Ordinance prohibits private campus shuttles from certain routes

MU was not consulted when the new ordinance came into effect.
Senior climbing technician Nathan Dierkes climbs on the Scroggs Peak rock wall inside the MU Student Recreation Complex on Sept. 4. MizzouRec is considering plans to take out the wall to expand the Pump Room.

On the first day of the new school year, drivers of private campus shuttles — and the students who ride them — were caught by surprise when police began enforcing a new city ordinance that alters their routes and pick-up locations on campus.

The change came after City Ordinance 14-180 was put into effect this fall, prohibiting nearly all private vehicles from using sections of Rollins Street, Hitt Street, Ninth Street, Conley Avenue and Missouri Avenue from 8:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on weekdays.

Private shuttles, which are often operated or contracted by off-campus student housing companies, must now change their routes to drop off and pick up students near Strickland Hall and Memorial Union, said Mike Sokoff, director of MU Parking and Transportation Services. Previously, the shuttles dropped off alongside Columbia Transit, outside of the Student Center.

“The city had a regulation that states only city buses — that includes the Tiger Line buses — can park and drop off and pick up at the Student Center,” Sokoff said.

The public transportation system, COMO Connect, which was revamped in August, drops off and picks up at the Student Center in addition to the other city bus stops. Sokoff said the new shuttle route locations have helped relieve traffic congestion on Rollins Street and keep the Tiger Line buses on schedule.

“The city buses run on a time schedule and in order for them to be able to pull in, load and unload, and leave at the proper time they need that area that has been designated for them,” Sokoff said. “Rollins is a city street, it is not a university street, so they have control over what happens at Rollins.”

Sokoff said MU was not consulted before the city ordinance was passed in July, but the city is working with MU to set up shelters at locations like Strickland Hall.

MU also worked with the city to set up alternate routes for the private shuttles to ensure that students would still have convenient locations around campus to be picked up and dropped off.

“We (MU) were the ones who came up with the alternate areas for students to be dropped off, especially Memorial Union,” Sokoff said. “We thought that perhaps having a location at the north end of campus would really help people and buses coming in. It was kind of a joint decision between the city and MU to provide these alternate spots because we didn’t want any student to suffer unnecessarily.”

Student safety was a top concern for the city and MU when coming up with these alternative locations and routes, Sokoff said.

“The change was made to facilitate better movement and reduce the congestion, to make it safer and more available … that was the goal to begin with so students can get to school and get to class as safely as possible,” Sokoff said.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said the city wants more students to use COMO Connect over the private shuttles.

COMO Connect is the rebranding of the public bus system that resulted from the city’s growth and a demand for new routes, Trapp said. The city redrew neighborhood routes and designed them to pass schools and shopping and medical centers.

“In the first two weeks of operation, there has already been a substantial increase in bus ridership, but it’s also led to a lot of changes,” Trapp said. “Any time you change something, it disrupts what people are used to, and that causes consternation.”

Doug Dickherber, owner of Green Way Shuttles, which services 18 off-campus housing complexes, said he spoke to City Council members in 2012 and again in August 2014 to voice his own concerns about the ordinance.

“(The city) has kind of turned the campus itself into a community bus stop and that opens up seats for people that are homeless, people that are potentially dangerous and people that don’t really need to be at school to sit with students, rather than my shuttles, which are filled entirely with students,” Dickherber said.

Sokoff said safety was a top concern for the city and MU when coming up with these alternative locations and routes.

“The change was made to facilitate better movement and reduce (traffic) congestion, to make it safer and more available, and that was the goal to begin with: to get students to school and get them to class as safely as possible,” Sokoff said.

However, Dickherber said he disagrees.

“To me, it’s riskier for my students on the buses to have this new ordinance in place because they’ll have to walk through way more busy streets, and that puts a lot more stress on my drivers,” he said. “The students that I bring in from the apartment complexes all bring in tax money that pay for bus spaces to be built, and those bus spaces are being taken away from me.”

With the implementation of this ordinance, some students in off-campus housing complexes have switched from their complex shuttles to the city-operated bus services. Stuart Watkins, spokesperson for Aspen Heights Housing Complex, said he has not received negative feedback from students thus far.

“Initially, Aspen Heights was concerned about the new drop-off location, especially during inclement weather,” Watkins said. “However, since the change we have heard some positive feedback on the new location. Many residents have stated there is less congestion and the private shuttle travels to and from campus at a faster rate.”

However, junior Hailey Lenahan said she has been using the private shuttle buses for two years and has noticed the change.

“It honestly doesn’t affect me that much because a lot of my classes are on this part of campus, but when I have to go to Cornell Hall it kind of sucks,” Lenahan said. “The shuttles have been running kind of late, too. I don’t know if it’s just them or if it has to do with where we are being dropped off.”

Ben Bolin, the Missouri Student Association Senate speaker, said MSA will be taking a formal stance against the new shuttle routes and steps to repeal the city ordinance.

Bolin said Campus and Community Relations Committee chairman Chad Phillips has met with City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick to discuss repealing Ordinance 14-180 while also drafting an MSA Senate resolution, which will be ready for the committee meeting Sept. 10.

Trapp emphasized that the process is still ongoing, and the city is continuing to seek student and community feedback.

“I understand some amount of the frustration from shuttle owners, but we’re trying to open a transit service for students around the city and so we need an understanding that we need some sort of transit system that works for the most people,” Trapp said. “Sometimes, we have to make small sacrifices for the greater good, and I think efficient transit is worth that community investment.”

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