Half-century of transit in Columbia draws crowd to Wabash Station


  • Aug 21, 2015

“They would all board, and greet each other, and sit down and talk,” Brook said. "They knew each other."

Brooks, the multi-modal manager with the city's Public Works Department, led a celebration Friday afternoon outside Wabash Station. Marking 50 years of public transportation in Columbia, the celebration drew a crowd of about 100 people. Other speakers included Cheryl Price, chairwoman of the city's Public Transit Advisory Commission; Bobby Hill, of BYD, the company that will lease four new electric buses to Columbia; Columbia Sustainability Manager Barbara Buffaloe; and Columbia Chamber of Commerce Chairman Kit Stolen.   

Ray Beck, who was the city's director of Public Works during the inception of the public bus system in 1965, took a break from building a cattle corral on his farm to attend the celebration. Beck recalled that the city's decision to start a public transit system wasn't popular at first because it would cost a lot; even so, Beck said he felt the city “made the right decision.”

Last August, Columbia introduced CoMO Connect, a networked bus system that replaced the centralized orbital hub system that the city had used for nearly five decades, according to previous Missourian reporting. Rob Davis, who worked with the transit system for 15 years until he retired in October, said Friday that the new system is "more expandable than it used to be," easily allowing for future growth.  

Brooks spoke of a man who called the bus station Friday morning asking for help with his fare, as he only had 50 cents. When the caller was told that rides were free starting Friday through the end of September, Brooks related, he “broke down and cried.” 

“We take for granted how easy it is to hop in a car,” Brooks said, adding that it's not that easy for everyone, even a $1.50 fare could be a "barrier for some."

Besides five weeks of free rides, there will be 50 “pop-up” customer appreciation events at bus stops across the city. Riders should start looking for them in September, Brooks said.

The city also is planning a 90-day pilot program to test mobile payments on all of its routes sometime in the next few months, Brooks said.

Herb Crum, a 45-year veteran of the bus system and one of the original drivers hired in 1965, died Tuesday. A moment of silence was held in his memory at Friday's ceremony. Brooks announced that the city retired Crum's radio call number, 330.

Supervising editor is William Schmitt.