with the current route and the current system,” Woods said. “That is just a problem that a lot of public transit faces.”