A new route for Jefferson City transit?

Council divided over hiring consultant; officials largely unaware of 7-year-old city study

Disability advocate Wayne Lee goes over a JeffTran route map with Vicki Schildmeyer as members of the Citizens for JeffTran group gather at Common Ground Community Center on April 18 to celebrate a vote that week to restore funds to the city's transit division.

Jefferson City officials are moving forward with a request for proposal process to hire an outside facilitator; someone who can help guide the city through discussions on the future of its transit system.

But whether that proposal is for a facilitator or a consultant depends on what city official is speaking, and most council members were unaware of a transit study done seven years ago that came up with a number of recommendations, many of which were never implemented because of the cost.

As one of the last acts of the former City Council, a resolution was approved to restore $55,000 to the transit budget and avoid a midday service break. It also directed City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus to issue a request for proposals for an outside consultant to assist in studying the transit system.

The resolution stated "it is the intent of the council to enter into an in depth study of the needs and resources of (the) transportation system including involving input from all of the stakeholders in the community."

Nickolaus said the mayor had directed the RFP process be expedited, and he hoped to have one ready in about one month. But the request may not be for a consultant after all.

Nickolaus said what the council really is looking for is a facilitator, someone to guide them through the process of discussing and improving transit and not necessarily a comprehensive study, something that's already been done.

Previous study

In 2005, the City Council approved a nearly $150,000 contract with TranSystems Corporation, a Kansas Citybased 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.

A majority of the recommendations were never implemented, largely because of a lack of resources. Recommendations included:

• Extending service by 1.5 hours per day

• Adding evening service

• Adding Saturday service

• Modifying existing routes

• Increasing JeffTran staffing by at least one supervisor, one dispatcher and two drivers

• Relocating the transfer station

• Increasing fares.

Of the recommendations made, Jefferson City implemented very few.

Existing routes eventually were modified to accommodate a 40-minute route in 2012, which was suggested in the 2006 study.

Some routes were combined to increase efficiency.

Fares were increased from 50 cents to $1, as recommended in the study, and the transfer station was moved to its current location on Miller Street.

But the rest of the recommendations were never implemented.

The study specifically recommended at least extending service hours to begin 30 minutes earlier and continue operating to one hour later than the hours in 2006, which were from 6:45 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"This service improvement is important because the current span of service is not of sufficient length to serve many work trips," the study states.

The extension of hours was ranked by the study to be the highest priority. According to the city's website, JeffTran service hours currently are 6:40 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Nickolaus said a lack of resources prevented the city from implementing many of the recommendations, but that doesn't mean they weren't considered.

"The fact that they weren't done doesn't necessarily mean that they weren't looked at," Nickolaus said.

Nickolaus said the issue is a consultant will come in and say what everything should look like, but that vision isn't always realistic.

"This is what the system really ideally ought to be ... the problem is resources," Nickolaus said. "We are stretching resources just to keep what we've got."

The 2006 study states "it is generally accepted that a dedicated funding source for transit is an important ingredient to a successful expanded transit system. The potential for a dedicated revenue source for transit in Jefferson City should be explored."

Nickolaus said the idea of a dedicated funding source for transit really wasn't explored after the 2006 study, but it is being discussed now.

"It is something that has been the subject of discussion as of late," Nickolaus said. "Nothing is off the table."

Richard Turner, transit division director, said he would like to see people look at the 2006 study before moving forward, but the decision to hire a consultant, or facilitator, is up to the mayor.

Nickolaus said the 2006 report has good factual information and there may be a point where another study will be needed, but at this point the city is looking more at a facilitator who can direct resident discussion and help everyone get through the process. He said the city doesn't really need another set of recommendations or an outside group to provide technical knowledge.

"We've got quite a bit of technical knowledge at this point," Nickolaus said. "Rather than someone being told "this is what you need to do,' we need to maybe find some of those answers ourselves."

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said using the word consultant in the resolution passed by the council likely was not the best choice. What he envisioned, he said, is more of a facilitator to help direct discussion rather than a consultant who makes recommendations.

