A post about the new $41 Million airport interchange generated more comments than I would have expected. Bruce Rawson, one of our frequent commenters, noted that it is difficult to get to downtown from the airport using COTA. He also took the time to send me information about transit service to a little over 40 other cities in the US. I decided to pare down that list and take a more detailed look at how COTA’s service to CMH compares to its peer cities.
First we have to define our “peer cities.” Ideally, this should be based on airport passenger volumes. I couldn’t find a quick and easy data source for this information, so I am assuming that the number of air passengers is roughly correlated with metropolitan size. This may not be true in cities with a lot of tourist traffic like Orlando and Las Vegas. I am also assuming that transit service between the airport and downtown should be roughly correlated to the number of passengers at an airport. Again, this could vary depending on the proportion of regional jobs and destinations located in the central business district (CBD). Nevertheless, this approach should give us enough cities that are worth comparing to Columbus. The ten metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) above and below Columbus on the 2008 population estimate from US Census Bureau are as follows:
|National Ranking||Metropolitan statistical area||Population Estimate (7/1/2008)|
|28||San Antonio, TX||2,031,445|
|29||Kansas City, MO-KS||2,002,047|
|30||Las Vegas-Paradise, NV||1,865,746|
|31||San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||1,819,198|
|35||Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||1,658,292|
|36||Austin-Round Rock, TX||1,652,602|
|37||Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA||1,596,611|
|39||Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||1,549,308|
|42||Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN||1,244,696|
COTA Service to CMH
There is one regular COTA route that serves Port Columbus International Airport. It is the #92 James Road, which connects the airport to Eastland, a slowly dying mall on the southeast side of the city. You can see a Google Map of the #92 route here. There is also an express route (#52) from OSU to the airport, but it only runs certain days that correspond with the beginning and end of quarters, so I’m not considering it here.
To get downtown, a transfer is required, most likely to the #6 Mt. Vernon Avenue, #10 East Broad Street, or #2 East Main Sreet route. These are three of COTA’s best routes, generally running frequently for most of the day on weekdays. The #6 is slightly less frequent than the #10 or #2. The problem is that the total travel time, at roughly an hour in the best of conditions, is way too long compared to the 15 minute drive time (longer if you have to park and take a shuttle). By the time you get off the #92 to transfer, you could have been downtown checking into your hotel already.
Peer City Service Characteristics
I looked up transit information for each of these cities on the appropriate agency’s website. The following list is sorted by the number of trips per weekday from the city’s major airport to its CBD. I only included routes that run directly between the two destinations with one notable exception. In Columbus’ case, I included the service characteristics for the #92 even though a transfer is required to get downtown:
|MSA||Service Type||Trips/Day (M-F)||Hours (M-F)||Peak Headway (M-F)|
|Las Vegas||Buses (#108, 109A)||118||24 Hrs||15|
|Indianapolis||Buses (#8, Green Line)||81||4:57A – 10:51P||20|
|Portland||Train (Red Line MAX)||72||4:58A – 11:58P||15|
|Cleveland||Train (Red Line Rapid)||72||4:29A – 1:13A||15|
|San Jose||Free Shuttle (#10) to Trains (LRT and Caltrain)||69||4:38A – 11:29P||15|
|Milwaukee||Bus (#80)||53||4:53A – 12:40A||10|
|Orlando||Buses (#11, 51)||50||5:38A – 11:57P||30|
|Providence||Buses (#14, 20)||49||5:44A – 11:03P||20|
|Charlotte||Bus (Sprinter)||48||5:50A – 12:02A||20|
|Pittsburgh||Bus (#28X)||42||5:55A – 12:05A||20|
|San Antonio||Bus (#5)||31||5:38A – 9:39P||20|
|Cincinnati||Bus (#2X)||28||5:41A – 12:16A||30|
|Columbus||Indirect Bus (#92)
||28||6:32A – 10:04P||30|
|Austin||Bus (#100)||28||5:20A – 11:20P||40|
|Louisville||Bus (#2)||26||5:12A – 11:07P||30|
|Kansas City||Bus (#129)||22||5:32A – 6:26P||15|
|Sacramento||Bus (#42A)||18||5:31A – 10:22P||60|
|Nashville||Bus (#18)||16||6:53A – 9:45P||60|
|Jacksonville||Bus (#CT3)||16||6:25A – 9:25P||60|
|Memphis||Bus (#2A)||10||6:45A – 5:33P||72|
You can see that the number of trips per day from Port Columbus would rank 13th out of the 21 cities if it ran from the airport directly to downtown. If I had applied the same requirement to Columbus as I did to all the other cities, it would have been 20th, right above Norfolk, which doesn’t have any transit to its main airport. To be fair, the Newport News, VA airport does have transit service, but it doesn’t go to any of the regional downtowns in the Hampton Roads area either.
