Next year’s proposed Columbus city budget would allow for a long-requested bus route to the city’s west side.
The proposal calls for about $140,000 in the city’s transit budget to cover costs for new personnel, fuel, oil and maintenance needed to operate a fifth bus line.
Columbus City Council members will consider the city budget in meetings Sept. 16 and Oct. 7 and will approve or disapprove authorizing funding for the westside route.
Cindy Setser, the city’s transit coordinator, said use of the route likely would be comparable to that of the current four routes, with buses accommodating up to 48 passengers. In 2013, Setser said, those four routes served more than 215,000 people combined, with some routes busier than others.
Mayor Kristen Brown said the route would fulfill a great need. That’s because while the city’s west side has grown considerably and only continues to accelerate, ColumBUS still does not serve those who live west of the Flatrock River.
That need was identified by a study last year, when more than half of ColumBUS riders and potential users said they would want a new route along West State Road 46.
Setser said the transit staff receives daily calls from people asking about bus service to the west side.
Residents on the west side may use Call-a-Bus, but the service costs two times more than the ColumBUS routes, which cost 25 cents per person per trip.
Last year, the mayor encouraged transit workers to explore changing one of the four routes to serve State Road 46 and divide the city core among the three remaining bus routes.
But Brown told the council Thursday during budget hearings that the city discovered there was not a way to change the four bus routes without significantly affecting people in the main part of Columbus.
That means the city needs to increase funding to add a fifth route if it wants to provide bus service to the west side, although Brown said it’s a minimal, incremental cost that will allow for a big improvement.
Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said while the cost is just shy of $140,000, half of the money will be covered by federal transit dollars.
Setser said the new route likely would make stops at the shopping center and apartments off Goeller Boulevard, the apartments and shops along Two Mile House Road and the Walmart and other stores on Merchant Mile.
Transit staff members haven’t driven the route yet, but it likely will be within the hour window that the current bus routes follow, she said.
There even might be a possibility for the bus to meet up with a bus from Access Johnson County, which could then transport people to Columbus.
Or Columbus residents could use the Access Johnson County bus to travel to Southport, where IndyGo buses are available providing transportation in Indianapolis.
Brown said Access Johnson County has indicated an interest in coordinating with ColumBUS to provide that service.
The new route wouldn’t be without complications, Setser said, acknowledging that Louisville & Indiana trains crossing State Road 46 could cause serious delays for buses
traveling west or trying to return to the depot from the west side.
And transit would want to buy another bus, Setser said, although the department is waiting on 2015 pricing for a 28-seater that it plans to use on one of the central routes.
Finding room to park that bus, while smaller than the others, may be an issue, said Bryan Burton, who manages the city garage. But he said the garage will find a way to make it work.