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COTA Not Bringing Back CBUS – or Late Night Service – Any Time Soon

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Not Bringing Back CBUS – or Late Night Service – Any Time SoonThe CBUS Circulator in 2015. Photo by Walker Evans.
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Last spring, several express lines starting running again for the first time since the Central Ohio Transit Authority was forced to start cutting back bus service at the beginning of the pandemic.

At the time, COTA officials expressed hope that the restoration of late night service would be the next improvement to be implemented, and suggested that buses would start running a later schedule starting in September.

A shortage of drivers, though, has pushed that timeline back – late night service was not a part of the agency’s September service updates, and likely won’t be brought back until next spring at the earliest.

Also not included in the September changes was the restoration of the CBUS Circulator route, which offered no-fare trips for riders traveling between the Short North, Downtown and the Brewery District.

“COTA does not have any plans at this time to bring CBUS back,” said Jeff Pullin, Public & Media Relations Manager. “COTA continues to focus on the C-Pass program, which is a property owner and business-sponsored program and provides greater benefits for customers, namely unlimited transit on all lines at no cost to them.”

COTA CEO Joanna Pinkerton has spoken in the past about expanding the C-Pass program – it is currently only available to Downtown workers whose employers have opted in, or to Downtown residents who live in a building that participates – but the agency has not announced any formal expansion of the program.

Although there are several lines that currently travel between the three neighborhoods that were served by the CBUS, some riders have said they miss the circulator’s convenience and ease of use.

The door is not shut forever on the CBUS – Pullin said that COTA is continually evaluating its service offerings, and that “‘not now’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘not ever.'”

At the recent public meetings about the September service changes, though, more riders expressed concerns about the return of late night service than the return of the CBUS, and Pullin confirmed that that’s currently a bigger priority for the agency.

COTA started a new hiring push in June, and received a “great response” from people interested in becoming operators, according to Sindy Mondesir, the agency’s Chief People Officer, who added that COTA offers a “very competitive compensation and benefit package” that ranks in the top five percent among transit agencies.

It will take time to hire and train those new applicants, though, likely pushing any new service expansions into next year.

“COTA is financially sound,” said Pullin. “We have the money to bring on more operators, we just need to recruit and hire…that process is under way, but it just takes time.”

A combination of attrition – COTA lost more drivers to retirement and to other jobs over the last year-and-a-half than it had anticipated – and a tight job market have led to the driver shortages, according to Pullin.

“This is not unique to COTA,” said Matt Allison, Chief of Transit Operation. “We’re in contact with many other agencies, and many are experiencing the same workforce challenges.”

For more information about COTA, including job openings, see www.cota.com.

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