New Albany News

City gives commuters green light to ride bus


New Albany is ready to begin using two busing services to transport thousands of employees to work at its business parks.

The program will be called SmartRide New Albany. It will be a pilot program for three years, according to Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany's community-development director.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority in December acquired land on Forest Drive in New Albany for a park-and-ride facility expected to open Sept. 2.

COTA has other park-and-ride locations in the suburbs, but this one will offer more than rides into downtown Columbus, said Lisa Knapp, a spokeswoman for COTA.

"This (also) works in reverse," Knapp said. "In most of the park-and-rides in the suburbs, people drive to a park-and-ride and ride into downtown. This is in reverse to get them out to New Albany."

COTA made a capital investment of $1.7 million to build the facility, Knapp said. She said an initial 88 parking spaces have been included on park-and-ride's 2.5 acres, with the potential to expand to 176.

Knapp said New Albany paid $25,845 to build the bus turn-out road at the park-and-ride and will be responsible for maintenance, including mowing and snow removal.

Chrysler said New Albany will pay for a shuttle service as the second component of SmartRide New Albany.

On Aug. 19, New Albany City Council approved a resolution for a service agreement with PSI Parking Solutions of Columbus to operate shuttles starting next month.

PSI will use three shuttles to take workers from the park-and-ride to the city's business parks.

"Every building in the business park(s) will have a shuttle stop and the shuttles will go past every building so everybody has the opportunity to participate," Chrysler said.

New Albany will pay PSI $140,000 for the services through the end of 2014. The service contract with PSI runs through December 2015.

Chrysler said the contract could change if the city decides to purchase its own shuttles and have PSI drivers operate them.

"I anticipate annual cost after startup is going be $120,000 annually," she said. "Our goal is that the city will fund that through the economic-development fund for three years and then we will work with the businesses to assume that cost."

Tickets and passes for SmartRide New Albany will include trips on COTA buses and the use of the local shuttles.

"Our collaboration with COTA is very unique and is the first of its kind in central Ohio. Columbus 2020 and (the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) are celebrating this partnership and unique approach to transit and are working with other communities to duplicate these efforts," Chrysler wrote in the legislative report to City Council.

Chrysler said city officials anticipate the business parks will have 13,000 employees by the end of the year.

COTA has agreed to increase its service to the city, running six buses between 6 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. from downtown Columbus and the Easton transit center to the park-and-ride facility.

"The benefit for us is that we are providing access for more people in the community and providing more access for people to jobs," Knapp said.

Chrysler said employees are coming to New Albany from German Village, the Short North, central areas of Columbus and from some suburban communities, which is why the Easton transit center is included to pick up suburban workers.

An added benefit is the reverse route that would "increase opportunities for mass transit for people who live in this area and commute to downtown," she said.

"The increased service will also mean additional true 'express' routes from New Albany to downtown Columbus at peak business hours," her report to City Council said.

Meanwhile, PSI will operate shuttle service continuously during peak hours on east and west routes from the COTA park-and-ride to and from businesses in the parks.

There will be 15 shuttle stops along routes that will be identified with signs similar to those the city has used for its leisure-trail system.

Chrysler said marketing for the COTA park-and-ride and the contract with PSI contract will be covered by $250,000 from the city's economic-development fund.

The city is expected to fund the shuttle service for the first three years. During that time, businesses would be asked to help in marketing SmartRide New Albany to their employees and modify shifts to align with shuttle routes.

"Businesses will not be sharing the cost of shuttles (in the first three years) but there is a cost to adapt their businesses to make this work," Chrysler said.

She said city officials would evaluate the program later this year to determine if New Albany should purchase its own shuttles, as other communities have done.

She said city-owned shuttles could be used for other programs. She said Westerville and Dublin have shuttles that take people to and from the community centers, and in Westerville, the shuttles can be used to take residents to doctor appointments.

In addition, Chrysler said, PSI is establishing a metric to measure the program's success and working with the city to identify grants for shuttle purchases.

"I anticipate annual cost after startup is going be $120,000 annually," Chrysler said. "Our goal is that the city will fund that through the economic-development fund for three years and then we will work with the businesses to assume that cost."