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Columbia’s transit study explores improvements for Go COMO


The City of Columbia Public Works Department held a second transit study open house on Tuesday at Wabash Bus Station. The department is conducting a study to improve the Go COMO, the city's transit provider.  

The meeting allowed the public to speak with representatives from Olsson, an engineering firm that the city hired to conduct the study. According to a release from the city goals for the project include: 

  • Conducting a comprehensive operations analysis to identify ways to improve service efficiency, technology, staffing, facilities and other aspects of transit operations;
  • Through community engagement, establishing the goals for public transit and metrics to track progress toward these goals over time;
  • Determining ways to increase transit service and ridership;
  • The evaluation of funding mechanisms and partnership opportunities;
  • A review of policies and opportunities for transit-oriented development and integration with other modes of transportation, both locally and regionally; and
  • Addressing the potential for flexible, on-demand micro-transit services as a potential method for growth. Micro-transit refers to on-demand, flexible transportation services that typically use small vehicles to transport passengers within a localized area, often bridging the gap between public transit and personal transportation options.

“It’s really understanding what people need, what people want, and then throughout the process you drill down into a little bit more detail,” Shawn Strate, a project manager at Olsson, said. “We have a little more options here today than we did in November.” 

The entire process began in August and is expected to be completed in September. That is also around the same time when city officials will have to approve the budget for the next fiscal year. 

Last year’s budget said that “ GoCoMo plans to be fare-free for the start of FY 24. This program will be evaluated throughout the year, however, due to the financial health of the fund.” 

According to city spokesman John Ogan, the fund will have enough to keep fares free until the end of the fiscal year. He added that there have been no discussions to restore fares, at this time. 

A March presentation from Olsson shows that Columbia has a lower total ridership than most comparable cities such as Urbana, Illinois; Bloomington, Idaho; and Iowa City, Iowa. This is because Columbia busses have fewer operating hours than most of its peers. In August, the city combined Go COMO bus routes due to a bus driver shortage, which reduced the number of bus routes from six to three. The change is still in effect. 

According to Ogan, Columbia currently has 29 bus drivers. Ogan said the would like to get that number to 36 before it can restore the routes to pre-August 2023 service levels. 

The move has drawn the ire of many residents. Complaints ranged from longer wait times, sitting in the heat while waiting longer for the bus, and changing schedules so they won’t miss work. 

“We are hearing a lot about service hours and frequency,” Strate said when asked about the public’s feedback. 

While Columbia’s total ridership per capita is lower than most of its peers reviewed, Olsson’s study says overall, Go COMO has higher ridership than similar cities.

“Compared to peer cities, less ridership. The less ridership that’s because there’s less overall service but the service but the service that does run actually does pretty well ridership-wise," he said. "If you look at riders-per-hour metric, which is a standard transit metric, the city's ridership actually does quite well. There’s just not enough of the service.” 

Columbia resident Courtney Wells said she takes the bus four or five times each week to work. She said the routes combining last year was not too much of a hassle for her. However, she said that oftentimes the busses are running behind schedule. 

“I have noticed that sometimes the buses are running quite late more often than I would hope or think. If there was a way to get the schedule to maybe work better around traffic or something like that to make sure it was on time,” Wells said. 

According to a release public comments will be accepted through May 7, and can be through the BeHeardCoMo website. Olsson plans to hold a final public meeting during the summer of 2024. The transit study is expected to be completed in September.

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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