A pilot program set to begin later this year will give residents a leg up on reaching major employers, medical facilities and schools in Grove City that are not convenient to existing bus stops in the city.

Grove City will serve as the pilot community for the Central Ohio Transit Authority's micro-transit project.

In the one-year pilot program, residents will be able to use a mobile app or call to arrange for COTA vehicles to pick them up at their home or a bus stop and take them to their destination, said Elliott Doza, COTA's project manager for service planning.

"It will allow us to provide 'last-mile' service for people," he said. "You will use the app to arrange for the transportation like you would with Uber or Lyft, except it will be COTA providing the service."

The final details have yet to be worked out, Doza said, but the service will likely provide access to areas west of Interstate 71, major employment sites, including the Walmart Distribution Center and South Park Industrial Center, the South-Western Career Academy and Mount Carmel Grove City Hospital, which is expected to open in late spring.

The goal is to have the micro-transit program up and running by July, Doza said.

COTA will be using auxiliary vehicles with a seating capacity of six to eight people and wheelchair access, he said.

Residents will make arrangements to be picked up in the vehicles through the app or by contacting COTA, he said.

Grove City Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said partnering with COTA for the pilot program "is quite a coup for us."

Since Mount Carmel announced it would be building its new hospital in Grove City, city officials have been interested in finding an option that would allow people to get to the site from COTA bus stops, he said.

The COTA pilot program also will help employees get to their places of work in Grove City, which is "advantageous," Stage said.

Discussions with other vendors did not pan out, but the city continued its talks with COTA, he said.

"We stayed with it and it worked out for COTA and for us," he said.

Grove City is a good choice for the pilot program because of the number of sites such as the Mount Carmel hospital and Wal-Mart Distribution Center that are not on a regular COTA bus route but have a large number of people who potentially would need "last-mile" transportation to get there, Doza said.

"We're excited to be part of the project," Stage said. "It could serve as a model for extending this type of service to other areas."

The anticipated cost of the one-year pilot program is expected to be a little more than $350,000, Stage said.

"There will be a share of the cost we will provide as will COTA," he said. "We will also be in talks with some of the major employers in our city to see if there is a potential model where they could provide some funds."

The pilot program will benefit companies because it will make it easier for current and potential employees to make their way to work, Stage said.

"It will help increase the job opportunities in our community," he said.

Once the financial details are finalized, city council will be asked to approve legislation to appropriate the city's share of the cost, Stage said.

The program could be eligible for transportation grant money from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, he said.

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