COMO Connect may see big changes

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COLUMBIA – The City of Columbia is not satisfied with COMO Connect's performance levels. The city is currently considering possible changes to the city's bus transportation system.

The city has been working with consulting firm Olsson Associates since February 2016 to come up with ways to improve service and performance. Part of the plan is to reach out to Columbia residents who use the system.

Columbia Transit and Parking Manager Drew Brooks said the major problems with the current system are due to the poor frequency and timing of bus arrivals.

"The simple operational solution would be to put more; more vehicles and more drivers on the street, but that is the most expensive thing that you can do is to add more buses and more drivers to the system," he said.

The Columbia City Council, which controls COMO Connect's budget, has not made any proposals that involve increasing the system's budget.

COMO Connect currently uses a coverage system, which provides regularly scheduled service to almost the entire city. Brooks said one of the main proposals involves changing it to mainly cover mostly the more densely populated parts of the city.

To offset the decline in service to certain areas, COMO Connect would offer shuttles from areas that would lose service, said. Customers would have to schedule service a day in advance. The shuttle would bring the customer to the bus stop nearest to their location.

However, not everybody is pleased about the flex service proposal.

Columbia resident Sue Morris, who regularly rides the bus, said the proposals would eliminate regular service near her home on Vandiver Drive. She said she is concerned about having to walk further or schedule ahead of time.

"You have to call 24 hours in advance to get a city bus, that's crazy," Morris said.

Brooks said the city is also looking at adding either benches or shelters at the busiest stops.

In 2014, the city made the biggest changes to the system in its history, rerouting the buses to serve most neighborhoods. The system currently has 11 routes, nine neighborhood routes and two connector routes that bisect the city. Many of the neighborhood routes have low ridership levels.

The city is looking for feedback from its riders after hosting a public forum with Columbia residents. Riders can also provide feedback at COMO Connect's website.

All major changes to the COMO Connect system must be approved by the City Council.

Brooks said the system won't see major changes until at least 2018.