ColumBUS and Call-a-Bus riders have an extra hour on weeknights to catch the bus beginning today.
But that might be just the beginning of changes for the city’s public transit system.
City officials will soon have results of a consultant-led study evaluating all transit system routes, which could be the basis for expansion and improvements.
The expanded weekday hours resulted from a five-month survey conducted by the city to examine how riders use the bus system, including when and where they take the bus, how often they ride, what their experience is and what improvements they would like to see.
“Extending the hours was the second-most requested improvement after adding a route on Jonathan Moore Pike,” Mayor Kristen Brown said.
The new hours will better accommodate riders’ work schedules and give them a chance to shop or run errands after work, she said.
In addition to the in-house study, the city is expecting study results soon from Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc., a New York company with Indianapolis offices. The company received a $45,000 contract from the city last year to evaluate the city’s route structure, said Laurence Brown, director of the city’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. Results are expected in two or three months.
City officials didn’t want to just tweak existing transit routes, he said.
The goal of the Parsons Brinckerhoff study is to take a broad look at how the city can maximize the effect of moving people by transit, given current resources, he said. The study will evaluate current routes and identify what might be the best route or routes to add.
While West State Road 46, also known as Jonathan Moore Pike in the city, has been identified by bus customers as a priority, it is not the primary focus of the study, Laurence Brown said.
When the Parsons Brinckerhoff study is completed, community residents will be invited to a presentation about the results and will be invited to comment. The study may be modified based on public reaction to the results, Laurence Brown said.
He added the caveat that the study likely would result in an incremental plan for changes in bus routes, rather than an immediate switch. Changing routes immediately might be unsettling for bus riders who rely on the current route plan.
“We won’t just drop this on one day,” he said. “It might be a three- to five-year plan. We’ll have to see.”
One customer who has asked for the West State Road 46 bus route is Willa Bush of Columbus.
“I believe a lot of people would really like that,” the retiree said, while waiting for a bus at Target on a cold weekday afternoon.
The extra hour of weekday bus service in the evening isn’t really a bonus, she said, because she doesn’t use the bus service in the evening. But she would use the west route, if implemented, for shopping.
The opposite is true for Columbus Signature Academy senior Isaac Brown. He works after school, and having the extra hour of bus service would give him flexibility with his work and school schedule, he said.
Beginning today, the expanded bus service hours will be 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays for both the fixed-route buses and the paratransit Call-a-Bus system. Previously, weekday hours ended at 7 p.m.
An hour was taken off the Saturday shift, and one hour was added to each weekday schedule, Columbus Transit Coordinator Cindy Setser said. The final fixed-route run will leave the Mill Race Station Depot at 7:05 p.m. on weeknights, but service will continue until 8 p.m.
The city budgeted an additional $55,000 to expand the evening hours, including as many as 300 additional bus service hours for evening service.
Columbus Board of Works members are evaluating whether this change leaves enough bus transportation hours for special events.
Mayor Brown has asked transit officials to determine an accurate number of how many hours will be left when the service expands today.
In the meantime, city officials are continuing to mull the idea of a West State Road 46 route from a cost standpoint.
“We are trying to figure out how we can accommodate a route out west without adding additional costs,” the mayor said.
Adding a fifth bus route to the city’s current four might not be the most cost-effective option, she said. Instead, she is encouraging transit workers to first explore adding the State Road 46 route as the fourth route and dividing the core city among three bus routes.
How to do that without significantly impacting the city’s core routes and being financially responsible continues to be the challenge, the mayor said.