Here is COTA’s latest press release, noting that 2008 ridership is up 10% over 2007 levels. It’s great that Columbus has a transit agency that is continuing to expand service despite the tough economic environment facing most agencies. Congratulations to COTA and thank you to everyone who is riding.
COTA Ridership Up Significantly in 2008
COTA’s Growth Outpaces Transit Agencies in Ohio and Nationally
COLUMBUS – The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provided over 16.4 million passenger trips in 2008, an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2007. On an average weekday, 57,000 passenger trips are taken on COTA.
COTA’s ridership increase was among the highest among comparable transit authorities. Along with volatile fuel prices, COTA’s ongoing service expansion program and the upgrading of its bus fleet are making transit a convenient and economical option for central Ohio residents.
“We are pleased to welcome more customers to COTA,” said Bill Lhota, President/CEO. “Fortunately we are able to accommodate the higher demand for transit by adding more service and new routes.”
COTA is expanding service by 60,000 hours annually by adding service to its busiest routes, introducing service to new destinations and adding new express routes. The Authority is acquiring 40 new coaches annually, adding Park & Ride locations, investing in the renovation of its fixed-route bus facilities, and constructing a new facility for Mainstream, its demand response service for people with disabilities.
The increases in 2008 are continuing in 2009. For the week ending March 1, COTA ridership was up 7.6 percent over the same week a year ago. Year-to-date ridership is up 4.5 percent.
“The fact that our ridership continues to grow indicates that commuters are realizing significant savings by opting for public transit over driving,” Lhota said. “Our challenge is to continue expanding the system while maintaining a high level of customer service.”
One bit of data in the press release made me wonder how COTA was doing compared to other transit agencies. The figure of 57,000 trips per day seemed like a very small number of daily riders to me. Charlotte has around 14,000 trips per day on just its light rail line. That would be a quarter of COTA’s ridership in a much smaller city. Chicago has individual bus routes that serve over 30,000 trips per day. So does this ridership gain represent Columbus truly turning a corner and becoming a transit city or are we still lagging? I decided to dig a little deeper.
Rather than use the APTA ridership report cited by COTA, I went to the National Transit Database homepage to check out the monthly database. Unfortunately, the latest monthly data are from August, 2008, but COTA was still doing very well at the time.
First, I limited the analysis to regions with a population greater than 500,000 people. Then I combined the ridership data for all modes and all transit agencies within each region and divided by the reported population in the greater service area. Since this is based on monthly data, you can think of the “trips per service area population” column as the average number of trips taken per person in the month. If you ride to work and back that counts as two “unlinked passenger trips.” If you ride to work and back and have to transfer routes once in each direction, that counts as four trips. Here is a table ranking the regions:
Washington, DC reports an impressive 32.15 trips per average person in the service area, even better than larger cities like New York and Chicago. Columbus placed 50th out of the 70 regions with 1.34 trips per person. Nevertheless, Columbus did better than some peer cities like Indianapolis, Nashville, and Oklahoma City.
Honolulu came in 8th, which was the highest place for cities without some kind of rail system. Honolulu is a rather unique case though since the natural topography creates dense corridors of development well-suited to transit. Milwaukee is the next city on the list without a rail system, placing 13th with 4.24 trips per person. So what is Milwaukee doing right?
As another alternative, I also ranked the regions by trips per total population in the region instead of in the service area:
Columbus does slightly better at 48th place, but that’s not very notable. Honolulu did better on this ranking and Milwaukee did worse, but is still one of the best non-rail cities that we should think about emulating. Austin and San Antonio would also be worth checking out. I might do that later.
In summary, COTA’s ridership indicates continuous improvement, but there’s a lot more riding to be done in order to keep moving up the list. If you have some other performance metric you would like to see, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
To answer any other questions, “Yes, I enjoy doing this with my free time.”