A major re-configuring of Central Ohio Transit Authority bus routes is in the final stages, with COTA refocusing away from downtown Columbus as it nears a launch date of May 1
COTA president and CEO W. Curtis Stitt says the redesign will be more streamlined and serve more riders, with upgrades to ticketing and the buses themselves. The revamp will also mean taking passengers to-and-from work centers in the suburbs.
Stitt says even downtown routes have been revised, making travel in the Columbus core more efficient.
The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.
W. Curtis Stitt: It's not just a change in bus routes. It's a revamp of our entire system. And the goal here is to provide the best public transit service we can with the resources that we have. Our system that we've been operating since 1974 looks about the same as it did back then. And this complete overhaul of the system, we believe, is going to provide better service.
Sam Hendren: The planning started several years ago in this overhaul.
W. Curtis Stitt: We started talking about it in 2013 and throughout that time, we had done a tremendous amount of public involvement, getting feedback from the public, as we developed the new system. So, yes, it has been a deliberate, careful planning process to make sure that we were creating a system that provides improvements and connecting people to more places, providing more frequent service and easier connections from place to place.
Sam Hendren: There's, I guess, going to be less of a focus on downtown?
W. Curtis Stitt: The entire central Ohio community has changed significantly since 1974 when we started operating public transit as COTA here in Columbus and Central Ohio. And downtown was a more of a focal point for employment, but employment centers have spread out throughout Franklin County, around the outer belt.
And so we are trying to make better connections to where people work. Work trips are COTA's number one ride generators. And we certainly want to be able to get people to work. And there are more and more jobs further and further out. So we're trying to meet that need. Downtown is still a significant job center, is becoming - it is the fastest growing neighborhood in Columbus for residents. And so there is still a significant need to serve downtown and will continue to serve downtown.
Sam Hendren: And what about technological advances in bus services and in the buses themselves? Will we see Wi-Fi, GPS, rider alerts when buses are about to arrive? I knew some of those things are in place, but what is the state of the art now?
W. Curtis Stitt: Well, COTA has just installed 4G on all of its buses, and we are Wi-Fi ready. We are working on a contract with a provider so that we can have Wi-Fi on all of our buses. It's just a matter of securing the right contract with the right provider at this point. We are making advancements in our fare payment system.
Before the end of this year, you'll be able to pay by the traditional methods - cash and magnetic swipe cards - but we'll also have smart cards where you can add cash and store cash on those cards and pay your fares, and mobile ticketing, where there will be a barcode or QR code on the screen of your mobile device that can be scanned on the bus to pay your fares.
We're also providing what we call a dual trip planner on our website, where our customers can go today and enter their starting point and their destination, and on the screen they will get an itinerary for making that trip today and an itinerary for what that trip will look like starting May 1.
So we've got a lot of tools out there and a lot of communications mechanisms out there that are going to be helping our riders to understand the changes that are coming and how they use the new system.