FastCAT to Fall Short of First-Year Expectations

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COLUMBIA- The FastCAT bus route is struggling to live up to Columbia Transit's initial expectations for its inaugural year. An analysis of ridership patterns shows the route will not break even at the end of its first fiscal year.

The total expenses of FastCAT at this point in the city fiscal year are $217,591, while total revenue to date is $60,129. This means FastCAT would need  to take in $157,463 more than ongoing expenses to break even by September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

"The route has probably not performed as well as everyone would have hoped it would," Steven Sapp, Pubic Information Specialist for Columbia Public Works, said. "It has picked up a little bit as we've been able to get out and do some more education and a little more marketing."

Currently, FastCAT makes a circular route that connects the MU campus to Columbia's downtown area. The buses go as north as Walnut Street and as far south as Hospital Drive.

The vision for FastCAT was to create a student-centered route that emulated bus systems on other college campuses, such as University of Illinois-Champaign. But instead of taking the bus, students are opting to walk to downtown locations.

"They want to go to other places," Sapp said. "They want to go to the shopping areas, they want to go to the entertainment areas and they want to have a safe way to get back, so I think that's part of the mission the transit is trying to fulfill now."

Michael Lewis is a bus driver for Columbia Transit, and his favorite route is FastCAT.

"Some of the public didn't know they could ride it," Lewis said. "They thought it was for students only."

Lewis also said the people who do ride FastCAT enjoy the bus more than the others.

"They're newer buses," Lewis said. "They're cleaner. They like to sit there and watch sports on the TV."

The successes and failure of the FastCAT line have led Columbia Transit to develop a new transit model called "CoMo Connect." The city council gave Columbia Transit the green light to move forward with the new transit plan.

Instead of a "hub-and-spoke" arrangement where the current system revolves around Wabash Station, the new plan would create a circular route, which would make the routes more efficient. Moving forward, Columbia Transit will work to get a lot of public feedback to create the most effective system. It is estimating a 12-month to 18-month turnaround before there will be a finished project.

"I think it's an excellent idea to have the buses do the transfers where they can here out on the streets," Lewis said. "The public wants it. The three ladies I had on earlier, they're asking when that starts. They want it to start now."

"What should the FastCAT of tomorrow really look like?" Sapp said. "It will be a very involved process, but one we are very excited about because we think we are taking transit from its inception back in 1965, where we've been in kind of this time warp over the past 45 years, and now we really got a grip and got a good plan to move transit into where it should be to fit a modern day city like Columbia is now."

Click here for more information on CoMo Connect.