City of Columbia officials and student representatives are in the midst of three trips planned to local college towns to explore transit systems in different communities. All three communities use a student fee to at least partially fund their system, something the city is considering implementing.
They had their first trip to Ames, Iowa on Feb. 17 and traveled to Lawrence, Kan. on Feb. 24. A third trip to Champaign, Ill. will be March 9.
Students at Iowa State pay a $62.60 student fee per semester for the buses and then can ride with their university ID at no additional cost.
A six-member board of trustees governs the system, including two student representatives.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said city officials met with the Ames mayor, a university administrator, and the Iowa State Student Association president and vice president.
“The collaboration with the university and the city is very strong and they both feel it has really benefited both of them,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe said buses are so frequent students don’t even have to remember a schedule and many couldn’t imagine not having the buses.
Senior James Hatler, a former Maneater staff member and member of the Tiger Transit Movement, a student organization dedicated to giving students a voice in the transit issue, went on the Ames trip. He said the culture of bus riding was impressive and starts in students’ freshman orientations.
“Everyone knows how to ride the bus, the buses are frequent, they’re fast and they go to where the students need to go,” Hatler said.
Hoppe said the student president told them the bus fee is repeatedly the one students say in surveys offers the most dollar value.
As Columbia looks for solutions to its transit issues, Hoppe said improvements will be hard to come by with current funding.
“Without additional financial resources or going to some type of student fee, it will be hard to do any improvements over the present system," Hoppe said.
Brittany Perrin, founder of the Tiger Transit Movement, said a fee, such as the $80 one Mayor Bob McDavid proposed last November, is too much money at once.
“I haven’t been convinced that such a large fee can be used responsibly and effectively in such a short amount of time,” Perrin said.
She said the city wouldn’t be able to immediately turn around the system with the influx of money and instead would prefer, if there is student support, to see a one-year trial period with a smaller fee.
Hatler said one solution that could be implemented is moving the bus transfer station from its current downtown location to somewhere on campus.
“Bringing that transfer point on campus would enable a lot more students to get where they need to go,” Hatler said.
Perrin began the Tiger Transit Movement after serving on the mayor’s transit task force and recognizing a need for more student input on the transit topic.
“The TTM's mission is to ask students what kind of transit system they want, educate students as to what a student-centric bus service could do for them and advocate for a student voice in the community-wide conversation about transit, especially when a decision is made,” graduate student and Tiger Transit Movement member Todd Oberlin said in an email.
Perrin said they will be fulfilling that mission by passing out surveys asking students what they want from transit. They will also begin making presentations to student organizations, informing and educating them about the transit situation and their movement and continuously listening to suggestions.
Perrin remains optimistic the city and MU will come to an agreement.
“In my opinion, the city and the university have a good relationship and there is room to make comprises and collaborate in a way that the transit system can serve the students and the rest of the community to the best of its ability,” Perrin said.
Oberlin will be making the trip to Lawrence and knows what he is looking for.
“I will be looking for ease of use, student acceptance and cooperation between the city and university,” Oberlin said.