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Transit Authority Plans Less Reliance On Downtown Hub

COTA sign
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COTA has traditionally used a "hub and spoke" system, where revolve around downtown Columbus.

COTA is at the front end of a plan to expand its service.  It will  mean more frequent service on some popular routes but COTA also wants to eventually add routes that skip downtown.

At Broad and High, COTA buses come and go from all directions   It's the hub of the transit system.  Chief Executive officer Curtis Stitt says it's been that way for years, since the streetcars ran in Columbus.

"Columbus was the hub of the universe in Central Ohio so everything came downtown and went back out," says Stitt.

In 2015, Stitt says the effects of decades of residential sprawl and the development of major job centers in places like New Albany, Groveport, Dublin, and Polaris  have forced COTA to consider changing its routes.

"Everybody doesn't have to come downtown every trip."

Case in point:  COTA  rider Jimbo Souvannavong, He has just stepped off a bus that came from his workplace on Lockbourne Road.  He's now waiting for a westbound bus to take him near his home off Georgesville Road on the far southwest side.  

"Yes, I have to get on the number three which is at the Automall, and then I come downtown here  and then  I catch the number 8 going to Southfield and then I come back to catch the number 3 to go home. I've got to do it. That's what you have to do," says Souvannavong. 

It takes Souvannavong about two hours to get to and from work each day.  If he just took the south outerbelt, the trip would take him 20 minutes.  COTA's 'Transit System Re-Design"  is a long range plan that, if implemented, could shorten Souvannavong's and other commuters trips to and from work.  Stitt says the re-design has a single focus.

"It reduces the reliance on the hub and spoke approach to public transit by implementing more crosstown or what some people would call more of a grid system for our public transit," says Stitt

But, Stitt says it will take years to implement the plan. COTA must work within budget constraints while it also make service improvements on its most popular routes. COTA's  re-design allocates 70 percent of bus service to such high ridership lines. 30 percent of the future route system will connect riders to jobs and destinations in less populated areas.  Possible routes could link Reynoldsburg to Easton.  Another could link Grove City to Rickenbacker. Chris Hermann of the Transit Advisory Board  likes COTA's new plan.

"So. put the resources in places where they can have buses run more often and run faster and serve more stops  on certain routes and try to grow the system that way. If they do this they'll improve ridership on those lines and they also are going to use that efficiency to add some lines that are not part of the spoke and hub that are more around the edges and connecting population and activity centers outside. They're trying to respond where our growth has been," says Hermann.

A new route directly linking Reynoldsburg and Easton begins  this year.  Other crosstown route changes will take longer.