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Users of the ColumBUS and Call-a-Bus system will be able to stay downtown awhile longer each night when the city extends hours of operation next year.
Mayor Kristen Brown included in the 2014 budget about $55,000 to expand the evening hours. Bus service would end at 8:30 p.m. weeknights. The current time is 7 p.m.
The last weeknight routes would leave the bus depot on Lindsey Street at 8:05 p.m. and the routes would end at Target on National Road, halfway through the normal circuit. Saturday hours would end at 6:30 p.m., a half-hour earlier than now.
“We knew that there is a high demand from the transit-dependent population to have expanded hours to accommodate a variety of employment hours, the ability to have dinner after work, to run some errands, to do some shopping or even to attend some community events,” Brown said.
The initiative grew from a survey of bus riders earlier this year who made suggestions on what services or new routes they would like to see, Brown said.
The extended-hours suggestion was the second-largest vote-getter in the survey. The most suggested option in the survey was reinstating a route to West State Road 46, but route choices will depend on an ongoing survey.
Bill Pumphrey Jr., who uses a wheelchair and is a frequent Call-a-Bus rider in the winter, said he has been suggesting later hours for years. He especially liked the idea of longer hours during downtown events.
“The buses are long done running,” Pumphrey said. “You can get down there on the bus, but you can’t get home, especially if you utilize a wheelchair.”
Pumphrey said new hours still would not be late enough for events that end at 10 or 11 p.m., but they are an improvement over the current schedule.
Cindy Setser, city transit system coordinator, said the half-routes at the end of the evenings will stop at Target because few riders are expected to want a return trip to downtown that late in the evening. However, she said the extended hours will help many riders.
“They get off work, and they catch that last bus home, and that is it. They don’t really have any opportunity to do anything else,” Setser said.
Most of the cost to increase the evening hours is manpower, Setser said. Drivers who run the evening routes now work 35 hours a week. They will see their hours increased to a full-time 40 hours under the extension plan.
Brown said the city also is looking at starting the weekday routes slightly later in the morning, although that has yet to be decided. Her hope is that if routes were to start at 6:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., the city would save enough hours of manpower to better staff special events.
The mayor said the city buses now run special routes after the December Festival of Lights Parade and during the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair.
Setser said the city runs a shuttle service from Mill Race Park’s parking lot to downtown during the Ethnic Expo on Friday and Saturday during the Kiwanis Duck Race.
Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said that the late-night routes are not expected to be especially busy. He said increasing hours later in the day also likely would increase the number of riders earlier in the day. Some potential bus users choose not to ride the bus to work because the current schedule does not provide them the ability to ride it home.
The director said the federal government funds 50 percent of the operational cost of the bus service, meaning the final expense to the city for the extended hours will be about $27,500. There also is a state-paid stipend that will offset that amount further. For capital requirements, the federal government pays 80 percent of the cost, he said.
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