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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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