Ohio State Professor Weighs Concerns With Free COTA Proposal

Feb 28, 2019

Former COTA board member Bob Weiler wants to see the bus system become accessible to all riders without paying fare.

Weiler, who served on the COTA Board of Trustees for 12 years, proposes an increase in the sales tax to make that happen. He says raising the sales tax by 0.1 percent would cover the revenue loss from riders not paying to ride.

Jason Reece, who teaches city and regional planning at Ohio State’s Knowlton School of Architecture, says free bussing would have “tremendous implications” both for the job market and community accessibility.

“I think the net result of this would be higher ridership for the COTA system overall,” Reece says. “Maybe that could mean the ability to expand the system, maybe to add more capacity towards the routes.”

He says that could mean freeing up family budgets to pay rent, relocate or spend more money on food.

But Reece warns there are cons to providing free bussing, something that hasn't yet been done in the U.S. for a a city this size. Reece says raising the sales tax, which impacts everyone, may be a regressive way to pay for a public transit system that only some people are using.

“Maybe there are a number of employers throughout the Ohio region who would contribute to a fund to provide transportation access to their employees," Reece says. "I think we have to be creative about generating new resources and to think about this as an incentive that makes our region more economically competitive.”