A simple trip across town isn’t so simple for many in the Capital City.
While many in the community don’t worry about how they’re going to get somewhere, for others, it can be a challenging question.
Various services, public and private, try to fill that gap both for people who need it regularly and when there’s an emergency.
Jefferson City has a bus service that runs on weekdays, officials are working on improved bike routes, and the city’s remaining taxi service faced a rough first year in 2020.
The primary source of public transportation found in Jefferson City is the public bus system, with routes across the city.
JeffTran, the Jefferson City Transit Division, offers nine routes during the school year and six when school isn’t in session.
JeffTran Director Mark Mehmert said the system has been around for decades, originally as a private enterprise.
Prior to buses, it operated a series of streetcars. But in the 1960s, it became unprofitable, and the city took it over.
Currently, routes run from 6:40 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Mehmert said the goal is for each round to take 40 minutes.
Along with the regular routes, Mehmert said, JeffTran offers Handi-Wheels for seniors and those with disabilities.
Regular routes cost $1 per ride, and Handi Wheels costs $2 per route. Those on Medicare can register at City Hall for the reduced rate of 50 cents.
In 2019, JeffTran averaged 4,800 rides per week, Mehmert said.
“In much of 2020, riders heeded the warnings to take essential trips only, and rides fell to an average of 3,253 rides per week,” he said.
The system dropped about 32.2 percent but is starting to see that pick back up. He said Handi-Wheels riders are picking up more slowly, most likely as those people have comorbidities.
The buses are cleaned and sanitized with an anti-microbial mist regularly, and riders are expected to wear a mask.
“We play a big role for a lot of folks that may not have access to their own personal vehicles or, oftentimes, people who have medical issues,” Mehmert said. “We take it seriously.”
Mehmert said he has heard some concerns from riders about JeffTran’s hours, including the desire for it to run later into the evening and operate on weekends.
The issue, he said, comes down to funding.
The cost of operating additional hours would largely fall into the city’s budget.
JeffTran operates with a $2.5 million budget — about $850,000 comes from federal funds and $1.2 million from the city. The rest comes from paid fares and some grants, Mehmert said.
There isn’t additional federal funding available, he said.
“There’s a formula, and that $850,000 is a formulaic thing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many hours of operation we have; that’s what they’re going to give us. So any additional costs that would be incurred as a result of expanding hours would largely be borne by the city.”
Jefferson City takes something akin to a supply-
and-demand-based approach to transit, Mehmert said. The supply is where people are, and the demand is where they’re trying to go.
JeffTran puts an emphasis more on coverage than on frequency.
It could reduce the number of stops or merge routes and stop at each more frequently with the funding available, but JeffTran currently focuses on trying to serve all the city’s citizens, Mehmert said.
“If we, for example, would take one of the routes away, those folks would have a rough time accessing the system because of the distances involved.”
For JeffTran’s offerings to expand, Mehmert said, it would take effort from the community.
“It will really take the community ratcheting up the importance of public transit in order to make something happen,” he said.
Bikes and trails
Jefferson City is making some efforts in terms of non-car transportation options.
While it’s being developed for recreational use, a bike circuit planned around part of the city with extensions to bike trails could be used for transportation.
About 25 percent of the circuit already exists with proper signs. A large portion of it just needs signage, City Engineer David Bange said. However, bits of it go onto Cole County and Missouri Department of Transportation roads.
That part could be completed by the end of the year, once the different entities enter into official agreements, Bange said.
Officials based the route on a path that would be largely flat, but that does mean it’s a less direct route, he said.
Once complete, the loop would be a 17-mile route around the city, Bange said. It was included as part of redesigning Capitol Avenue but will reach out to Missouri 179, along Truman Boulevard and South Country Club Drive, through County Park, past Schulte’s Fresh Foods and back toward the Capitol along East McCarty Street.
“There wouldn’t be anything that would prevent you from using it as transportation,” Bange said. “For myself personally, I use bits and pieces of that because I ride my bike to work. I’ll use bits and pieces of that along my route too, and it’s really route-dependent.”
