Northwest News

Bus riders worry about loss of COTA express route

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Eleanor Black says she fears COTA officials are going to break up her family.

The Northwest Side resident, who works at the Ohio Department of Health downtown, has been riding the Smoky Row Express Route 30 bus for about a dozen years now.

She's gotten to know many of her fellow daily commuters.

"They've become family to me," she said.

But with COTA officials embarked on a complete review of the transit system, Black and others fear their route will be eliminated in an effort at increasing ridership while sacrificing some service areas.

"The Transit System Review will take a complete view of the existing COTA bus system, including the number of riders, lines, facilities, buses, road network, operating budget and technology," according to information posted on the transit authority's website.

The intent of the review is to improve the effectiveness and continued expansion of COTA's bus network, downtown operations and technologies to meet the needs of growing and changing land uses in the central Ohio region, according to the website.

The review is being developed by consultants, led by IBI Group, who have assessed current service and regional characteristics and are soliciting input from COTA's customers, community leaders and other stakeholders, according to the website.

Under only one of three scenarios being contemplated as part of the review process would Express Route 30 be spared from elimination, according to the riders, who Black has organized into a group to protest that possibility.

"It's critical to us to have that route," said Ruben Lopez, an Ohio Department of Job and Family Services employee.

Like Black, Lopez is a 12-year-veteran of the bus route.

"Otherwise, we have no transportation to get downtown," Lopez said.

"It's important to me. If I don't have that, then I have to find a different way,' he said.

"I don't think I could let my job go, but it would be a huge expense for me finding another means of going downtown," Lopez said.

Cleve Ricksecker, a one-year veteran of the COTA board of directors, was the guest speaker last week at a Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

In addition to outlining the history and funding for the agency, Ricksecker did touch briefly on the study that's to be completed by September.

He said he favors the scenario that would increase ridership, perhaps by as much as 20 percent, by concentrating service closer to the downtown area.

The approach that would spare Express Route 30 and others to continue service to more-distant points, Ricksecker said, could decrease ridership by as much as 10 percent as the result of "lousy service."

Lopez scoffed at that idea.

"They would lose us as riders from the suburbs, so I don't think having an additional bus, say, on High Street is going to make a financial difference," he said.

"It's been frustrating. They are determined to go on with the change," Lopez said. "They've hired marketing folks to push this through."

"There are large corridors in the suburbs that, if these proposed changes go into effect ... will have no coverage," said Linda Schupe, a court reporter and a five-year member of the Smoky Row Riders group.

"If this plan goes into effect, it will leave in effect west Worthington ... without service," she said.

"COTA would want us to drive quite a distance to a park and ride and take the bus the remaining six or seven miles into town," Schupe said.

"We would be paying taxes for a service that's going to be eliminated," Lopez said.

"It seems like they want to turn from a suburban service to more of an inner city, urban service," Schupe added.

"For some reason, they feel like express routes are not moneymaking entities, so they're wanting to cut them and change their whole system," Black said.

The Smoky Row Riders were on hand to state their case at public meetings earlier this month and they plan to attend other sessions in May to offer input.

"I guess I have faith," Black said.

"We want to move forward and attempt to try to get some change. I think change can happen with one bus.

"We love riding COTA," she added. "We want COTA to succeed. We also love our bus drivers."

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