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A study of Columbus’ bus system will review its routes and operations and help determine if wishes such as another fixed-route bus or an additional route will make ColumBUS more efficient and reduce wait times.
The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year, said Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The last such study was conducted in 2005.
“Every so many years, we want to spotlight how all our routes are working for a city our size,” said Cindy Setser, director of the Columbus Transit Department.
The study will examine how the bus system is used by riders and detail what types of riders use it. Public surveys also are planned so people can provide feedback and share their wishes for the system, Setser said.
ColumBUS has four routes that serve central Columbus and the north, south and east sides.
“I get daily requests on the west side, where there are restaurants and hotels. A lot of people work in that area, and we don’t serve that area,” Setser said.
She’d like to be able to serve the west side along Jonathan Moore Pike but likely would need a fifth fixed-route bus to do that.
A shuttle used to take people to the west side, Setser said, but the four times of the day it transported people to and from the area — 7 and 10 a.m. and 2 and 5 p.m. — made it inefficient.
“My biggest wish is to cover that area,” Setser said.
Brown and Setser said the study would show the value of adding a fifth bus.
Adding an additional bus might help reduce wait times, Brown said. Some stops have an hour wait for the bus, Setser said, although 30 minutes is a typical wait.
Paying for a fifth bus will be a challenge, too. Although Brown said he expects the Columbus Transit Department to receive more federal money for the ColumBUS system, and a sizable amount of unused federal money has accumulated in the department’s coffers, all that money can’t be used to pay for a new bus. A local match would be required if federal money is used to pay the cost.
The 30-foot buses the city uses cost about $300,000, Brown said. With federal money paying 80 percent, the city’s cost could be about $60,000. But that’s still a challenge at a time when the Columbus City Council wants a lean budget.
Brown said the standard federal allocation to the transit department, which operates on an annual budget of about $1.4 million, is expected to increase from $672,000 — a steady amount over the past four years — to $900,000 next year. Also, the department has accumulated nearly $500,000 of unused federal money.
Another area of Columbus that Sester has heard people say they would like covered by a bus route is the industrial park at Walesboro. But including that location on a route raises the question of what times of day dropoffs and pickups would be made.
ColumBUS runs 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Anyone working night shifts there might not be covered.
The study will look at whether the hours the bus system operates might need to be extended a little longer. However, Setser said extending hours means adding drivers and increasing the department’s budget.
Thirteen full-time drivers cover the four routes. Daytime drivers work 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and evening-shift drivers work 12:45 to 7:45 p.m. Both shifts include some time for preparing the buses before a shift and cleaning up afterward.
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