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Ride the Bus event seeks to put transit back in spotlight

‘Time to move forward on public transit’

It’s been one year since the Citizens for JeffTran group requested the creation of a transit commission to make recommendations to the Jefferson City Council, and group members are preparing to return to the council with the idea now revised.

The Citizens for JeffTran group began last year and was formed to fight proposed cuts to the city’s transit system as the council dealt with a $1.68 million budget shortfall. After the transit funds were restored, the group recommended the council create a transit commission made up of community members, as well as JeffTran and HandiWheels riders.

But since that recommendation, made in April 2013, there has been no public movement on the issue at the city.

Ashley Varner, a community organizer with the Central Missouri Community Action Agency and member of Citizens for JeffTran, said the group was asked by the city to wait for resolutions to three issues that were ongoing: finalization of the 2014 budget, hiring of a new city administrator and a decision on proposed conference center plans. Varner said all three issues now have been resolved and the group is finished waiting patiently.

“Public transit is important, we want it maintained, and we need to not come back to this issue every single year,” Varner said. “The city asked the Citizens of JeffTran to wait patiently for three separate things to happen … all three of those things have come and gone and now it’s time to move forward on public transit.”

Varner said the group is planning to return to the City Council at its June 2 meeting to distribute a new proposal asking the city to create a public transit advisory task force “to find ways to increase transit service as well as to attract new riders to use JeffTran.”

The draft proposal, which is subject to possible changes before the June 2 meeting, details six specific duties the task force would have including:

• Advising city staff on transit policies and safety matters;

• Serving as a sounding board for residents regarding transit, pedestrian safety, access issues and making recommendations to the council and city staff;

• Recommending policies and procedures governing transit programs, equipment and facilities;

• Aiding in the development of a city transportation improvement program;

• Creating and reviewing surveys, and facilitating public input on transit programming and facility usage; and

• Recommending and promoting marketing strategies for community outreach programs.

The draft proposal also details who should make up the task force, with several specific people named as recommended candidates. The group recommends the task force be made up of two council members or “appointed opponents to transit,” a senior citizen, a regular route rider, two HandiWheels riders, two student riders (one from a public school and one from a private school), two Lincoln University student riders, as well as representatives of the faith community, social services, business community and Community Action Agency.

Varner said council members were involved in drafting the current proposal and, if the council opts to move forward with it, the task force concept would go to the Public Works Committee for discussion.

“We’re really trying to bring some spotlight to public transit,” Varner said. “There’s a groundswell of people that are from different sectors of the community, and they are supportive of public transit.”

To help get that spotlight on the issue, a Ride the Bus event has been set for 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday in front of the Scruggs University Center at Lincoln University. Varner said the event will serve as an open house for public transit where any community member can come and check out a JeffTran bus that will be parked in front of the Scruggs University Center. It also will serve as an opportunity for residents to tell elected officials how important transit is to them, Varner said.

Varner said several elected officials are expected to attend, including 3rd Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner, 3rd Ward Councilman Ken Hussey, 4th Ward Councilman Carlos Graham and 5th Ward Councilman Larry Henry. Lincoln University President Kevin Rome, among other university officials, is expected to attend, at least for a brief period, as well as a representative from the Jefferson City Police Department, Lincoln University Police Department and members of city staff.

Varner said other Citizens for JeffTran members are also coordinating other transit focused events around Ride the Bus, including an effort to fill the transit bus on the East High Street route Friday morning before the event and having Lincoln University students walk to a bus stop near Chestnut Street to fill another transit bus in the afternoon.

“This event is just one piece of the puzzle,” Varner said “If they don’t know that (transit is) an issue, well we’re going to let them know that this is an issue.”

For more information about Ride the Bus, contact Varner at 573-635-4480 ext. 24 or ashley-varner@showmeaction.org.

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