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COTA Approves New Bus Pass Program for Downtown Workforce

Walker Evans Walker Evans COTA Approves New Bus Pass Program for Downtown WorkforcePhoto by Walker Evans.
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If you’ve attended the Ohio State University, then you’re likely familiar with the ability to ride COTA buses “for free” with your BuckID (it’s actually paid for by the Ohio State University and rolled into tuition fees, but there is no charge taking place during the boarding process). The convenience allows a very large population of potential COTA riders to have very easy access at their fingertips. As of today, a similar program is scheduled for testing with several large Downtown employers.

“We’ve had some wonderful things happening Downtown in the past 15 years — office vacancy rates have dropped, the residential population has doubled, and we’ve seen increased visitors to new and existing amenities,” explained Marc Conte, Deputy Director at the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District. “People really want to be Downtown, and with that we have some growing pains. We’ve lost key parking areas due to the replacement of surface parking lots.”

Conte said that some Downtown parking garages have two year waiting lists for office workers requesting dedicated spaces, and other garages have dropped waiting lists entirely because of the length.

“Our fear is that office vacancy rates could stall at 15 percent if we don’t find another way for commuters to travel Downtown,” added Conte.

Instead of proposing the construction of costly new parking garages, Conte along with others at Capital Crossroads and the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) have been in discussion with Downtown building owners, property managers and business leaders to pilot a transit program that would subsidize bus passes for employees. Some Downtown offices already subsidize the cost of parking spaces for their employees as a perk, so the idea is that if bus ridership is offered with no cost to the employee, more would choose that option for work commutes. MORPC has identified federal grants to assist in paying for the program to offset costs to COTA while the long-term funding would come from business and property owners through the SID.

“Shifting just five percent of the workforce to bus ridership would free up approximately 1,800 parking spaces Downtown,” said Conte.

The program adopted at this morning’s COTA board meeting is considered a pilot program, launching with just five specific employers: Huntington, Porter Wright, Bricker & Eckler, State Auto and Nationwide Insurance. Collectively, those five businesses include 1,100 employees. The program will be studied over a period of 19 months, and employees will be surveyed periodically to determine if the program can be rolled out to include all major employers within the boundary of the Special Improvement District, which covers most of the core Central Business District.

To read more about the Next Generation of transit in Columbus, CLICK HERE for our interview with Stitt.

For ongoing updates and discussion on COTA, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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  • ziggy

    I think this is a pretty great opportunity. What about City employees…don’t they represent a rather decent demographic of the downtown workforce?
    Personally, it’s not so much about the cost of the fare but about the ease of which it is not. Dollars and quarters aren’t easy to keep and carry around.
    Still waiting for that smart card that can be loaded via the web from a mobile device. Keep trying COTA.

  • hugh59

    State of Ohio . C’mon State of Ohio.

    • MHJ

      Yea….that’s a huge, obvious missing piece. As well as the City of Columbus!

  • bscncol

    Agreed (State of Ohio comment)…seems like an “get”.

  • ziggy

    I think this is a pretty great opportunity and interesting for development (or non-development of parking garages).

    I worry that it is too small and too long of a “study” period. I wonder if they are hitting the right groups of people/employees? Or just random samples from within those companies. Specifically, are they targeting downtown workers that aren’t coming from way out in the ‘burbs but people that actually live within the sweet spot of a bus ride length (30-60 minutes). What about City employees…don’t they represent a rather decent demographic of the downtown workforce?

    Personally, it’s not so much about the cost of the fare, but about the ease of which it is not. Dollars and quarters aren’t easy to keep and carry around.
    Still waiting for that smart card that can be loaded via the web from a mobile device.
    Some day…

  • Pablo

    “Collectively, those five businesses include 1,100 employees.”

    Is this a typo? I thought Nationwide alone had 12,000 employees downtown.

    • mvconte

      It’s not a typo. In some cases, only a unit of the entire company will be included in the pilot program. For example, only the State Auto employees located at 175 on the Park will be included.

    • I got some clarification that some of it is site specific. Via Marc Conte at The SID:

      “In the case of larger companies they are only including a specific unit. For example it will only be the State Auto employees at 175 on the Park.”

      My understanding is that they want to utilize a smaller pool of the workforce so that the effectiveness of the program can be monitors before rolling out further.

  • Pablo

    Ah, thanks for the clarification.

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