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New COTA Program Surpasses Goal in Getting Downtown Workers Commuting

Walker Evans Walker Evans New COTA Program Surpasses Goal in Getting Downtown Workers CommutingPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Last April, the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District and Central Ohio Transit Authority unveiled a pilot program for Downtown workers, which allowed commuters to ride COTA buses to work at no personal cost, in an effort to reduce demand for parking spaces, which has become expensive and scarce for many workers. The newly released 2015 year-end Downtown annual report reveals that in just three months that program was able to divert 5.8 percent of the workers eligible in the pilot program to bus ridership.

“That is a significant number,” said Marc Conte, Deputy Director of Research, Planning & Facilities at Capital Crossroads. “If you look at any Downtown with a robust transit system in any market, you’re not going to see a majority of the workers taking transit, and we don’t need to see that in Columbus either. If we can double the number taking transit, aside from having environmental and societal benefits, it will free up parking and allow more office space to get leased.”

Currently, the pilot program is testing the model with five Downtown employers: Huntington, Porter Wright, Bricker & Eckler, State Auto and Nationwide Insurance. These five businesses have 1,100 employees eligible for the program, which means that approximately 64 people have switch from driving to bus ridership.

If the program is rolled out to all Downtown employers and the 5.8 percent diversion rate is maintained, it would free up nearly 2,000 parking spaces — the equivalent of four or five large parking garages. That diversion would allow parking prices to stabilize, and allow office leasing agents more flexibility for attracting new tenants and new jobs to the area.

The pilot program is expected to be studied and evaluated for a total of 19 months to measure its effectiveness.

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

To view the full State of Downtown Columbus Year End 2015 Report, CLICK HERE (PDF).

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  • staindson7

    Maybe instead of law firms getting free bus passes for the pilot, why didn’t theyoffer state workers or retail workers, the ones who don’t make much, but still have to pay $80-$150 a month to park. I hope they turn this into a downtown wide project, because parking has almost doubled in price in the last few years. The only people in the city who pay parking to go work are in downtown. All the parking lots have wait lists too even though they are charging big bucks, because ya gotta park.

    • I imagine the pilot program was rolled out to the easiest larger companies to work with. State government probably has red tape to participating in something like this, and retail is too small to test an effective pilot program.

      Anyway… this is good news that this program is performing as intended. I hope it rolls out wider.

    • Orthopedeo12

      Don’t quote me on this, but I believe that state workers receive a discounted rate on COTA passes. I can’t speak to what offers are available to retail workers, but that’s a good suggestion if it could be done.

  • GreatOutdoors

    OSU staff also pay for parking if they park at central/west campus lots.

  • MichaelC

    64 people out of 1100?

    Is the enthusiasm a bit misplaced over this figure?

    • ohbr

      Agreed. Come back when you’ve hit at least 100 people.

      Like most things COTA, let’s hype up a non-story, take forever to accomplish nothing, or keep kicking the can down the road. I look forward to this never really coming to full fruition. God, I hope I’m wrong, but frankly, I don’t trust COTA with very much at this point.

    • The figure itself is small, but a 5.8% increase is doubling the number of riders who currently commute Downtown to work (around 2% of the workforce) without any incentives in place.

      So, if the pilot is expanded and those figures hold, it would shift around 2,000 people to commute by bus, freeing up 2,000 parking spaces.

      The alternative to creating 2,000 new parking spaces is to build four large 500-car parking garages. Those run around $50 million each, so you’re looking at a $200 million savings in parking accommodations.

      Enthusiasm or not, the pilot appears to be working as planned.

  • bscncol

    Two comments:

    “Red tape” or not, State employees should absolutely be included; someone from COTA just needs to sit down with the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and figure it out. Maybe they tried, from this reporting we don’t know.

    State workers DO NOT as a blanket benefit get any discounts from COTA. We pay what everyone else pays.

    I currently drive my car and pay $100 a month for parking. Although riding the bus from a time perspective isn’t ideal, if it were free I would absolutely switch and become a COTA rider.

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