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COTA Sets Date for Return to Fare Collection

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Sets Date for Return to Fare CollectionPhoto by Walker Evans.
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The Central Ohio Transit Authority will resume collecting fares on its buses on January 11.

Bus rides have been free since March 19, when the agency’s Board of Trustees voted to suspend fare collection and to require passengers to board the bus at the side door instead of the front.

Riders can buy new a pass, replace an expired pass, or load money onto the COTA Connector app starting on December 12. Fares will remain the same as they were before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – $2 for a single ride and $62 for a monthly pass.

“We took this unique, but important step to temporarily offer our transit services at no fare to the community at a time when there was no uniform guidance on how to properly protect employees and customers,” said COTA President/CEO Joanna M. Pinkerton in statement. “This allowed us to have customers board from the rear of the vehicle while we took time and care to implement new state-of-the art sanitization protocol and protective equipment, and educate the community on the role they can play in wearing proper protective face coverings.”

COTA’s plans for the resumption of fare collection have evolved since it first addressed the issue last summer. In a June 17 email sent out to riders, Pinkerton said that the agency planned to “shift all customers to a cashless payment,” and also raised the possibility that a discounted fare structure or other type of program aimed at “equitable access” to the bus system might be implemented when fare collection resumed.

The fare collection policy announced today, however, calls for onboard cash payments to continue, and for a fare structure that will be the same as the one COTA offered previously.

COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin confirmed to Columbus Underground that no new program or partnership aimed at providing free or reduced fares for riders is currently planned, but said that “COTA is working with nonprofits to ensure equitable mobility access and provides discounts to those in need.”

“We urge anyone who is eligible to apply for a Senior ID or Key Card,” he added. “This includes veterans, people with disabilities and/or [those] covered by Medicare.”

COTA has taken a series of steps to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last nine months, including initially cutting back service in mid-March, requiring passengers to wear masks in April, and capping the total number of passengers on a bus at 20.

After another round of service changes in September, COTA has now restored service to 78% of its pre-COVID routes, according to a presentation given during a virtual public meeting earlier this fall. Many lines are now running more frequently than they were over the summer, and the hours of service have been extended (mostly to a 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule).

For more information, see cota.com.

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