City bus route travel times could increase to 90 minutes starting in February if the city’s six routes are combined into three.
Go COMO, the city bus service, has faced chronic staffing shortages, requiring mandatory overtime for several staff.
The combination of the red and green routes; gold and blue routes; and black and orange routes sought by Go COMO could alleviate staffing issues until the number of bus operators increases. No stops are being eliminated in this change.
If hiring improves, it could mean the measure may be temporary.
More:Columbia has just over half of the bus drivers it needs. Here’s how the city could address the issue.
The Columbia City Council will discuss the route combination proposal in a work session starting at 5 p.m. Monday. A presentation on the agenda is already available. The council previously heard from a group in July seeking to provide last-mile shuttle services in a pilot program for employees along the Paris Road/Route B industrial corridor. City bus routes do not go this far.
Go COMO hopes that combing the six routes into three will reduce overtime, and change from mandatory to voluntary. It also could help with operator recruitment since operators will not have a minimum 52-hour week when they start. It also could aid with retention, the presentation noted, as it is a reduction in the burden of mandatory overtime and its physical and mental toll over the last 18 months on operators creating burnout and low morale.
The red and green routes combination runs the length of Broadway in the area of the West Broadway Hy-Vee to Keene Street and along Conley Road in the area of shopping centers along that route.
The combination of the gold and blue routes will run from the area of the Columbia Mall, Worley Street, a portion of Business Loop 70 W in the area of Mizzou North and Parkade Plaza, to along Paris Road to Whitegate Drive and along Clark Lane toward Schnucks and up to Mexico Gravel Road roundabout on Ballenger.
The black and orange route combination is a south-to-north corridor from the area of the South Providence Medical Plaza and State Farm Parkway, up Providence Road and into the University of Missouri and hospital campus and then along Rangeline Street north to Moser’s. This also is the route that makes a stop at the Ashley Street Center purchased by the city for use by Room at the Inn and other services for Columbia’s unsheltered population.
The city needs a minimum of 45 operators for there to be no overtime. The city has not had this number since at least before 2018 when staffing levels averaged about 36 operators. In 2022, the number of operators averaged in the mid-to high-20s.
Because of this operator shortage, it has required mandatory overtime and only 19 of the 26 full-time operators are able to work overtime, averaging 13 overtime hours per week. Operators in 2022 logged 12,108 hours of overtime costing roughly $363,000 in overtime wages. Go COMO had two retirements in 2022 and eight operators are eligible for retirement. Nationwide, nearly half of transit workers are 55 or older, the presentation noted.
Paratransit also has faced difficulties due to staffing shortages, even with an approved plan to lessen driving license requirements to start a paratransit van operator. The number of paratransit riders, much like ridership on the fixed bus routes has increased to more than pre-pandemic levels. More people are using city bus and paratransit services than ever before.
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.
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