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COTA Seeks Voter Support for Levy Renewal

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega COTA Seeks Voter Support for Levy RenewalPhoto via COTA.
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Curtis Stitt, CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), made it pretty clear: vote down their 10-year 0.25 percent sales tax that’s up for renewal this year, and see services shrink to levels not seen in over a decade.

In a way, COTA’s own continual expansion of services has put them in this situation. Since the levy first passed in 2006, adding to the permanent 0.25 percent sales tax approved in 1999, they’ve increased their foundational services by 80 percent. They’ve come too far to be supportable on 0.25 percent, because their services have adapted to the 0.5 percent of total funding they’ve been getting. In the last 10 years they’ve grown their service hours to 1.1 million, which were at just over 600,000 before the last levy.

Stitt said the main focus of these COTA developments was to get more people to their jobs more easily. Part of that was starting an implementation of a cross-town service. Steering away from the traditional hub-and-spoke model of a lot of bus systems, a cross-town service eliminates Downtown as the main transfer points and creates others outside of the urban center.

The Groveport Rickenbacker Employee Access Transit (GREAT) shuttles employees to various businesses located in surrounding industrial parks rather than forcing employees to walk a mile or more to their jobs. It costs no extra to board if riders have a local pass for the COTA bus. The CBUS, designed for Downtown residents, employees and tourists, is another service offered for free.

They want to go further. The CMAX, a Bus Rapid Transit line that broke ground in August, would expedite travel along the Cleveland Avenue corridor. Along with fewer stops and signal preemption — changing red lights faster and holding green lights longer — it will move passengers along that road 20 percent faster, Stitt said.

“I think we can comfortably say we have both feet in the 21st century now,” he added.

But they want to go even further in planning for the future. Their NextGen project is geared toward transit planning for the extra million residents Columbus is expected to greet by 2050. While any long-term plan will need to be reevaluated and revised every three or five years, funding and preparation need to start now.

Stitt said he expects COTA’s service hours to continue their dramatic growth, even if a temporary plateau occurs in these years’ planning stages.

“We’re doing the responsible thing right now by engaging in the planning process, bringing in experts, our staff and a robust public involvement process that’ll yield this plan for the future,” he said. “How that ties into our current need to renew is, again, that foundational system is necessary. Without this foundation that’s provided by these two quarter-percent sales taxes, we won’t be able to build the system that we need for the future.”

For more information, visit www.cota.com/Company/Maintaining-Community-Support.

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