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COTA Transit System Review Could Mean Big Changes for Bus System

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Transit System Review Could Mean Big Changes for Bus SystemMap via COTA / Jarrett Walker + Associates.
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As we first reported in February, COTA is looking for input as it conducts its Transit System Review (TSR) – a comprehensive look at the transit needs of the region and an evaluation of changes that could be made to better meet those needs.

A trio of COTA employees – Service Planner Elliott Doza, VP of Communications Marty Stutz, and Public and Media Relations Manager Lisa Knapp – were kind enough to sit down with us to provide more details on the project in advance of five public open houses scheduled for March 18th, 19th and 20th. Read on for highlights from that conversation.

COTA has hired IBI Group of Toronto to perform the review, which will look at the entire bus network. “The consultant started with a blank canvas,” said Knapp, explaining that they will be taking a fresh look at the system’s connectivity and operation.

This approach is new for COTA, which in the past has performed Comprehensive Operation Analyses that focussed more on relatively minor tweaks to the existing system. The TSR will be questioning basic assumptions, like where buses should be running and whether or not lines should run through downtown.

As a way to facilitate this broad examination, IBI Group has come up with three hypothetical scenarios. Doza explained that on one end of the spectrum is the ridership scenario; “how would a system be designed to maximize ridership, to capture as many people as often as possible?” At the other end is the coverage scenario; “connecting as many people and places as possible, over as large a geographic area as possible.”

The coverage scenario would mean more routes but with less frequent service, while the ridership scenario would mean fewer bus lines but more frequent service on those lines (to maximize how many people are riding the most popular routes). The third scenario takes a hybrid approach, mapping out a rough midpoint between the two extremes. COTA is looking for feedback on the three scenarios at the public meetings, on facebook, and through an online survey.

There’s an educational aspect to the review, as it demonstrates the challenge of making changes to the network given a set budget and competing interests – if more lines are added in Dublin, for instance, that takes resources away from lines that run in the central city.

“This process will show the challenge of meeting all of these needs,” said Stutz.

The review is focused on the bus system only, but COTA does plan to start a conversation on rail soon. Knapp said that, starting toward the end of this year, CEO Curtis Stitt will be talking more and more about different modes and the “next generation of transit in Columbus.” She explained that the TSR (which is entirely based on current funding levels), will set up this next-level discussion – a chance to dream big and generate ideas without restrictions on funding or mode.

The TSR will, however, consider different types of bus service. One example Doza gave is a Dial-a-Ride or Demand Responsive system that uses smaller buses to move people within a certain area or connect them to fixed route stops.

Doza said that the outcome of the review “will feed directly into the short range planning process,” adding that they hope a lot of people participate and provide their reactions to the different scenarios; “this is really opening up the planning process to the public.”

For the dates, locations and times of the upcoming TSR public meetings, CLICK HERE.

To Fill out COTA’s online survey, CLICK HERE.

For ongoing discussion about COTA updates, CLICK HERE to visit our Messgaeboard.

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