“I know nothing,” said sophomore marketing and management major, Lani Klosterman. “I never heard of it before, so I have no idea.”
While it’s a big topic in the Columbia community, the FastCAT bus system remains unspoken on Stephens’ campus. But, when I did tell students about the new service, they all agreed that “it’s a good idea.”
A good idea that was proposed to Columbia city council in late May with the purpose of connecting college campuses to the downtown area. The service uses two buses that run Monday through Sunday, even operating until 2:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Transit officials estimate about they give around 1200 rides a week.
The route has more than 20 stops that pass directly through Stephens campus, the downtown district, Mizzou campus, and the Boone County Hospital. It’s designed so that no person waits more than 20 minutes at a stop with a roundtrip time of 40 minutes.
One bus driver said he doesn’t stop at every place on the route if the student or Columbia resident isn’t waiting at the sign when he drives by—something FastCat doesn’t advertise on its website. City transportation supervisor, Drew Brooks, said this is just a minor training issue, and just one of a few kinks in the project city officials are trying to overcome.
“We’re taking customer feedback and everybody’s thoughts on it to see if we can make it better as we go along,” Brooks said. “We know this is kind of an experiment and is going to take some fine-tuning.”
Brooks does expect slight route alterations to include Columbia College and other areas closer to the downtown area, along with scheduling changes. According to Brooks, the route sees heavy ridership on Saturday nights, but very low numbers on Sundays. After evaluating these numbers in the upcoming months, he believes FastCAT will adjust its times of operation.
Most of the students went home for summer break during the prime discussion of the project, and Brooks said it has left many students with several misconceptions of the system.
“The core constituency of the route—the students—weren’t even in town for the bulk of that,” he said. “Certainly, we’ve missed some things along the way. Typically we wouldn’t move quite that fast, but the mayor was adamant that we get that route up and running before the students got back to town.”
Mayor Bob McDavid thought introducing the route at the beginning of the year, instead of in the middle of the semester, would prevent any confusion. Brooks said they did complete a lot of work in the short span between May and August.
“We’re hoping that by next semester everybody will be very familiar with it,” Brooks said. “They’ll be comfortable with the idea, and hopefully, we’ll see growth in ridership as we go along, but it’s been a little slow. We kind of expected that at the beginning.”
Transit officials did try increasing this familiarity by providing free rides to customers during the first two weeks of August.
They have also placed out a bid for a company to create user-friendly smart phone applications for students to track live data of the bus locations. Currently, a student can visit RideFastCat.com to track a bus online or through any mobile device. The site shows where the bus is located on the route and its speed.
”The goal is, by the next time students come back next fall, to have a fully-functional GPS option out there with iPhone apps and Android apps,” Brooks said.
Transit officials include customer concerns, along with ridership numbers and other information, in a monthly report sent to the city council for monitoring.
The system costs $350,000 annually, but with a rezoning agreement between the city and the owners of the Brookside downtown apartment complexes, the Odle’s are funding $90,000 a year to the project.
Brooks said he hopes to expand this partnership with other major constituents, like Stephens College, by creating contracts where students would receive passes every semester through the school.
“That would be the ideal situation,” Brooks said. “Obviously, I understand it’s a new venture. The college needs to determine if it’s something that they students are really interested in before they make that commitment.”
The remaining money for the bus system comes from students and residents buying semester passes or paying per ride. Individual semester passes are $100, but if bought in a group of 20 or more people, the pass is only $62.50 per person. The pass also allows free transfers to the other routes in Columbia’s transit system, including buses that reach Wal-Mart, Target, and the mall. If buying one ride, the cost at the door is $1.50.
Some students I talked to said the route available is within walking distance. While they believe the route is beneficial in certain situations, they’d prefer paying for the bus as needed instead of buying semester pass.
“I might feel uncomfortable walking home,” Madison Moore, sophomore marketing and management major, said. “I think it’s a really good option, especially for women, so then you don’t ever have to be alone and can have a safe ride home.”
A safe ride is right. The camera holds a total of eight cameras—two on the outside and six on the inside. Brooks said the monitoring system can be helpful in many situations, including if a customer loses an item on the bus and the footage is revisited to locate the item.
Brooks said by this time next year, he hopes the system will be at its full potential. Continuing a successful operation during the upcoming breaks where students are absent will determine if the route is sustainable and an asset to the city.
For more information on the FastCAT system, visit RideFastCat.com.