Mayor Calls for Overhaul of Transit Department

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COLUMBIA - The city council met Monday evening to hold a work session on the cuts facing the transit system.  The council discussed all of the possible cuts including raising fares - in some cases a 200% increase.  Members also discussed other proposed changes like reducing services and dropping miles, but perhaps the biggest issue introduced during the meeting was the possibility of a complete overhaul of the public transit department. 

During the meeting Mayor Bob McDavid introduced a plan that he said could quadruple the ridership of public transit in the next five years.  McDavid looked at other cities that housed large universities like Ames, Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, and Champagne, Ill., and found their public transit ridership was four times that of Columbia's. That's because in all of those cities public transit looks to cater to the needs of the students. 

McDavid suggested starting a transit task force - that includes both students and city officials. The transit task force would then determine what would be best for the cities' public transit system and a transit board would be appointed to carry out those suggestions.  But before that can happen, the transit department will have suffer through a $3 million deficit for the fiscal year 2012.

"We've taken a problem and allowed it to become a crisis.  So we're going to have to manage through this year, but I think we're capable of doing that.  There might be some fare increases, there might be some route changes, there may be some cut backs along the way," McDavid said, "We still have to pay the bills, buy gas, and pay the employees.  That's a short term problem, but I think we have a long term fix on the horizon."

Since 2007, expenses have outweighed revenues for the public transit system.  Every year, the transit department would borrow some money from the public transit fund that had $2 million saved up in 2003.  This year, that fund will run out.

The city council will hold a public hearing on the budget during the Sept. 6 and 19 meetings.  The council will finalize the budget on Sept. 19 and McDavid said he hopes to start the transit task force during the Sept. 6 meeting.