COTA willing to run streetcars, sees benefits
Tuesday, April 1, 2008 3:09 AM
By Tim Doulin
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Managing a Downtown streetcar line would not interfere with the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s ability to provide bus service, the head of the bus company said.COTA is willing to operate and maintain the streetcar system if it is built, said William Lhota, COTA’s president and chief executive. COTA has talked with the city, he said.
“I think it is a positive because it further ensures it will be seamlessly integrated into the COTA system,” Lhota said.
COTA is a “strong possibility” to operate the streetcar system, “but we haven’t made a decision yet,” said Antone White, a spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman.
…Lhota thinks buses and streetcars could coexist. “We would try to maximize the efficiency and eliminate redundancies where possible, but for the foreseeable future, I’m sure there are going to be streetcars and buses on N. High Street,” he said.
No COTA money would be used to run the streetcars. COTA promised taxpayers that revenue from an additional 0.25-percent sales-tax levy approved by voters in 2006 would be used primarily for bus service, Lhota said.
COTA running the streetcars sounds like a reasonable idea, one that’s been suggested since the beginning of the streetcar planning. I perceive a few advantages and disadvantages to such an arrangement. Advantages would include COTA’s ability to integrate bus and streetcar schedules, and make adjustments easily as necessary. I’m speculating, but disadvantages could include labor costs. A private operator might not be subject to union rules and could possibly get away with paying lower wages. Then again, COTA has trouble staffing at their current rate, so the market might not accept cheaper wages. Another advantage that’s hopefully only a remote possibility, if there were ever a strike a private operator could possibly continue providing full service.
One of our readers recently asked what was planned for the buses on High Street. I think this article answers the question to some extent. There will still be buses, of course, but there might be fewer buses to “eliminate redundancies.” This makes intuitive sense to me. If the bulk of the ridership on the #2 is between campus and downtown, then the bus service frequency can be reduced since those riders will be able to take the streetcar. The High Street segment of the #2 will primarily be serving the lower density areas further north of campus. That kind of sucks for anyone just beyond the reach of the streetcar though. They get less frequent bus service and no streetcar. 😦 I guess we’ll have to extend it. 🙂