City officials: More discussion needed on transit’s goals


George Mincher helps riders July 1 on to the JeffTran bus he drives at the Transit Division offices on Miller Street.

George Mincher helps riders July 1 on to the JeffTran bus he drives at the Transit Division offices on Miller Street.

The Jefferson City Council is moving forward with potential plans to hire a consultant for the city’s transit system and form some type of transit advisory group, but city officials say more discussion is needed on transit to figure out what is really wanted.

At a City Council work session last week that was devoted to the city’s transit system, City Administrator Steve Crowell presented a few staff recommendations to examine or improve transit, focusing on the city’s cost to operate the transit system.

One recommendation was to “engage a consultant to develop a strategic plan for transit.” Council members unanimously approved a motion to direct staff to begin drafting a request for proposals for a new consultant. Third Ward Councilman Ken Hussey was not present at last week’s work session.

Hiring the consultant, which is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $75,000, is not a done deal, however. Crowell said his interpretation of the council’s directive was that they were not entirely enthusiastic about the proposal and want to see a draft request for proposals before making a final decision.

“There’s probably some more discussion that needs to occur there,” Crowell said. “I don’t know that council really jumped to the, ‘Hey, let’s go out and get a consultant right now.’”

Crowell and Public Works Director Matt Morasch said they could see the draft RFP go to a council committee for review and discussion before the council makes a final decision on whether to actually seek the services.

Crowell emphasized during the work session that a strategic plan would be different than a previous Transit Development Plan already done in 2006.

In 2005, the City Council approved a nearly $150,000 contract with TranSystems Corporation, a Kansas City-based consulting firm, to study the city’s transit system. In 2006, the firm released the Jefferson City Transit Development Plan, a 55-page document that outlines the transit system as it existed in 2006 and a series of recommendations for how to improve the system.

Because of a lack of funds, many of the recommendations were never implemented, including extending service hours by 1.5 hours per day, adding evening service, adding Saturday service and increasing transit staffing by at least one supervisor, one dispatcher and two drivers.

Some of the recommendations that were implemented included modifying existing routes, relocating the transfer station and increasing fares.

Morasch said the system needs to be evaluated periodically, as transit is continually changing and being modified, often because of changes at the federal level. Having a consultant who specializes in transit can help, he said, because they may know of federal or state resources that are available or small changes that can be made to become more eligible for other funding sources. They also may know what other cities have done to improve their own transit systems and may be able to help implement similar changes in Jefferson City, Morasch said.

Crowell said the strategic plan is needed because the 2006 study is now eight years old and “the world has changed since then.”

“The overall goal for some people may not have changed, but I think there are some parameters which have changed. The economy, ridership is down, you’ve got fewer routes … so I think there are some fundamental factors that have changed,” Crowell said. “We’re thinking about doing something a little bit different than what 2006 was.”

But whether any strategic plan will be able to accomplish the goals of the council and transit supporters begins first with a conversation about what people truly want to see accomplished, Crowell said.

“I think that’s the conversation that needs to happen with council, is what is it they want to accomplish,” Crowell said. “I think it’s more of a question of what it is that we really want the system to be over a period of time, if it’s anything different than what we have now, and if so, how do we go about accomplishing that.”

Council members have indicated a desire to cut the roughly $1 million contribution to transit from the general fund, though most have specified they’d like to see that happen without reducing existing service. Transit supports and the Citizens for JeffTran have indicated a desire for expanded service, especially in hours of operation.

When asked whether both goals could realistically be accomplished in one strategic plan, Crowell said the two goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but would depend on other factors and funds available, such as MoDOT’s proposed transportation sales tax, which a draft list of projects includes funding for increased transit service in Jefferson City. A memo from Crowell to council members states it’s estimated the tax, if approved by voters Aug. 5, would raise $300,000 to $400,000 for JeffTran.

“There’s a lot of little things that could happen,” Crowell said. “I think that’s part of the discussion … and maybe that’s something that happens over a number of years.”

Crowell said new, large businesses, such as Sam’s Club, could help increase ridership or some private businesses could be willing to contribute to the transit fund to have service reach their locations.

Crowell said people need to understand that fares are not enough to support transit operations and $1 million from the general fund into transit means that money can’t be spent on other operations of the city.

As for the next step in the transit discussion, both Crowell and Morasch said the forming of a transit advisory group likely will be the primary focus, at least at first.

At the work session last week, 4th Ward Councilman Carlos Graham asked that the city move forward with the idea for an advisory group, which was first brought to the council by the Citizens for JeffTran group in spring 2013. Graham, and 5th Ward Councilman Larry Henry, have volunteered to take the lead and begin drafting an ordinance to create the group. A draft ordinance likely will be brought to both the Public Works and Planning Committee and the Council Committee on Administration before moving to the full City Council for review.

Crowell said whatever type of group comes out of that process will have some role in the forming of the strategic plan and the ongoing discussions on transit.

“That was a higher priority for council, to get that (group) going,” Crowell said. “We’ll get something developed in the next couple of months, I think.”

“There’s still going to be a big funding discussion.”

Transit facts

  • JeffTran operates on a roughly $2.5 million budget, with federal and state funds accounting for nearly half of all funding; fares accounting for roughly 8 percent of funding; and the city’s general fund giving the remaining $1 million to operate the system. (Though the 2013 budget notes the general fund subsidy was $658,137 because of money used from the transit reserve fund.)
  • JeffTran operates from 6:40 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday, offering no weekend or evening service.
  • Regular bus fare costs $1 and has not been increased since 2007. Para-transit fare costs $2 and also has not been increased since 2007.
  • JeffTran operates six fixed, regular routes and three specialty tripper routes, which run through the school year.
  • In 2013, there were 278,380 rides on the regular routes. There were 335,708 rides on the para-transit routes, called HandiWheels.
  • Transit drivers are assigned an 11.5-hour shift, with a 3.5-hour unpaid break midday. In 2012-2013, the turnover rate of transit drivers was 27 percent.

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