Archive for the ‘Bus X-ing’ Category

The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) continues to add new service late into the weekend hours with the introduction of a new late night route on West Broad Street. Route number #222 is a new bus line launching tonight that connects Downtown Columbus with the Columbus Hollywood Casino from 7pm to 3am on Friday and Saturday nights. (CLICK HERE to view a PDF of the #222 Bus Schedule).

Leadership at COTA worked with officials at the Hollywood Casino to identify transit service that would benefit employees at the casino and also provide enhanced services for casino visitors. During the daytime, COTA operates four lines that service the west side area near the casino — routes #3, #6, #10 and #53.

“Customers routinely request more late night COTA service and we saw the employment opportunities coupled with the entertainment aspect as a way to replicate our Night Owl service in another part of the community,” said Marty Stutz, Vice President of Communications, Marketing and Customer Service at COTA. “From a planning perspective, the casino location serves as a good anchor for the end of a bus line, and West Broad Street is a busy transit corridor.”

COTA launched the #21 Night Owl route in 2009 servicing North High Street from Clintonville to Downtown Columbus during similar late night weekend timeframes. The service was originally targeted at Ohio State University students, but it proved popular enough to warrant expansion in 2010 and now continues on South High Street to German Village and the Brewery District.

“Increasingly we’re seeing more non-students riding including people who live along the High Street corridor getting to and from jobs or using it for recreation,” said Stutz. “For instance, Downtown or Victorian Village residents may take the Night Owl to events at the Wexner Center, and Clintonville residents may ride to movies at the South Campus Gateway.”

Similarly, while the new #222 service is being launched with casino visitors and employees in mind, Stutz expects to see a combination of vistors staying at Downtown hotels riding to the casino as well as other west side residents using it to travel to other destinations. Routes #21 and #222 have a transfer connection point at the Nationwide and High bus stops.

Beyond the #222, additional late night service could be launched if public demand warrants it. COTA is hosting the first of three Short-Range Transit Plan Update (SRTP) meetings where they will engage the public on the future needs of the community.

“It’s really a decision that will be made after we have a greater understanding of our customers’ needs balanced with the financial resources needed to add late night service,” says Stutz.

If you’re unable to attend the meetings, you can still provide feedback through an online form on COTA’s website.

More information can be found online at www.cota.com.

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New Fare Systems

In November 2011, Cincinnati’s transit system, SORTA, began installing new fareboxes to replace their aging fareboxes. One of the larger criticisms this blog has of the new proposed Cleveland Avenue BRT project is the lack of a pre-payment option which would get people onto the bus quicker.

Graph showing how to use the farebox.

According to a press release, the new SORTA farebox can accept:

  • Cash ($1, $2, $5, $0.01, $0.05, $0.10, $0.25)
  • Metro Tokens (Silver = $1.75, Bronze = $1.50)
  • Smart cards which can tap and go.
  • 30-day passes
  • Pre-paid $10, $20, and $50 swipe cards.

With the exception of the redundant Metro Tokens, the farebox would be a major step up for COTA. The most interesting option, the smart cards with tap and go technology, do not appear to be operational yet and it will be interesting to see how widespread its use is once operational.

The project replaced the 17-year old fareboxes in 342 buses for a total of $4.5 million with 80% ($3.6 million) being paid by the Federal Transit Administration and the remaining 20% ($0.9 million) being paid by SORTA. In comparison, COTA has 306 active buses which would cost $4 million assuming prices were similar to SORTA’s project.

For the year ending March 2012, COTA has operated $1.8 million under budget. The “Smart Card” fare system referred to within the 2011-2015 Short-Range Transit Plan is likely to be discussed in the October public meetings concerning the plan. Assuming that COTA can get a similar federal match that SORTA did, I think I have a bridge farebox to sell them.

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COTA has two interesting graphics which should help answer some questions as to what COTA is doing between now and 2016, the proposed start date of the Cleveland Avenue BRT route.


First, from the June 2012 Northeast Corridor Analysis presentation to the Board, COTA provided this timeline:

Within COTA’s most recent survey regarding the project, a Gantt chart includes additional work:

Click to enlarge

COTA is essentially done with the project until the Federal Transit Administration makes a determination on COTA’s application to the Very Small Starts grant which should be in early 2013. If approved, COTA ramps up design work in April 2013 and begins construction in July 2014 while concurrently acquiring and testing vehicles. Construction is planned to end June 30, 2016.


