Contact: Columbia Public Works
Ridership on the new COMO Connect routes has been very high during its first week of service, even higher than expected. Especially popular are the 1 Black and 2 Gold core connector routes which offer the highest frequency through the center of town. Several buses on these routes have been filled to standing room only, with a mix of transit veterans and first time riders taking advantage of the free rides available for the month of August. Transit staff reports that this level of capacity on the fixed routes is highly unusual for the summer months before the University of Missouri resumes classes in late August, and is very excited to see such positive response to the new routes. Drew Brooks, the city's Multi-Modal Manager reports that most customers have been extremely upbeat and positive about the changes. "Once we are able to help customers understand the new system and they can see how their commute is actually going to be a lot quicker and more convenient, they are very excited about the changes." Brooks reported that he spoke with a customer named Amy on Monday and that her commute was much better with the new COMO Connect system, saving her nearly three miles of walking and having a bus stop right in front of her office where she works. Amy is also trying to convince her neighbors to start riding the bus now that it is so much closer to their neighborhood.
To help customers prepare for the route changes and adjust to the new system, COMO Connect enlisted the help of qualified community volunteers to become COMO Connect Ambassadors. Volunteers came from a variety of support organizations and helped talk to customers and pass out information the week leading up to the switch over, as well as riding the bus routes on the first few days of the new system to assist customers make connections and reach their destination. One COMO Connect Ambassador, Mike Seat, was assigned to the 2 Gold core connector route and reported "Passengers are adjusting to the route changes in a positive way… Several passengers even gave me the thumbs up!" Seat says that he was happy to be able to field questions from customers so that the drivers could focus more on the new routes. "I was impressed with the dedication of the COMO Connect drivers. More than once I saw a driver give special attention to passengers who needed help," says Seat.
Customers have been using a variety of ways to share their feedback on the new bus system, including social media. Comments from customers on the COMO Connect twitter page (@COMOConnect) include smiling selfies of riders trying the city bus for the first time. Twitter follower @AvaProkop happily tweets a picture from inside a city bus and states "Love the new @COMOConnect red line downtown. Free for August." Many customers took to the COMO Connect facebook page to ask questions and get help finding the best routes to their destination. Customer Barry Cardwell was confused about making a connection between the 5 and 6 routes for his work commute, but was able to get his questions answered and plans on using the routes starting on Thursday. Transit staff has also been helping customers with personalized trip planning on in-coming calls to the COMO Connect customer service line (573-874-7282).
COMO Connect is also working closely with the four public high schools by talking to students as they arrive back from summer break this week to pick up their fall semester schedules. Transit staff will be on hand at Battle High School, Douglass High School, Hickman High School, and Rock Bridge High School to inform the students and parents about the options of public transportation in their neighborhoods, and to kick off a social media competition between the schools. Brooks says "It's important that high school students and their parents can take advantage of the COMO Connect routes when they need them, and become familiar with public transportation at a young age. We hope now that the bus routes are closer and more convenient for the schools that it might give students the opportunity to get to and from school activities and sports that they wouldn't be able to participate in otherwise."
Although the launch of the new system went relatively smooth on Monday, a few minor challenges are being addressed and COMO Connect staff is working hard to correct them quickly. Firstly, COMO Connect had extra staff available for the first few days of the new system to help a handful of riders that weren't prepared for the change happening to their routes. The staff talked to customers about their questions and helped them navigate to their destination as quickly as possible. Brooks acknowledged that the new routes were a major change for the city and that anything different can be confusing to customers at first. Transit had also pushed out numerous marketing campaigns, public meetings, posters and announcements to customers over the past several months to try to prepare customers for the change ahead of time. The second challenge that transit staff is facing is timing issues arising on the 2 Gold route that runs east and west down Broadway and Worley and through the University of Missouri campus. This route has proven to be very popular with customers, but heavy traffic and construction detours have caused some delays on this route in this first week of operation.
Customers can find more information on the new bus routes, live maps and schedules, and upcoming events on the COMO Connect website www.COMOconnect.org.