MO: College-town Trips to Focus on Bus Options ; City Plans to Visit Ames, Lawrence.

A field trip Friday to Ames, Iowa, will give city officials, University of Missouri students and MU's transit consultant a chance to review that city's transportation system, in the hopes it will inform efforts to change Columbia's bus service.

The trip to Ames, home of Iowa State University, is the first of three city officials have planned to explore other college-town bus systems funded partly through student activity fees. The city has booked a similar trip Feb. 24 to Lawrence, Kan., and is planning a yet-to-be-scheduled trip to Champaign, Ill.

For the Ames trip, the city has invited 17 attendees, including reporters and officials from the city manager's office and the Public Works and Public Communications departments. Others invited include Cheryl Price of the city's Disabilities Commission; Brittany Perrin, who is vice president of MU's Graduate Professional Council and a member of the PedNet Coalition; and MU students Anne Ahlvers, James Hatler and Todd Oberlin, who each serve on a student task force created to discuss transportation needs.

The group will take a charter bus and will complete each round trip in a day.

Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes said the trips would be a good way for MU students and city officials to learn about systems used in other cities and bring back fresh ideas for Columbia buses.

"I think of it as field research for all of us to get an up- close, personal view of how these systems operate," Matthes said.

Oberlin is a graduate student who uses Columbia Transit to get to campus from his home in northeast Columbia. He was asked to become part of the task force after he discussed transit issues at one of Matthes' regular coffee sessions with residents at City Hall.

Oberlin said he is not opposed to a student-subsidized bus system but did not approve of the city's approach. He said the city did not take students' needs into account before making a proposal.

"They threw out some numbers based on what they've seen and not based on what we have and how we can fix it," Oberlin said. He said members of the task force will take the information gathered in Ames and broadcast it to students and campus organizations.

The bus system in Ames -- called CyRide, a nod to the Iowa State Cyclones' mascot -- is partially funded through a $62.60 fee levied on Iowa State students. Students then can ride buses at no extra charge with a university ID. The bus system is governed by a six- member board of trustees, which includes a representative from the Iowa State administration and two student representatives.

Falisha Humphrey of Solstice Transportation Group also has been invited on the trip. Solstice is a transportation consultation firm MU hired to gather input on how transportation could be reworked to better serve MU students.

The university hired the firm after the city proposed cutting its popular Black and Gold bus routes, which serve south Columbia student apartment complexes, in May to help close an expected $1 million deficit.

The city announced the proposed cuts last fall, weeks after a breakdown in talks of the Transit System Task Force, which was appointed by Mayor Bob McDavid and included city officials and MU student representatives. At the task force's second meeting in November, Matthes and McDavid presented two options for Columbia Transit: a student-centric bus system paid for in part by a student activity fee or deep cuts to bus service.

The MU representatives said they perceived the city's proposal as a threat to get students to help pay to close budget holes. The task force has not met since.

Reach Andrew Denney at 573-815-1719 or e-mail akdenney@columbiatribune.com

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