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COTA held the January 2013 proposed service changes meeting on September 18. Most of the changes were proposed based on events happening.

Spring Street Bridge Re-Opens

  • #6 Mt. Vernon – Will eliminate the Broad Street detour and use the pre-construction alignment of Spring Street.
  • #11 St. Clair – Will eliminate the Broad Street detour and use the pre-construction alignment of Spring Street/Mt. Vernon.
  • #16 E. Long – Will eliminate the Broad Street detour and use the pre-construction alignment of Spring Street.

Dodridge Bridge Re-Opens

  • #7 Neil Avenue – Will eliminate the Lane Avenue detour and use the pre-construction alignment of Dodridge St.
  • #81 Hudson/Ohio – Will eliminate the Lane Avenue detour and use the pre-construction alignment of Dodridge St.

Hollywood Casino Planned Opening October 8

  • #6 Sullivant – In May 2013, the route will enter the Casino from the Georgesville Road entrance and eliminate the Shoppers Lane stop within Westland Mall area.
  • #10 W. Broad – In January 2013, the route will enter the Casino from Broad Street and eliminate the Shoppers Lane stops.
  • #222 W. Broad Casino (Friday and Saturday) – A limited stop service with late night service between the Arena District and the Casino.

Westview Turnaround (Graceland Shopping Center turn around replacement)

  • #2 N. High – Buses serving the Crosswoods Park and Ride will continue to stop at the Graceland Shopping Center. The other buses will not serve Graceland and will turn around at the Westview Turnaround.
  • #4 Indianola – Graceland Shopping Center stops are eliminated. Broad Meadows service is unaffected but all other routes will use the Westview Turnaround.
  • #95 Morse – Graceland Shopping Center stops are eliminated and the Westview Turnaround will be used as a replacement.

12th Avenue at OSU resumes 2-way travel in November

  • #7 Neil, #18 Kenny, #66 Hilliard / OSU, #80 OSU/Lennox, #82 Grandview/OSU – I’m unsure the previous detour but in November, routes will resume pre-construction alignments.

The remaining changes depend on future analysis:

Connection improvements

  • #4 Parsons Avenue and #9 Leonard/Brentnell have demand for improved peak-hour connections.

Bus Stop Improvement Project (no details on any stop removals, yet)

  • #9 Leonard/Brentnell
  • #16 E. Long / S. High
  • #87 Cassady

And finally, odds-and-ends:

  • 2013 Short-Range Transit Plan will be discussed in Public Meetings in mid-October
  • Delawanda Park and Ride expansion
  • Downtown High Street Shelters will be replaced in December and January
  • Implementation of High Street on-street parking is on-going.
  • Various changes to travel times to improve on-time performance.

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Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has always been a somewhat ambiguous term, applied to everything from grade separated busways, to dedicated bus lanes, to limited stop buses with signal priority.  The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is trying to help create standard classifications of BRT systems through the recent release of The BRT Standard.  The BRT Standard assigns points to various BRT characteristics (e.g., service, running way, stations, accessibility), and ultimately rates a service as one of four levels using a scorecard:

  • Gold =85 points or above
  • Silver = 70 to 84 points
  • Bronze =50 to 69 points
  • Other = Less than 50 points

To be rated Gold, Silver, or Bronze, the system also has to score at least 20 points out of 42 maximum in eight categories that comprise the “BRT Basics.” The table below shows how I have rated COTA’s proposed Cleveland Avenue BRT project based on the public information available and the BRT Standard scorecard. If my assumptions about anything are known to be wrong, please let me know and I’ll update.

