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COTA Considers Adding a Downtown Circulator Loop

Walker Evans Walker Evans COTA Considers Adding a Downtown Circulator Loop
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The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) is currently studying the feasibility of a new Downtown circulator route that would better connect The Short North, Arena District, Convention Center, Gay Street, Columbus Commons, German Village and Brewery District areas. The buses on the circulator route would be specially branded, run in high frequencies and offer reduced fare rates — or potentially be free to riders — to encourage short travel distances.

Public input on the proposed circulator will be sought at multiple events next week.

“We will present information about what a circulator service is; explain the characteristics of a proposed service, and then, solicit public comments and suggestions and answer questions,” said Marty Stutz, VP of Communications at COTA. “After considering the various components involved in preparing for this type of service, our planning staff has proposed May 2014 for this service change.”

COTA operated a similar system in the 90s called “COTA Link” which offered a 25 cent shuttle bus through Downtown. Stutz says that service was different as it only ran midday for lunch commuters, while the new proposed circulator would operate the entire day to serve riders of all types.

The proposed route would run from Buttles Avenue in the Short North to Sycamore Street in German Village, and would run north-south either entirely on High Street or paired on High and Front Streets, offering a route somewhat similar to COTA’s #21 Night Owl weekend service, which just expanded to Thursday nights this week.

Those interested in attending public input sessions can find details on those meetings, HERE.

For ongoing discussion and updates on the Downtown Circulator, CLICK HERE to visit our messageboard.

More information can be found at www.cota.com.

Brent Warren contributed to this story.

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  • billbix

    I would love this to run the entire length of the SN – all the way to 5th. It would make parking so much easier and also really make it easy to spend a night on the town.

  • heresthecasey

    I think running it on High both ways would make the most sense. Front doesn’t have as much going on, and staying on High makes it walkable from both the river and 3rd/4th Sts.

  • @billbix – Agreed. Though I think keeping the route short with high frequencies is key, so perhaps running all the way up to 5th would slow things down (especially during Gallery Hop nights).

  • Cbusflyer

    I agree, if it could make it up South Campus gateway, we could encourage more students to explore downtown. This would be especially helpful in spurring retail downtown. I know tons of students that bus it over to Easton to go shopping. I hope it swings through G.V. to hit 3rd st. and cuts through the Brewery district, Bicentennial park.
    Would be nice if it could cut over to Franklinton then back to front.

  • @cbusflyer – You know, there are *other* bus routes that can get you just about anywhere. ;) They should keep this circulator as tight as possible if they want it to serve the purpose of high-frequency riders who are going to hop on just for a few blocks here or there.

  • When exiting Columbus Commons and driving up High the other day I couldn’t help but think it could be like Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and then some. If we can’t have a street car system running down the center of High Street we might as well have a bus loop that runs often. That could spur additional retail and entertainment venues to what is already happening. Sidebar: I feel like I see so many more people downtown now at later hours and way more cabs. Especially the cabs, the more I see compared to a few years ago the more it tells me downtown is changing and fast.

  • Stephen43215

    We visited nashville 2 weeks go for vacation. We stayed downtown and never had to use our car once. They have something called Music City Circuit that has several routes around downtown that are free to ride.


  • leftovers

    Definitely think it should stay on High St. It makes it simple and highly visible.

  • Cbusflyer

    @walker I know they can take other buses up and down High, but unfortunately for most of the general public riding a bus is not “COOL”. I am a pilot and fly to a different city 4 days a week and see the same pattern in most cities. If there is another mode of transportation like street car, or light rail, people seek it out to ride to different locations in that city.
    This is just my experience and may be wrong but when I visit a city like Baltimore, Memphis or Denver I will go out of my way to ride there alternative mode if transportation. If the city has just a bus system, I don’t feel as inclined to go and seek it out to explore that city. Again not saying this is right but just my own personal bias.

  • cbus11

    This will be especially good for the Short North.

  • The map as shown right now really doesn’t service the Short North as a whole.

