COLUMBIA - Starting in January all downtown parking permit holders will get a free, year-long bus pass.
The incentive is part of Columbia's new Park and Ride program. The pass gives permit holders access to all bus routes across Columbia. But while permit holders get the luxury of the free pass, there is a price they will pay to get it.
As of October 1, all permit prices for city-owned parking garages increased by $10. For example, a monthly pass that was $65 is now $75.
"We want to offer the free bus pass to make up for that extra money that people have to pay for their permit," Public Works Marketing Specialist Teresa White said.
The city hopes that by giving away the free pass it will encourage Columbia drivers to start riding transit more often. They also hope this will decrease traffic congestion and offer a more convenient way to get about the city. Total Columbia bus ridership in 2013's fiscal year was down almost 400,000 people from 2012.
"Ridership has been relatively slow but we're hoping that we'll see some build with that," Columbia multi mobile manager Drew Brooks said.
But not all permit holders are happy about this change.
Downtown resident Mallory Brown said the pass won't do her any good.
"I don't think I would ever use the pass because that was the whole reason I bought a parking permit was so I could have better access to my car," Brown said.
And it is thanks to all those cars the city can support the bus system. White said the parking rate increase will generate more money to keep public transit going.
"The rate increase will generate more money for the city--about $300,000 annually--and that money will go to support public transportation," White said.
The city plans to track these specific passes to see if they are being used and, if so, on what routes.
Brooks said the city hopes it can continue providing these free passes to all permit holders in the future.