Category Max Score Score Notes
Service Planning
*Off-board fare collection 7 0 Not included in project
Multiple routes 4 4 There will be three local routes (#1, #8, #9), five express routes (#27, #29, #35, #37, #40), one LINK route (#74), and the limited stop BRT route using the line.
Peak frequency 4 0 10 minute peak frequency for BRT route. Must be 7 minutes or better to score points.
Off-peak frequency 3 1 12 minute off-peak frequency for BRT route.
Express, limited, and local services 3 3 All three types of services
Control center 3 3 I believe COTA has a full-service control center, but do not know for sure.
Located in top ten corridors 2 2 Yes, I believe Cleveland Avenue is the second busiest corridor (after N. High Street)
Hours of operations 2 2 Yes, operates until midnight and operates on weekends.
Multi-corridor network 2 0 No BRT network planned at this time.
*Busway alignment 7 0 Bus will operate in mixed traffic lanes
*Segregated right-of-way 7 0 No colorization, no delineators
*Intersection treatments 6 2 Assumed signal priority at most intersections and no turn prohibitions
Passing lanes at stations 4 4 Cleveland Ave is four or more lanes, so passing should not be a problem.
Minimizing bus emissions 4 4 Assumed US 2010 standards will be met by new vehicles
Stations set back from intersections 3 0 Seems unlikely that stations will be set back 120 feet from intersections.
Center stations 3 0 No center stations
Pavement quality 2 0 Not likely to reconstruct roadway with continually reinforced concrete.
Station Design and Station-bus Interface
*Platform-level boarding 6 4 Assumed 100% of buses are platform level with no other measures for reducing the gap in place
*Safe and comfortable stations 3 0 Not likely to have 10.5-foot wide stations as required by category.
*Number of doors on bus 3 2 Assumed new buses for BRT line will have two wide doors, but others services will use existing rolling stock.
Docking bays and sub-stops 2 0 Not likely to have multiple sub-stops or docking bays per station
Sliding doors in BRT stations 1 0 Not likely to be fully enclosed stations
Quality of Service and Passenger Information Systems
*Branding 3 1 Some buses, routes, and stations in corridor follow single unifying brand.
Passenger information 2 2 Assume both real-time information and static schedules available at stations and on vehicles.
Integration and Access
Universal Access 3 3 Yes, required by ADA
Integration with other public transport 3 3 Assume full integration with rest of COTA system.
Pedestrian access 3 2 Signals are considered good pedestrian access if crossing more than two lanes at once. Assumed that signals are existing or would be provided at all stations, with modest changes throughout remainder of corridor.
Secure bicycle parking 2 1 Assumed standard bike racks
Bicycle lanes 2 0 No bike lanes on or parallel to corridor
Bicycle sharing integration 1 0 None
Total Points 100 43 Does not meet minimum requirements for Bronze
*BRT Basics (Minimum needed 20) 42 9 Does not meet minimum requirements for Bronze

There are also some deductions built into the system:

Low commercial speeds (minimum avg. commercial speed below 8 mph) -10 0 Assumed average speed will be above 8 mph.
Peak passengers per hour per direction (pphpd) < 1,000 -5 0 Probably close on this one.  Assumed it is.
Lack of enforcement of right-of-way -5 0 There is no BRT right-of-way.
Significant gap between bus floor and station platform -5 -3 Assuming slight gap at most stations, but no large gaps.
Station encroaches on sidewalk or busway -3 -2 Assuming bus lanes will be less than 12 feet in many places due to narrow width of roadway
Overcrowding -3 0 Assume it will not be overcrowded
Poorly-maintained buses and stations -3 0 Assume good state of repair is maintained
Distances between stations too long or too short -2 0 Station spacing falls between recommended 0.5 mile and 0.2 mile range.
Total Score (after deductions) 38 Does not meet minimum requirements for Bronze

So the Cleveland Avenue BRT Line isn’t up to the Bronze standard.  It’s basically an arterial “BRT-lite” kind of system, and it’s really hard for buses in mixed traffic to score the 20 points needed for “BRT Basics.”  I don’t think that’s a problem though.  As I wrote above, the BRT Standard is meant to categorize BRT systems, not define a minimum level of service for any particular corridor in any given city.  The level of investment should obviously vary depending on ridership and needs.  In this case, I think a BRT-lite system in mixed traffic will serve Cleveland Avenue well.  A higher level system would cost more, possibly reducing the FTA cost effectiveness rating, and in turn reducing the chances of implementing anything at all.

That said, I think if COTA could improve one thing about the proposed line it would be to implement a proof-of-payment fare system.  Not having to wait for people to put money in at a farebox really does cut down on dwell times at stops.  It also would allow COTA to buy vehicles with at least two large doors so customers can board at two doors at a time.  Speeding up service and increasing ridership should be the goals.  After all,  the ‘R’ in BRT stands for rapid.

