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Editorial: Is it time to expand ColumBUS?

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The ColumBUS transit system has essentially operated under the same fixed route system for approximately 30 years.

The city has undergone some pretty significant changes in that time span that certainly qualify as a sound reason to re-evaluate how that system is used and what could be done to better serve those who use it and those who would if it met their particular needs.

That re-evaluation was commissioned last week by the Board of Public Works and Safety. A $45,000 contract was awarded a New York firm with Indianapolis offices to study the existing system and determine whether additional routes might be needed or current ones might be altered.

That’s a significant amount to spend on a study of a system that runs in the red each year. Fortunately, current and previous city officials have been adamant in maintaining that the system is a service for local residents, not a profit-generating enterprise. It is especially important because the primary users of the systems are individuals unable to afford other forms of transportation.

However, it is also important to recognize the system has potential for a much wider usage, even among those with the means to afford their own transportation.

Given the relatively low cost (25 cents per ride) and added value of reducing carbon emissions by leaving the family car in the garage, using ColumBUS as a commuter tool would seem to be an easy sell.

While the system has received high marks from its users, a significant number of potential riders are forced to use some other means of transportation to get to their destinations, which in many cases is a place of work or a place to shop.

Ironically, many such destinations in existence today weren’t around when the ColumBUS system was inaugurated, particularly on the west side.

Three of the city’s biggest retail operations — Walmart, Menards and Sam’s Club — were not even on the drawing board as recently as 15 years ago. Nor were a couple of small strip malls, restaurants and service stations.

Although the west side was never on a fixed route, buses did serve the area in intermittent fashion until 2011 when that destination was dropped. Mayor Kristen Brown and Cindy Setser, the city’s transportation coordinator, report they have received a number of requests to reinstate the west side as a ColumBUS destination.

This particular issue is not just about providing a service. It also is a safety issue. Frequently sighted on Jonathan Moore Pike are service sector employees walking alongside traffic on their way to and from work.

The question of a west side route is one of many that need to be evaluated in this study. Researchers are also expected to consider another area that is without service — Woodside Industrial Center, which is home to the largest collection of workers in the city.

It is likely that recommendations to add service will come with an increased price tag. That obviously has to be taken into consideration when city officials study the final report, but it has to be kept in mind that ColumBUS is a service for the people of Columbus.

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