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COTA Brings Express Lines Back, but Riders Still Waiting for Late Night Service

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Brings Express Lines Back, but Riders Still Waiting for Late Night ServicePhoto by Brent Warren.
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Last week, several express lines starting running again for the first time since the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) was forced to start cutting back service in mid-March of last year.

The return of COTA’s limited-service, rush-hour-focused lines is a sign that some level of demand is returning for buses that take commuters from the suburbs to Downtown, but other elements of COTA’s daily bus schedule have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Riders will likely have to wait until September, for example, for the return of late night service.

The daily “final line up” of buses Downtown – which previously took place around midnight – now happens at 10 p.m. That means that the last chance for riders to transfer between buses and the final run for lines radiating out from Downtown starts two hours earlier than it did before, with the last buses now reaching the end of their routes around 11 p.m., instead of 1 a.m.

“COTA is looking at the possibility of extending service past 11 p.m. in September,” said COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin. “This is something our customers have been asking for and we are working toward that…our service planners are currently determining what that would look like.”

Early morning service (a 5 a.m. start time) was restored last September, as part of the agency’s normal twice-yearly schedule for service changes. More routes were also added back into service at that time, and the frequency increased on many of them.

After that round of service changes, COTA said it had restored service to 78% of its pre-COVID routes.

Pullin said that the aim is not necessarily to reestablish the same service that existed before the pandemic.

“COTA’s goal is to meet the mobility needs of today, and that does not include getting back to pre-COVID levels of service. Mobility patterns have changed since the start of the pandemic, and our service has changed with them,” he said, citing new programs like COTA-Plus, which is an on-demand service that first launched in Grove City but is now offered in several other neighborhoods.

“COTA will continue to use data, research and customer feedback to help us understand and meet the demands of how people move now,” Pullin added.

COTA’s ridership from January through March in 2021 was down about 54% from the same time period in 2020. The agency posted at 31-year high for ridership in 2019.

Following the May 3 service changes, the following lines remain suspended: the CBUS Circulator, the AirConnect airport shuttle, and the Night Owl bus that used to run along High Street after hours.

The following express lines were returned to service:

  • 13 (Arlington/First Ave)
  • 41 (Crosswoods/Polaris)
  • 42 (Sharon Woods)
  • 43 (Westerville
  • 44 (Easton)
  • 45 (New Albany)
  • 46 (Gahanna)
  • 51 (Reynoldsburg)
  • 52 (Canal Winchester)
  • 61 (Grove City)
  • 71 (Hilliard)
  • 72 (Tuttle)
  • 73 (Dublin)
  • 74 (Smoky Row)

For more information, see www.cota.com.

This chart from COTA’s 2020 annual report shows rider demographics before and after onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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