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COTA Cleveland Avenue BRT Plans

It’s been well over a year since I wrote anything about COTA’s proposed Cleveland Avenue bus rapid transit (BRT) line.  In that post, COTA had just announced the study and I was speculating about what would be included.  Now that the study is finished, we know more about the design. According to COTA’s public presentation, it will include:

  • Buses in mixed traffic
  • BRT stations (except for downtown and north of SR 161)
  • Signal priority
  • Level boarding
  • Special branding of service
  • Frequent service (BRT will operate every 10 minutes in peak periods and every 15 minutes in off-peak periods. Local service will continue to operate every 30 minutes)

The map below shows the route.  There would be five stops on High Street, one at Nationwide Blvd & High Street, and three on Naughten or Mt. Vernon.  The BRT stations start north of there, with 23 stops in the 8.8 miles up to Columbus Square Shopping Center.  That’s an average stop spacing of 0.38 miles.  That’s more stops than I would like to see on a BRT line, but it’s expected given that the line will still have to accommodate much of the local service given the planned low frequency (30 minute headway) of the #1. Travel times are still projected to decrease by 20 percent and ridership is expected to increase by 15 to 30 percent, so that’s very good.


So when will this be done? COTA was scheduled to submit to the FTA in August.  If they get a grant, then construction can begin in 2014 and service can begin in 2016.  Hopefully if COTA gets FTA approval, they will start working on other corridors – like High Street, Broad Street, Main Street, and Livingston Avenue – before 2016.  It would be nice to see a comprehensive plan for BRT routes radiating in all directions that can create the capacity needed to move towards a frequent transit grid that could also reduce bus congestion downtown.

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There’s a great post on Human Transit about how Portland, 30 years ago, radically changed the design of their bus network. It went from a system where most routes ran downtown infrequently to a network of frequent routes running in a grid pattern. This requires passengers to make more connections between routes, but improves connectivity to destinations outside of downtown.  And it all happened before the first light rail line ever opened.

The 1970 network consisted of bus routes radiating from downtown across the gridded eastside, which constitutes about 3/4 of Portland. If you were anywhere on this network, you had a direct bus downtown — a slow, circuitous, and infrequent bus. Very few routes ran better than every 30 minutes during the day. Only two routes ran north-south across the east side, and both were too infrequent to transfer to, so you couldn’t really use them unless both ends of your trip were on them.

Portland 1970

Portland 2012

If you think Portland in 1970 looks a lot like Columbus today, I agree with you.  That makes me wonder, is it time for a change?  Has Columbus outgrown the downtown-based system?  Do we need better crosstown connections to OSU?  How about to newer job centers around the outerbelt? Do people need to get from Grandview to the Short North to the Airport without going downtown?  How about from Dublin to Worthington to Easton?

I think the answer to these questions is yes.  The fight over too many buses being on High Street downtown is just one indication that the downtown pulse system that has served Columbus well could use a change.  When was the last time Columbus did a complete redesign from ground zero for the bus system?  My guess is never, as most of the bus routes still follow old streetcar routes.

I think there are many good candidates for change.  I’m going to pick on the #5 as an example.  The #5 currently runs east-west on Renner Rd, Trabue Rd, and 5th Street to High Street and then along High Street to the south side of downtown.  The total trip time can be over an hour from the Giant Eagle on the west side to the end of the route at Mound & 5th.  However, approximately a third of that time (20 minutes) is on High Street duplicating service on the #2 and other routes.  If you terminated the #5 at High Street, it could run approximately three trips for every two today.  Passengers going downtown could connect to the very frequent #1,  #2, or some other route.  You could extend the #5 farther east by combining it with the #96.  It could provide a direct route from the west side, Grandview, Fifth by Northwest, and the Short North to the airport.  You could eliminate other duplicitous service on the #6 and #9.   Portions of the #8, #11, #16, and #18 also look like good candidates for reorganization to me. I know this requires a more complete network analysis, but it illustrates the possibilities.

Which routes would you change?

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I haven’t been posting much at all lately, mostly because work has been crazy busy during the day and family time keeps me busy at night.  Frankly, I’m not sure my time availability will ever improve, but it’s likely that I’ll try to make more time for blogging in the future.

In the meantime, I want to point you to a site that is posting on a daily basis; Biking Columbus.  The site isn’t entirely about biking.  The author has created some very cool unofficial COTA maps using Google Fusion tables.  Note that the maps also show the frequent service portions of the bus network differently, as I did here and here.

