First BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Line in Columbus Launches on Monday
New Year’s Day will mark the start of service for the CMAX, the first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line to be developed by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). Rides will be free on the line – which features specially-branded buses that run up and down Cleveland Avenue – for the first week of its operation.
Apart from their distinctive look, the new buses will be different from regular COTA buses in a few other ways – they’ll have lower doors to speed up the boarding process, USB charging ports, and built-in sensors that communicate with traffic lights to limit red-light stops.
“CMAX is a brand new way for COTA to provide public transportation in our growing region,” said Emille Williams, COTA’s Interim President/CEO, in a statement. “The service will improve mobility and connect the communities along Cleveland Avenue with employment opportunities, education and healthcare services.”
The CMAX will make limited stops between downtown and State Route 161, where a new Northland Transit Center will feature an indoor waiting area and also serve as a Park and Ride location (the line will continue north, making all local stops, to the Ohio Health Westerville medical campus). The new transit center sits in the parking lot of a former Meijer store that was converted into offices by Huntington Bank.
BRT systems are often described as a hybrid system that combines the faster travel times and branded stations of light rail with the lower cost and flexibility of buses. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy lists five “essential elements” of a BRT system, including a dedicated right of way and off-board fare collection.
Despite the fact that the CMAX does not check off very many of those boxes – it’ll run in mixed traffic along the side of the road, not in a dedicated lane in the middle – COTA expects the new service to speed up travel times along the corridor by as much as 20 percent and lead to an increase in ridership of 20 percent or more.
New stations along the route will feature real-time arrival screens and enclosed seating areas. Over half of the new stations – 33 in total – will feature public art produced by local residents.
Monday marks the end of a project development process that started in 2013. A $37.45 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration covered the majority of the funding, with COTA providing an additional $11.2 million.