One thing city officials hear when it comes to biking or walking around the city is concern over the hills, he said.
He and other cyclists get together one Saturday a month to take a bike ride. These usually include finding a fairly flat path.
“A person can find a flatter route,” he said. “Not necessarily always, but a lot of the times, you can. I think part of people’s hesitancy is when you’re driving your car, if there’s a hill you really don’t care … so you don’t really pay attention.”
Bange said the city is also looking into ways to help people get out of their residential areas more easily and quickly through the Greenway trails.
Currently, the Greenway stretches into some subdivisions such as Covington Gardens.
“That is what we hope the larger system could do,” he said. “What we don’t have is a lot of trails that exist outside of those two long pieces, and then we have some little bits and pieces that don’t connect to much.”
The northwestern and the far eastern sides of town don’t really have any Greenway connections, Bange said.
Jefferson City entered into a contract with the bike-share company Skinny Labs Inc. — also known as Spin — in 2018. However, the bikes are no longer available locally.
At its peak, Spin had 150 electric scooters and 75 bicycles in Jefferson City.
In March 2020, the company said the scooters would not come out of winter storage after announcing a few months earlier it would remove all its bicycles from the city. It cited low ridership as the main reason behind the decision.
When the program came up, city officials considered it a winning situation since there wouldn’t be a cost for the city, Bange said. Rather, Spin charged riders based on the distance traveled, with a $1 unlock fee.
But the city was somewhat disappointed with the amount of data it received from Spin, which has since been bought by the Ford Motor Company, Bange said. He said officials wanted to see the paths riders took, which could help direct efforts for infrastructure improvement. However, they only received the starting and ending points for the rides but not the path taken.
“It was just that this bike was here at one point in town and now the bike is over there,” he said.
Bange said, initially, he doesn’t think the city will see another bike- or scooter-sharing program again soon, but he later added the city is starting preliminary conversations with a new company that could lead to a new program.
The company, Bird, is looking at reintroducing electric scooters to Jefferson City, Bange said.
The topic is on the agenda for Thursday’s Public Works and Planning Committee meeting.
The year 2020 proved to be rough for many companies around the state, but the taxi landscape faced its own struggles.
Jefferson City’s Checker Cab service ended at the beginning of 2020, with some former employees going on to form Cabbie Shak.
Cabbie Shak owner Leesa Shivers-Crocker said she had trouble getting people to drive and cars to drive. She said several cars were stolen and/or damaged during the year, and most she bought originally had 200,000-300,000 miles on them already.
She started with three cars. Shivers-Crocker said there’s one running 24/7 at the moment, and she expects to have a second one running within the next week once its transmission gets changed.
On average, the company sees 60-75 rides in a 24-hour period, she said, but with all three cars and drivers, it could do closer to 200.
Shivers-Crocker said she still has faith the business will work out, but she needs help.
For instance, Shivers-Crocker said she’s trying to get a grant to get new cars for the company and is looking into COVID-19 relief funds. She’s also open to ideas from others in the community.
Shivers-Crocker said she started Cabbie Shak with two goals: continuing to serve those in Jefferson City who need the service and to have fun doing it.
The thing is, she said, it is a service people in the community rely on. Since JeffTran stops at 6 p.m. and doesn’t run on the weekends, Shivers-Crocker said, she gets called out to the hospital almost every night.
“I pick up people every single night from hospitals to come home,” she said. “I pick up people every single night from work to come home and on the weekends. They wouldn’t have anything else. They don’t have anything. … That’s wrong.
“I’m doing what I can. I can’t make everybody happy, but I’m certainly trying to do that.”
For some, ride-share programs such as Uber open up more transportation options in the community.
Trips are based on a variety of factors and ask for a tip afterward. The company keeps a certain amount, and the driver receives the rest along with the full amount of the tip.
Uber and Lyft came to Jefferson City in August 2017 after the state Legislature passed a law allowing the services to start operating in the state. Both remain active within the area.
Information about the services’ use within Jefferson City was not available at press time.