Unofficial COTA Map from Biking Columbus

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The Dispatch ran a story yesterday showing the results of a survey of Columbus Public Schools (CPS) students’ public transportation needs.  Over three fourths said they needed a pass for the school year for a variety of reasons, including transportation to and from extracurricular activities, school, work internships, and community service.  Granted, this is a stated preference survey, and if you ask people if they need free transportation, they’re likely to say yes.  Nevertheless, that’s a lot of students who need transportation options.

The issue is that the contract between CPS and COTA is changing in a way that could cost CPS more money.  They have budget problems, like everyone else, and want to limit their potential cost for transportation to just certain needs.  This essentially shifts some costs from the district to the students and their families.  I expect some, maybe even most, will be able to find another way to get to around.  They’ll get cars, get rides, take a school bus, bike, or walk.  However, some will probably have a much harder time participating in sports, work, or even getting to school.  I’m not sure I have much of an opinion on this yet, but it will be interesting to see how it works itself out.

Survey: Columbus students say they need COTA passes
By Rob Messinger
The Columbus Dispatch Tuesday September 27, 2011 8:30 AM

Three of four Columbus high-school students said they need a COTA bus pass this year in a survey the district conducted before the school board decides whether to dramatically scale back the program.

Superintendent Gene Harris last week presented a plan to revoke the passes of about 11,000 high-school students on Oct. 1, but the school board wanted more information before members made a decision. The topic is on the agenda for a meeting at 6 p.m. tonight.

More than 7,900 students responded to the survey conducted late last week, of which 60 percent said they don’t currently have a pass. Yet 76.2 percent said they needed a pass for the current school year, and the largest group (73.5 percent) cited transportation related to extracurricular activities as a need.


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COTA Considering Fare Increase

It’s that time again. COTA considers raising fares every three years. Fares went up to $1.50 for a local ride in 2006, were delayed a year and raised to $1.75 in 2010, but they’re on the agenda again for 2012.

COTA board to debate fare increase for 2012
Despite surplus, riders expected to pay certain share
By Robert Vitale
The Columbus Dispatch Tuesday September 27, 2011 4:52 AM

Although they’ve piled up nearly $42 million in surpluses over the past three years, Central Ohio Transit Authority board members will begin discussions today about a potential fare increase in 2012.

The agency took in $10.9 million more than it spent last year, but officials said they want to make sure passengers pay their fair share for an operation that’s funded overwhelmingly by a portion of Franklin County’s 6.75 percent sales tax.

COTA long has sought to keep riders paying 18 to 20 percent of the agency’s yearly expenses, said spokesman Marty Stutz. With costs increasing faster than revenue, that share dipped to 17.6 percent last year.


First, I think it’s good that COTA considers fare increases on a periodic basis instead of waiting for a crises like many transit agencies.  Second, it’s also good that they have a standard for farebox recovery ratio, the percent of the operating costs covered by fares, that can be used to help determine when a fare increase is justified.  Given the goal of 18-20%, and the current ratio of 17.6%, I thought it would be interesting to see COTA’s historical farebox recovery ratios based on National Transit Database (NTD) data.

Year Farebox Recovery Ratio Fare Revenue Operating Costs
2000 20.1% $13,255,339 $65,963,988
2001 18.5% $13,195,008 $71,376,998
2002 19.6% $13,165,114 $67,291,912
2003 17.7% $12,497,957 $70,567,912
2004 16.6% $11,779,221 $70,960,352
2005 16.0% $11,756,470 $73,268,125
2006 19.6% $13,205,864 $67,361,346
2007 18.8% $13,071,440 $69,572,572
2008 17.8% $13,884,507 $78,134,053
2009 17.1% $13,817,908 $81,041,138
2010 17.6% $15,400,000 $87,500,000

Note: 2010 data based on numbers in Dispatch article, not NTD data.

You can see that operating costs usually go up, although there is some variabilty based on the price of gas and amount of service provided.  If operating costs increase, and service levels, ridership, and fares all stay about the same, then the farebox recovery ratio slowly declines over time until fares are raised to generate more revenue.  That’s where COTA is heading now, with the ratio under 18% for the last three years.  So it’s probably a good time to consider a fare increase.  Either that, or radically rethink transit funding all together.

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