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Monday, July 28, 2014

Council approves CoMO Connect bus network

The city will replace the current orbital pulse busing system with expanded routes set to be completed by summer 2014.

The city will welcome the CoMO Connect bus system this August after City Council members voted unanimously in favor of the transportation renovation at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

The plan, initially proposed to the council in May 2013 as a replacement of the “hub and spoke” busing system, will include 42 connection points around the city, 11 different bus routes and revised transit maps and schedules. The orbital pulse system currently in use centers around the sole transfer station at Wabash Station, which creates delays in the busing schedule if one bus is late. Two core routes, the black and gold lines, will run north to south and east to west, respectively, with buses stopping every 15 minutes to accommodate peak ridership needs.

Expanding the bus services, stops and hours will help to fill the lack of public transportation access to certain parts of the community, Fifth Ward councilwoman Laura Nauser said during council’s discussion on the proposal.

“This is 110 percent better than what we’ve had,” Nauser said. “I’m extremely excited that the bus routes will be coming into part of my ward now — there has been a complete underserved portion of the community that hasn’t had the opportunity.”

The new bus system will provide year-round transportation to MU students living in off-campus housing, and will also include lines that will stop at each of Columbia Public Schools’ three high schools. Though most were in support of the CoMO Connect proposal, some citizens questioned whether the plan was too student-focused.

Mayor Bob McDavid also said the plan was very student-centered, but argued that this was an appropriate representation of the system’s ridership and a necessary partnership to further improvements on the transportation system.

“Fundamentally, the reason that students are an emphasis is that that’s where the revenue is,” McDavid said. “Until we get a strong collaboration with the University of Missouri, we’re going to be swimming upstream.”

Much citizen feedback praised city staff for involving the community in the planning stages of the CoMO Connect project, which consisted of 10 separate public forums, two meetings for stakeholders and two polls to gather feedback from residents. Several aspects of the CoMO Connect project will also include collaboration with MU students to design new sustainable bus shelters, and participation from marketing students at Stephens College to aid in the rebranding and marketing of the bus system, according to documents submitted to the council.

Though the project does not include plans to create an online ticket-purchasing application, the new routes and schedules will be updated on DoubleMap, a real-time online bus tracking interface. New bus pass sales locations will also be made available as development continues for the CoMO Connect project.

Prior to the council’s decision on Tuesday night, residents expressed gratitude for the work of city staff in designing the new watershed system and shared suggestions for future improvements to CoMO Connect, Cheryl Price said.

“We have an opportunity to make this a premier system in Columbia,” Price said. “But we’ve got to find more money somehow.”

Development and implementation of the CoMO Connect system and accompanying changes are set to be completed by August 4, 2014, according to documents from city staff to the council.

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