"I'm not looking for another report like we've already got," Scrivner said.

Scrivner said the city needs to bring together everyone who has an interest in transit, from riders who want the system expanded to those who would rather see it entirely cut, and have a comprehensive discussion about what the city's transit system should be and how it should be funded.

"This is an open discussion to try to learn what the people of Jefferson City want from their transit system," Scrivner said. "When we get done, we know the direction that we want to go, we know how we're going to fund it, we've got a vision of how it is, we've got a plan for how to get there ... then maybe we can quit having this conversation every year about whether we're going to cut it."

Having a facilitator would be able to keep such a group on target and moving forward, he said, but they also likely would be trusted more by residents than a council member or a city staff member.

"A facilitator, to me, lends some credibility," Scrivner said.

He said he is not looking for another bus expert to come in and advise the city on what transit should be.

Good expense?

But Mayor Eric Struemph said the city does need someone to come in and advise officials on how to move forward. Struemph said enough has changed since 2006 to merit a new study. Funding from federal and state levels for transit is not the same as it was in 2006, he said, and the system really is not the same either.

"Our lives have changed four-fold since '06," Struemph said. "I think we really need to get an outside professional to come in and tell us what we can do for the current monies we have available."

When asked if he had gone through the recommendations of the last study, he said "it's been a long time ... I don't want to go there today ... I plan on it."

A majority of current council members contacted by the News Tribune were unaware that a study had been done of the transit system in 2006. When told of the study, most said they would prefer to hold off on hiring a consultant until they have gone through the previous study thoroughly.

First Ward Councilman Rick Prather said he was unaware of the previous study and would like to look at it before any decisions are made.

"There's really no sense in spending money on something that money's already been spent on," Prather said.

First Ward Councilman James Branch, who was sworn in last week, said he also wasn't aware of the previous study, but having a new one may not do a lot of good if the city already has the information.

"I think the first option would be to go and pull up the 2006 (study) and see what it said," Branch said.

Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich said if there's already relevant information available to help the city create the efficiencies it needs, then it should be used.

"I think we should benefit from what we have," Mihalevich said.

However, he said technology has changed so rapidly in the last five years that if some new information on how to effectively use any new technology with the transit system was needed, then a new study may be useful.

Third Ward Councilman Ken Hussey said he thinks a discussion should be had before moving forward with the RFP process, saying the council may have been "a little ahead of the game."

"I would be cautious to spend money before we've done a thorough review and figure out is it necessary," Hussey said. "With a $1.6 million deficit that you have to cut to make whole for the year, we shouldn't be necessarily jumping right in to hire some of this out. We've got people with transit experience on the city staff and obviously some very interested community people. Let's tap into that."

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said he didn't know how viable it would be to have another outside consultant come in and tell the city what to do.

"An outside consultant is just that, outside," Henry said. "They are not vested in the community."

Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said the city should examine the 2006 study before any money is spent on another outside contract.

"I think it'd be wise to look at what we already have," Bray said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll also would like to see the city hold off on pursuing any outside contracts. Carroll, who was a member of the steering committee to help develop the transportation plan in 2006, said she didn't read the resolution as a directive to start the RFP process, but hoped the idea would be discussed by the Public Works and Planning Committee, of which she is a member. She said the committee should discuss that and decide if that's the route they want to go.

Carroll said the 2006 study should be looked at closely before the council contracts with anyone else.

"A lot of that stuff is useful today," Carroll said. "I think that it could be done in other ways, at least to start."

Transit system study

The March 15, 2006, final report of the Jefferson City Transportation Development Plan was prepared at a cost of nearly $150,000.

The report, which is on the city's website, outlined the transit system as it existed in 2006 and a series of recommendations for how to improve the system. A majority of the recommendations were never implemented, largely because of a lack of resources.

To see the full report, access www.newstribune.com/jctransit.

Related article:

Jefferson City considers a transit commission