How Columbus Doubled Downtown Bus Commuting

Photo:  WyliePoon via Flickr
Photo: WyliePoon via Flickr

Columbus’s experiment with free transit for downtown workers is paying off.

Transit ridership among downtown workers has more than doubled in the year since a program began providing free transit passes for all downtown workers, the local news site Columbus Underground reports.

Before the “C-pass” program, only 5 percent of downtown workers commuted by bus. Today, the number is 10 to 14 percent, the news site reports.

In total, 430 companies have enrolled in the program, and about 14,800 workers have taken advantage of it, out of a total of 85,000 downtown, according to a press release from Capital Crossroads, a downtown special-improvement district. C-Pass users are taking about 25,000 trips on Central Ohio Transit Authority buses weekly.

According to a survey, 68 percent of users said the C-pass program was what motivated them to take transit; 93 percent had access to a private car.

The program was originally proposed as a solution to a downtown parking crunch that was hampering the growth of employers. The free transit passes offer an alternative to adding expensive, subsidized parking downtown; the program already has enough users to have eliminated the need for about two parking garages, a spokesperson for Capital Crossroads says.

It’s also popular with employers. Among those surveyed, 17 said the program encouraged them to renew their leases. Interest in the program is growing among employers outside of the central business district, too, Columbus Underground’s Walker Evans reports.

The program is expected to cost $5 million over two-and-a-half years. It is funded partly by assessments on downtown land owners and partly by grants, including a grant from the federally funded metropolitan planning organization MORPC.

5 thoughts on How Columbus Doubled Downtown Bus Commuting

  1. So to get the free rides you have to be enrolled in a program through your employer? Personally I have no problem with that. But I could see how eventually the income inequality/woke contingents will latch onto this as discrimination. Such as “your subsidizing white affluent office workers while poor black inner city families still have to pay”. I’ve already seen in my city how bikeshare was called discriminatory because poor families can’t afford the $85/yr membership. The advocates cite some other city that offers $5 memberships to disadvantaged low income individuals and basically insinuated anything short of mimicking that discount model would be racist.

    To me not every single amenity or program needs to be free or deeply discounted to the poor. But I am bringing it up because increasingly this is where the conversation seems to drift to more and more.

  2. It is a problem if wealthier people are getting free services that poor people are paying for. It seems pretty solvable by expanding the scope of the program though.

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