Las Vegas has far and away the best service from its airport to downtown, running at frequent intervals, 24 hours a day, every day. This shouldn’t be surprising given the large number of tourists and conventions in Las Vegas, and the importance of providing a positive customer experience to Las Vegas’ overall success.
Indianapolis – which I consider to be more like Columbus than any other city – has a surprisingly great level of bus service to the airport. There are two routes, a local route that takes 43 minutes to get to downtown at a cost of $1.75 and an express bus that runs every 20 minutes from 5 AM to 9 PM every day and takes just 15 minutes to get to downtown. The express bus is a special service that costs $7 per trip. This type of premium service might be a good option for COTA. However, they tried something similar called the Capital City Flyer in 2000 or 2001 if my memory is correct, and it was cancelled due to low ridership. It would be interesting to know how successful the IndyGo Green Line has been in attracting passengers.
The next three cities on the list – Portland, Cleveland, and San Jose – all have train service to the airport, so it’s no surprise that service levels are high. Milwaukee, which has very good airport bus service, also has several trips a day to General Mitchell Airport via Amtrak, but I didn’t include those in the totals. Orlando has five bus routes to the airport, but the stats above only count the two that go downtown. Pittsburgh has a nice express route, but there really wasn’t anything too notable for the rest of the cities on the list. Some are providing reasonable service levels and hours and others are just sort of wearing the minimum pieces of flair.
Last, I thought it might be interesting to see how fares compare across the regions. I used COTA’s new fare that will be in effect as of January, 2010. I don’t have any real comments here, except that COTA’s fares are at the median of the list.
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$2.00|
|Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI||$2.00|
|Las Vegas-Paradise, NV||$1.75|
|Indianapolis-Carmel, IN||$1.75, $7 Express|
|Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA||$1.75|
|Kansas City, MO-KS||$1.50|
|Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC||$1.50|
|Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN||$1.50|
|San Antonio, TX||$1.10|
|Austin-Round Rock, TX||$0.75|
Although the frequency of service to Port Columbus could certainly be improved, I think the bigger problem is the indirect service. Columbus is the only city on the list other than Norfolk, VA that lacks direct transit service from its airport to the CBD. For a visitor coming to a new city, trying to use the local transit for the first time is confusing enough without having to transfer routes along the way. For a local, the long travel times, which are paritally due to the transfer requirement, are enough to disincentivize taking the bus to the airport.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that $41 Million was needed to fix the interchange of Stelzer Road and International Gateway since everyone drives. In the future you can expect to see major investments in new parking lots and rental car facilities to help people drive to and from the airport.
My preferred solution is still to re-route the #6 Mt. Vernon route to terminate at the airport. This would provide 34 trips per weekday to the airport at 15 to 30 minute headways for most of the hours between 5:30 AM to 11:30 PM. The total travel time is still a little long at 40 to 45 minutes, but it’s better. Removing excess stops and straightening out the route to look more like this could reduce travel times.
It would also be worth investigating the potential for an airport flyer on I-670 like the one in Indianapolis that I mentioned. Such a route would require a considerable marketing and branding effort via the media and signage at downtown stops. The downtown hotels and convention center should also be involved.