Only about 5 percent of workers in downtown Columbus arrive by transit daily, according to census data. So Columbus — technically the fifteenth largest city in the U.S. — isn’t a huge transit city, by any means. But an innovative new proposal could help dramatically increase the share of downtown workers who arrive by bus.
A group of downtown property owners is experimenting with a program that would offer free transit passes to those who work in downtown Columbus. The initial 18-month pilot, which recently received final approval, includes just five major employers and about 1,100 employees.
But if it is successful, the plan is to expand free transit passes to employees in a wide area encompassing most of downtown. Marc Conte of Capital Crossroads, the downtown special improvement district leading the initiative, thinks it could at least double the number of people taking transit into downtown each work day.
Some cities, including Boulder and Salt Lake City, have experimented with downtown transit pass systems before, but never on this scale, says Conte. The program is actually modeled after Ohio State University’s BuckID program, which lets all students ride COTA buses for “free” (the cost of the service is included in student activity fees).
Capital Crossroads, a voluntary association of 550 downtown property owners, was grasping for a solution to parking demand. Downtown Columbus office occupancy rates are climbing, and parking lots were developed, but those trends were placing stress on the existing transportation system. Capital Crossroads members, many of them condo owners, “kept asking us to do something about the parking problem,” Conte said. “If you have a big chunk of employees to park anywhere, you can’t find them any parking.”
The city of Columbus built two 700-space downtown parking garages. But the city isn’t interested in additional bonding to build more spaces, Conte says, and market parking rates aren’t high enough to justify private garages.