THERE is one inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the revenues and costs of the ColumBus transit system.
It will never pay for itself.
That said, this particular service offered by the city — and paid for largely by federal and state dollars — is one of the most valuable assets in the community and one that leaders should consider expanding.
Some form of city bus service has been available in Columbus for decades, dating back to the 1940s. Whether contracted out to private companies or operated as a city agency, it has been a lifeline for several generations of local residents who have needed public transportation for a variety of reasons — primarily economic.
Last year the city’s portion of the system’s operating budget was just over $300,000, approximately 34 percent of the overall outlay. It had 230,720 riders in 2011, a dramatic jump from the 170,912 recorded in 2002.
Even with those statistics, there are some who believe the city is not getting its money’s worth from the investment. This attitude exists despite the fact that from its inception city leaders have always recognized the system would never generate enough revenue to be self-supporting.
The value of the system goes beyond ridership numbers and money collected. The service is intended to be a bargain to riders, many of whom are low income and have few if any other recourses for transportation.
But recent numbers and anecdotal evidence point to a wider usage that is a major factor in the economic development of this community. Today ColumBus is used by a number of downtown office workers — particularly in the Cummins Inc. offices — who live in apartment units beyond walking distance of the downtown.
There has also been a marked increase in usage by students at educational institutions on Columbus Municipal Airport property. As the schools in that area continue to grow in their enrollment, buses will be fuller.
Finally there are those who use the transit system for environmental purposes, commuting for work or errands to save gas and help cleanse the atmosphere.
The transit system is important to economic development because companies wanting to come here and those already here will look upon it as a bonus for their employees.
Instead of cutting back on routes or delaying maintenance on vehicles, city leaders should be planning to expand the routes.
Currently the west side of Columbus is not served by a regular route, a situation that should be immediately addressed given the number of businesses and residences in that area. A common sight on Jonathan Moore Pike these days are employees at some of those westside businesses walking to or from work along the road.
The ColumBus system has a number of other advantages, easily the most notable of which would be the Call-A-Bus program. For 50 cents elderly, disabled or injured residents can be transported to medical appointments or tests in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. Without this service, patients could pay up to hundreds of dollars through insurance, Medicare or their own pockets to get to an appointment.
These are the kind of bargains the city cannot afford to lose.
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