Metra set to kick off its new, expanded services with celebration

Want a free bus ride?

On Oct. 22, Metra, the city’s mass transit provider, is holding a “soft opening” of its new services. Part of the launch will be allowing anyone to get on any bus and ride anywhere, said Metra Director Rosa Evans.

Metra has increased its routes from nine to 12 and added to old, existing routes. On Saturday, Metra will allow riders to board any bus on any route for free all day long, from 4:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

“You’ve heard of ‘all you can eat?’ This is all you can ride,” Evans said. “It gives our citizens an opportunity to learn where the buses are going so when they go to work on Monday they’re not confused.”

The upgraded bus service is part of a Metra overhaul that’s being funded by the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. In 2014, Muscogee and 15 surrounding counties approved the TSPLOST, a 10-year, 1-cent sales tax designated for local transportation projects. Of the approximately $260 million Columbus is expected to take in, $22.4 million is specifically designated for public transit, with some of that going toward specific public transit projects.

The funding allows Metra to expand its routes and hours and add eight more buses and 16 new drivers, along with more support personnel.

A week after Metra’s free fare soft opening, the city will officially cut the ribbon on the new services on Monday, Oct. 31, at Metra headquarters on Linwood Boulevard, across from the cemetery. Refreshments will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We’ve got lots of activities planned for that day,” Evans said. “We’ve got local high schools that will be participating, we will have agencies on our campus set up at tables, and there will be all kinds of drawings that we’ll have.”

The expansion will make mass transit more available and more appealing to more people in Columbus, Evans said.

“We’ve got buses going to places we’ve never been to before in Columbus,” Evans said. “It’s exciting. It’s a new day in Columbus for mass transit.”