The Central Ohio Transit Authority will operate a yearlong microtransit pilot program across suburban Columbus with ride-sharing company Via to expand transit access to residents outside the city’s downtown areas.
The COTA Plus initiative is the latest public-private partnership that Via has sponsored in the past two years, following similar programs in cities like Los Angeles; West Sacramento, California; and Arlington, Texas. The goal is to establish efficient and reliable first- and last-mile transit for residents who struggle to access major bus stops or rail stations in those communities. COTA spokesman Jeff Pullin told StateScoop that this newest pilot will target Grove City, a southwestern suburb of Columbus which is one of of central Ohio’s fastest-growing communities.
The pilot began this week with a fleet of seven-seat Ford vans ready to pick up and drop off passengers at a local food bank, business park and new hospital. The vans are also equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Grove City and COTA are splitting the program’s $360,000 cost, with Via providing the mobile app, software maintenance and experience.
“We do have some small microtransit companies around this area and they are great partners and we help to bring business to them and vice versa,” Pullin said, “but this is the first of its kind because it’s a new arm of COTA that’s extending our fixed-route service without actually extending our bus lines.”
Riders can use the Via app to book a ride to their destination up to 15 minutes before they arrive for just $3, or for free if they connect the trip to one of the two COTA bus routes serving Grove City. A dozen rides have been requested since the recent launch, Pullin said.
Central Ohio is expected to grow by one million residents by 2050, according to Mandy Bishop, the manager of Smart Columbus, Columbus’ smart-city program. Smart Columbus is a frequent partner of COTA, and Bishop told StateScoop in June that public-private partnerships like COTA Plus can be mutually beneficial for residents and the private sector.
“There is increased demand for greater mobility options across many of our Central Ohio communities, including Grove City,” said Joanna M. Pinkerton, COTA’s president and chief executive. “COTA Plus was designed with input from multiple stakeholders, including the city and area businesses, who have identified mobility challenges as a barrier to employment, healthcare, and education.”
While the COTA Plus initiative is only a pilot, Pullin said it was designed with future integration with Smart Columbus’s multimodal transit app in mind. That could happen as early as 2020 or 2021, Bishop said.
“We want to [have] one app where central Ohio people are using to book trips with COTA, and there are definitely ongoing discussions, but there is nothing decided,” she said.
When it is released to the public next year, the Smart Columbus app will allow users to book a variety of transit options, including Bird and Lime scooters, taxis and EmpowerBus, a private shuttle company.
“We’re extremely excited for COTA and super supportive of their efforts to bring more mobility solutions to central Ohio,” Bishop said.