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Going Nowhere? Columbus Is Second Largest City Without Intercity Public Transit

Megabus

Columbus is the second largest city in the U.S. without a extensive train or bus system connecting it to other cities, a new study finds.

The study out of DePaul University's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development looks at recent setbacks in intercity bus travel and service expansion in the context of the last few years' declining fuel prices.

Between 2006 and 2013, the U.S. saw a wave of rail and express coach services, according to institute director Joe Schwieterman.

Megabus came to Columbus during that time, but pulled out of the city earlier this year. Low fuel prices in 2014 started to hurt intercity transportation services. Schwieterman says express coach service was more popular when gas was pricier.

"No question, when fuel was $4 a gallon, people thought real hard," Schwieterman says. "‘Do I really wanna get in the car? Do I really want one person in my vehicle to drive 300 miles?"

Findings show 8 of the country's 50 most heavily-traveled routes between cities 120 to 400 miles apart have lost either express bus or Amtrak service since 2014. That includes Columbus-to-Chicago, Cleveland-to-Columbus, and Columbus-to-Indianapolis.

Columbus also lists several times among the country's most heavily traveled routes with neither express coach nor rail service.

This leaves people without vehicles or who like to spend commute time on electronic devices with fewer options. 

"There's new business class bus lines popping up all over the East Coast where it's viewed as an alternative to flying and you have in some cases food service on board, you have leg room and reclining seats," Schwieterman says. "Columbus is a growing successful city. The airport's booming and it's just surprising it's left out from the ground travel excitement that's happening around the country."

Since 2015, Amtrak and express bus service ridership and revenue have decreased nationwide.

Topping the study's list of "pockets of pain" was Phoenix, Az., with Tulsa, Ok., McAllen, Tx., Allentown, Pa., all behind Columbus. Among Ohio cities, Dayton and Akron also ranked high.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.