    I’d like to see two Short North specific circulators. One could run up N 4th to 5th Ave. West to High, then South to Goodale and back to 4th. The other could run North on High to 5th Ave, then East to Neil, South on Neil to Buttles and back to High.

    As a visitor or employee, I would have many more parking opportunities further from the core, but safely accessible. As a resident, I could easily hop on a circulator for a trip to Giant Eagle without moving my car.

    And I agree with Cbusflyer. A connection to Campus would encourage students to visit downtown more often.

  • bucki12

    I feel this is most useful for the Common’s up to the SN. The SN should be treated as a whole and I also think carrying it up to 5th is important to the Arts District.

  • mrpoppinzs

    From what I have heard they killed COTA LINK (previous circulator) for budget reasons. It had a 25 cent fare. What would people be willing to pay for this one?

    I realize we all want free, but I doubt that is sustainable over a long period. Would $1 be reasonable?

  • leftovers

    I think it would have to be free. Even a quarter is awkward if you have to carry change these days.

  • mbeaumont

    It really needs to be free. People don’t carry around change and paper money like they used to.

    If it’s free visitors will use it a lot i think. Additionally, I concur with those saying it needs to go up to 5th avenue. It wouldn’t significantly hurt bus frequency times and it’ll be serving the entirety of the area that needs it the most.

  • Stephen43215

    It should be free if they have tourists in mind. I also think it needs to have different maps and brochures of different neighborhoods and things to do in Columbus for visitors to take.

  • MHJ

    I hope that the people commenting on this post will attend one of the THREE listening sessions they’re having about this circulator service this week!

  • I hope that the people collecting public input will factor in online participation for those who can’t make the in-person meetings this week!

  • tobyb

    I wonder if they could get money from the businesses in the downtown and Short North SID’s to help with the costs. It looks that those businesses will have the most to gain by far and it will cost $$$ if it is done right. I imagine this might eventually be used to justify a streetcar.

  • leftovers

    Getting business support could defray costs. It really would be a boon to businesses near the route. A lot of people park their cars and stay within a few blocks of them,. This would get them and their money circulating to many more places.

  • If Downtown and Short North businesses are required to chip in extra money for bus routes that run by their front door, can they also get refunds for the tax dollars they contribute used to pay for roads that don’t run anywhere near them?

  • leftovers

    If this were a normal bus route I would agree with you. A free circulator is far from a normal bus route. A far as regular buses these areas are already the best served in the city.

    Personally I think a free circulator would be great for the areas included and go a long way to help local businesses. If COTA can do it on its own then that is awesome. If money is an issue (and it usually is) I think a lot of businesses in the area would rather help out than end up with a hobbled system or nothing at all.

    I also can see this as a small step to a streetcar.

  • bucki12

    Anyone have any details on the old COTA link circulator? What was the ridership, when did it end and if it went up into the SN?

    As far as what is being planned so far, I don’t like the planned route of taking Front St as part of the loop and I think going to 5th Ave is a must. I agree that it would be in the business associations best interests to see that this gets some added funds if necessary. It can be great.

  • mrpoppinzs

    While it might not be necessary, it would be better to get some money from local businesses than to ask individual tourists, conventioneers, customers to come up with 50 cents in change. It is more a case of making it easy for potential customers to spend their money. I believe the return would justify the expense.

    There may be no need for additional funds. Regardless it is not new for different areas to pay higher or lower taxes or get special incentives (look at the condo tax breaks downtown). Being located on a high frequency shuttle aimed at circulating business customers seems like a huge positive.

    I really hope COTA does this and I hope it isn’t half assed.

  • urbanshmurban

    The old circulator only ran Monday through Friday during lunchtime. Ridership started out strong but steadily declined. The marketing of the service also declined over the years. I also seem to remember that the frequency also slowed but my memory is fuzzy on that detail. By the end, COTA was cutting service on virtually every local, crosstown and express route. It was hard to justify the lunchtime circulator when commuter routes were in jeopardy.

