COTA board votes to expand service in 2011
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 12:10 PM
By Robert Vitale
The Columbus Dispatch
The Central Ohio Transit Authority will expand bus service in 2011 to a level last offered in 2001.
Ridership, however, is still 10 percent below the agency’s peak years.
COTA’s board of trustees approved a $96.2 million operating budget this morning for the coming year. The agency will spend an additional $49.8 million on bus purchases, shelter upgrades and other big-ticket items.
It will be the sixth straight year that the transit authority has operated in the black, after deficits in four of the five years from 2001 to 2005. COTA began slashing routes in 2002 – more than one-quarter of its service was eliminated by 2006 – and it began collecting a voter-approved sales-tax increase in 2008.
The rebuilding has come with none of the past financial problems.
“We’re finally getting back up to that level,” said Marion White, the agency’s vice president and chief financial officer.
COTA’s 2011 service expansion will mean an additional 51,000 hours of bus service. That’s a 6.4 percent increase from 2010 hours.
Buses ran for 838,841 hours in 2001 and will operate a projected 852,196 hours in 2011. At COTA’s low-point in 2006, buses ran 623,987 hours.
Most of next year’s expansion will come from expanding service hours on existing routes. More than one-quarter of the new hours, however, will be on new routes.
A major new route scheduled to begin next September will connect hospitals and universities: It will include stops near Riverside Methodist Hospital, the Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus State Community College, the Columbus College of Art and Design, Franklin University, Grant Medical Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
No doubt the new route(s) will get a lot of attention, but I think it’s important to note that almost 75% of the increase in service hours is on existing routes. That means COTA’s focused on improving frequency and capacity for existing customers and the more transit friendly inner neighborhoods before trying to add coverage in the ‘burbs (or those parts of the City of Columbus that are indistinguishable from the ‘burbs). Sounds like a reasonable strategy to me.
I would also note that $50 Million is a pretty sizable capital budget. It will be nice to see new buses and shelters out on the streets. I assume the other big ticket item is their project mainstream facility. Any other ideas? I can’t seem to find a budget online.