Last year, the COTA board of trustees asked for your vote to expand our system and stabilize funding. Thanks to you, COTA now has permanent funding. This allows us to leverage more federal funds to improve our service in the short term.
While the second levy, for major bus expansion and the addition of rail, did not pass, we believe you were telling us to make sure we are using our resources wisely before we grow. That doesn't mean we're abandoning our long-range plan, Vision 2020. It does mean we're moving at a much slower pace and implementing only what limited service our current funding allows.
COTA is working to improve service through "Operation: Excellence," a top to bottom, comprehensive service audit that will provide a complete analysis of our riders, routes and service to see what we're doing well and where we can improve.
Part of COTA's goal with "Operation: Excellence" is to be responsive to the varying needs for service in different parts of the community. As the needs of people change and new centers of commerce grow, COTA needs to focus its service where there is demand.
To that end, COTA has distributed surveys and held a series of public workshops throughout Central Ohio. Later this year, the public will have an opportunity to preview recommended changes. The final report will be issued in January. COTA will begin implementing "Operation: Excellence" recommendations in May 2001.
Because of public interest and increasing congestion, COTA is still considering rail as part of a tool kit of possible traffic management solutions that include buses, ride sharing, infrastructure improvements and public policies.
In a recent survey of Central Ohio residents, 76 percent of respondents said COTA should look at passenger rail to address our growing congestion. Why? Rail transit is one means of giving people an alternative to being stuck in traffic without having to build 10-lane freeways that pave over precious green space.
The Texas Transportation Institute reports that the average driver in Central Ohio spends 40 hours a year stuck in traffic. It will only get worse. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission predicts a 375 percent increase in traffic over the next 20 years and a shortfall of more than $1 billion to build highway lanes that would keep congestion at 1995 levels.
Through Vision 2020, COTA is in the process of implementing a 1995 study's recommendations for an improved bus system and preservation of existing rail corridors for future use. COTA has also convened a "Fast Trax Advisory Group" of elected officials, business owners, community leaders and neighborhood residents to update this look at bus and rail options from Downtown Columbus to the Polaris area. The group's recommendations will be forwarded to COTA and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission this winter.
The study is being updated because new rail technology options have opened the door for improved service. In addition, Central Ohio's population, job and congestion increases have led to a heightened interest in transit.
One of the most important things to remember about any transit plan is that it works in tandem with other traffic management solutions like improved roadways, carpooling and van pooling and policies that encourage people who can to leave their cars at home. The result is improved mobility for everyone in Central Ohio. How to reach: Central Ohio Transit Authority, 275-5850 or www.cota.com
Ron Barnes is president and CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority.
Moving people to jobs
COTA is transporting people to major employment sites through reverse commute routes, which generally move people from the center city to jobs along the Outerbelt. The routes include:
- No. 29 to Polaris
- No. 39 to New Albany business parks
- No. 22 to East Point retail area on East Broad Street
In addition, COTA is providing new service with its smaller buses. The newest is the Easton "Link," a route serving the 20,000 people working in the Easton area.
Later this winter, COTA will roll out two other new routes, one in Linden with the Linden Transit Center as its hub and one from Port Columbus Airport to downtown hotels. Many of COTA's traditional routes feed into these new routes, increasing access to jobs in different parts of town.