  • heresthecasey

    I really think keeping the boundaries at Buttles and Sycamore are the best idea for this. There are already 3 local routes (2, 5, 8) that serve High up to 5th Ave. If a free circulator extended that far I could see it being used by a lot of locals/commuters to get downtown, simply poaching riders from other COTA routes and not really serving visitors.

    I think the real benefit of this is to help Downtown by tying it together with the already successful areas around it. Capturing just enough, but not too much of the Short North and Brewery District accomplishes that. It keeps things simple and relatively close-enough range that the entire length could be covered by someone on their lunch break. Also, it introduces downtown visitors to the areas immediately north and south. People can obviously filter further from the end points as they explore the area.

  • billbix

    I wholeheartedly feel it needs to go to 5th Ave. The big draw is the SN for visitors and Buttles is only a small part of it. Breaking the circulator into two legs would speed up frequencies.

    I think the question is at what times this circulator will run? I don’t think this line should be available as part of the morning commuter rush. Setting up the times is part of the strategy. Part of me sees this as mainly an evening service with main ridership on thurs, fri, sat.

  • susank

    I would probably use it in the evenings in the SN and also to get down to the area around the Commons and Gay St, also in the evenings. Ending it at Buttles would be far from ideal. Fifth Ave seems to be a more reasonable end with The Garden theater, Brothers Drake, MidWest Spirits, galleries, and the several key restaurants up there.

    It would make parking a lot easier.

  • mrsgeedeck

    Nothing is free, and I’d be willing to pay for this service if they started to accept a true metro card. If I had a single care I could put money on and deduct my fare that’d be swell. I’d definitely use something like this especially in the winter time.

  • RhondaH

    I don’t think this is as needed at lunch so much, especially if it focuses on High St.

    I agree that evenings and weekends would be the best times. If they are going to include the SN, they should include all of it. Those times are when the most visitors (including free time from conventions) are out and about and when the entertainment aspects of these areas shine.

  • The SN SID taxes were just renewed recently. I’m not sure exactly when the next anniversary date is, but any change in taxes would be voted on then. Property owners pass along these taxes through NNN to most of their tenants with some transparency. So in order to get businesses to buy into the program directly, a new tax would have to be created to collect from them. And chances are this tax could be transferred to customers through higher prices.

    I agree that nothing is free and I would be willing to consider participating in such a program. But I definitely would not want to pay for bus service that didn’t service the entire Short North.

  • RhondaH

    I have never gone to the SN to bargain shop so if businesses pass on a few cents that would be fine. If they had a free circulator I would probably end up at more places and so would a bunch of other people. It seems like a win if they do it right. Most of the places in the SN worth going to are above Buttles, imho.

  • Cbusflyer

    If you look at Cbus on Trip Advisor, 8 out of the top ten things to do are on this route or close to it. The only two not remotely close are Franklin Park Conservatory and Easton. Just for fun..
    #1 Huntington Park, #2 Franklin Park #3 Ohio Theater #4 Easton #5 The Short North
    #6 The Shoe #7 Shadow Box #8 OSU campus #9 The State House.
    Interesting that COSI is not ranked higher.

  • bucki12

    As long as it goes to 5th I think it includes enough of a smattering of things to do and a pretty good feel for urban Columbus. From 5th, OSU campus is at a walkable distance (it is a big draw for visitors) but not close enough for the circulator routes to be abused by bar hopping OSU students.

    The OSU students can use their passes to take the #2 etc if needed to get downtown.

  • Luke Streetwalker

    I hope that the people collecting public input will factor in the increasing amount of new residents living and coming to live downtown who can take advantage of the circulator to get to these areas rather than drive or, God for bid, walk. Busses and bikes are better options that driving.

  • michael macarthur

    How about a reduced-fee pass for a month’s rides on the circulator? I also agree with Walker that it would be great if COTA took digital input from forums like this into account.

  • Graybeak

    I think we are/should be looking at this not as another commuter option, but for occasional users, such as tourists, someone out on the town.

    If you want a monthly bus pass, just get a monthly bus pass.

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