Jefferson City considers transit commission

As Jefferson City continues discussing its transit system's future, one option being considered is the establishment of a transit commission.

At the last City Council meeting, transit rider and disability advocate Wayne Lee said the city needs to have an advisory commission and proposed it be made up of the transit director, one or two council members, JeffTran and Handi Wheels riders, as well as representatives from the medical, faith, social services, senior services and business communities. Lee also recommended having a disability advocate sit on any such commission.

Heidi Lucas, chair of the Citizens for JeffTran group, also said at the last council meeting that the group supports the creation of a resident board or commission for transit and would be happy to assist in the process.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said city staff is pursuing the idea of a commission, but it would be a group to evaluate the transit system and make recommendations to the council about it. Nickolaus said there is no timeline to establish the commission.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said the idea of a transit commission is not what he had in mind.

"I'm not sure if that's exactly the direction that we're headed," Scrivner said.

Scrivner said he was looking for more of a study, rather than a standing commission, that would bring together all the stakeholders and seek to answer the question of what they want from transit. He said the city already has a riders group, the JeffTran Focus Group, which meets a few times per year to discuss the city's transit system. The group does not make recommendations to the City Council.

"I think that it would be a mistake for us to just try to create an advocacy group," he said. "Maybe that's what the rest of the council members have in mind and it may be that we'll get there."

In fact, a majority of council members said they would support a transit commission being formed in Jefferson City, something not unlike what exists in Columbia, which has had a Public Transportation Advisory Commission since 2009 that meets monthly.

The commission in Columbia is made of nine members; one appointed by the chancellor of the University of Missouri, one appointed by the Disabilities Commission, one appointed by the Bicycle/Pedestrian Commission and six appointed by the Columbia City Council. According to the ordinance creating the commission, its duties include advising city staff on transit policy, serving as a sounding board for resident transit issues, and recommending rules and procedures for transit to the City Council.

Members of the commission contacted by the News Tribune either declined to comment or did not return messages.

Sarah Klaassen, with the Boone County office of Central Missouri Community Action, said she has worked with public health to expand transit in Columbia and has worked with the commission in that regard. Klaassen said the transportation commission in Columbia has been helpful, but some proposed changes are creating some controversy now for the existing members.

"It's been a bit controversial, at least in terms of how existing commission members have received this," Klaassen said. "They're trying to get broader representation from the community on the commission."

The Columbia City Council is considering an ordinance that would change the Public Transportation Advisory Commission to the Public Transit Advisory Commission. It also would change the makeup of the nine-member board: one member would be appointed by the Missouri Student Association, one would be a Columbia College student or administrator, one would be a Stephens College student or administrator, one would be a representative of the University of Missouri, one would be a member of the bicycle/pedestrian commission, one would be an eligible Columbia Transit paratransit rider, and the other three would be appointed by the City Council.

Christa Holtzclaw, marketing specialist for Columbia Transit, said the city wants to narrow the focus of the commission and make it more efficient. She said the commission has had some impact on the city's transit system, but could not provide any specific examples.

Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich said he would support a focused effort to look at transit and see if there are efficiencies that can be achieved. Mihalevich said he would be open to that being done through a commission.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll said she wants to see a transit commission formed in Jefferson City that would follow Columbia's model and make recommendations to the council.

Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said the idea of a commission is worth discussing and the council needs to be receptive to reinventing the transit system.

Mayor Eric Struemph said he would need more information on what the commission would look like, but he was willing to consider it.

"I'm wide open to whatever could make our system the best it could be," Struemph said.

First Ward Councilman James Branch said having a commission couldn't hurt.

"A group of volunteer citizens getting together to work on a problem is never a bad idea," Branch said.

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said he would support a commission because the city needs to have the stakeholders involved to make the transit system better.

Third Ward Councilman Ken Hussey said a commission should be set up that can look at all the transit information the city has and help the council decide what to do next.

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