Columbus Just Launched a Completely Redesigned Bus Network

A before-and-after look at bus routes in Columbus with service at least every 15 minutes. Maps: COTA
A before-and-after look at bus routes in Columbus with service at least every 15 minutes. Maps: COTA

This week, Columbus, Ohio, became the latest city to flip the switch on a redesigned bus network, changing a decades-old route map in a bid to jump-start flagging ridership. The updated routes bring huge numbers of people and jobs within closer reach of frequent transit service.

In a matter of hours, old bus routes were replaced with new ones, with commuters adjusting Monday morning. While the changes took effect overnight, the effort took years of planning.

In 2013, the Central Ohio Transit Authority hired consultants including Jarrett Walker, who also worked on Houston’s bus network revamp, for its Transit Schedule Redesign project. The consultants helped the authority develop a plan that allocates 70 percent of bus service to high-ridership routes, while distributing the other 30 percent to increase the system’s geographic coverage.

A draft of the new bus network was revealed in September 2014 and finalized after more than a year of public review. Over the course of last year, the agency geared up for launch day, drafting new schedules and preparing riders for the changes.

Buses will be free for the first week to build goodwill and help people adjust. (Local news reports are already featuring bus riders who’ve been taking the same route for decades and are upset by the transition.) COTA has also enlisted the help of mobile phone applications to show riders their old and new routes side by side.

Change can be difficult, but the benefits are enormous: 100,000 more Columbus residents will be within a five-minute walk of buses that arrive at least every 15 minutes, and 110,000 more jobs will be within a five-minute walk of transit, according to TransitCenter. Total bus service hours on Saturdays will increase 50 percent, and Sunday service will increase 120 percent.

A lot is riding on these changes. COTA ridership has dropped 2.6 percent from 2014 to 2016, according to the Columbus Dispatch, to 18.8 million annual unlinked trips. Now the authority is projecting a 10 percent increase in ridership by 2020, and it seeks to reach 25 million trips per year by 2025.

Nationally, the momentum for bus network redesigns is building. Two cities that recently made big adjustments to their bus networks — Houston and Seattle — are among the small number bucking the national trend of falling transit ridership. Cities including Austin to Boston are looking at how to change routes and schedules, as well.

According to the Dispatch, Monday’s big switch in Columbus was closely watched by transit officials from Baltimore and Rochester on hand to learn lessons that can be applied to their own bus networks.

  • logicgrrl

    I’m SO happy with the changes. Instead of one transfer, I have to do two or more. Plus having to walk 3 or 4 blocks instead of a half-block while using a cane – it’s SO great! /sarcasm

  • Eugene Carroll

    Who gave you the before and after map? The before map is missing several core routes (like the #4 and #8)

  • Eugene Carroll

    Yes, a very mixed bag for downtown workers. Many of the routes to downtown got longer and now stop farther from the big office buildings. So not only does the bus take 10 or 20 minutes longer but you have to walk in the rain another 6 or 7 minutes. Hopefully, people will use the new regional buses but they all looked pretty empty so far this week, even though fares were free.

  • Jason

    Read the caption (bolding mine):

    “A before-and-after look at bus routes in Columbus with service at least every 15 minutes.

  • Craig

    What are the new regional buses you mentioned? Do you have a link for those routes?

  • logicgrrl

    This is just the latest chapter in “screw the poor”.

  • Eugene Carroll

    There is no lone link but the regionals replaced the “crosstowns”, they’re essentially a re-branded form of crosstown bus. The improvement is that they link up better with each other and the central buses.

  • Ronald Viscon (RestaVista)

    I heard in the news that many Airports in the US getting updated by the Gov. FAA burst the news on twitter on yesterday. http://www.daisylimo.com many airports in the US need major update. Some need to be rebuid. I am sure Gov. saw that and now they are taking action. Great news!

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