Despite some concerns regarding the cost, scope and feasibility of the Central Ohio Transit Authority's on-demand micro-transit program, all four Grove City Council members attending a May 20 meeting voted to approve Grove City's participation as the pilot community for the project.

Grove City will provide $180,000 to fund half of the cost of the project, with COTA paying the remainder of the $360,000 total cost.

The program will be an enhancement of what already exists in Grove City, said Dan Havener, the city's economic development manager.

COTA bus service now offered in Grove City has a terminus of Stringtown Road, he said.

"Anything south of Stringtown is currently not serviced or under-serviced by transit service to businesses, residents and the community south of Stringtown," Havener said.

The pilot program will be an on-demand service where people will call in and request service at no cost as long as it is within the proposed program area (referred to as zone 1), and they are taken to or from a COTA service bus stop location, he said.

"If a person would want to request service within the zone but not connected to any type of bus stop service, it will be for a nominal charge. What they are looking at is $3 or $4," Havener said.

The pilot program is expected to be operating by July 15 with an end date of July 14, 2020, he said.

Zone 1 covers an area from Interstate 270 south to the area of London-Groveport Road and Seeds Road.

COTA and the city are "entertaining" the possibility of potentially expanding the program area to include a second zone that would serve the city's northwest quadrant, Havener said.

The program is initially slated to operate from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, said Doug Arseneault, COTA's public affairs administrator.

"We're starting with weekdays only to determine the demand," he said.

COTA would be interested in expanding the program to weekends if the demand is there, Arseneault said.

Councilman Roby Schottke said he was concerned the program's hours under serve second- and third-shift workers.

"You can get second-shift workers (to their jobs) but you can't get them home," Schottke said. "Third-shifters can't get there, but they can get home."

Because COTA service currently only runs until midnight, that issue cannot really be addressed, Arseneault said.

Schottke also said some businesses are conspicuous by their absence as part of the micro-transit route, although they are in or near the proposed zone.

The scope of the program area could be expanded to include OhioHealth's Grove City Methodist Hospital and Manheim Auto Auction, he said.

The hospital was contacted about the program but was not ready to commit to being a participant, Havener said.

COTA and the city also have reached out to Manheim, he said.

Councilman Ted Berry noted that none of the businesses that will be beneficiaries of the micro-transit system have pledged any money toward the cost of the pilot program.

He'd be inclined to support the program with more enthusiasm, Berry said, if he was informed that businesses are providing half of the cost that will be borne by the city.

He asked Arseneault if COTA would commit to having at least 50 percent of the city's $180,000 cost funded by private sources within one year.

Arseneault said COTA couldn't make that specific of a commitment but agreed it wants businesses to help pay for the program.

The first year is designed in part to show businesses the need for and benefits from the micro-transit project, he said.

That would lead to more private financial support and perhaps a time someday when the entire program would be privately funded, Arseneault said.

"I'll vote to support it, but I don't see this as being sustainable" as currently set up, Councilman Jeff Davis said. "You've got to figure out a more modern way of getting people from here to there if we're going to fund it. But we'll give it a shot."

The ordinance to approve the city's participation passed 4-0. Council President Steve Robinette was absent from the meeting. One of the metrics that will be used to measure the program's success is the number of trips provided per hour, Havener said.

"A successful number of trips is two to four trips per hour. That's the goal," he said. "If we can achieve that, it would be viewed as a success."

Other important measures will be whether local businesses that are along the micro-transit route are seeing their job applications and hiring of personnel increase while also experiencing less absenteeism because of the service, Havener said.

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