Upper Arlington officials are expected to consider whether to contract for a pilot "microtransit" shuttle that could provide rides throughout the city as well as to such points as Ohio State University and downtown Columbus.
In May 2017, the Central Ohio Transit Authority eliminated a bus route on Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington, a move the agency said was brought on by attempts to streamline services.
Since then, Upper Arlington officials have looked for ways to offer greater public-transit opportunities to residents and those who work in or are visiting the community.
One option is to contract with SHARE, a Columbus-based "mobility-solutions company."
Representatives of the company appeared at an Upper Arlington City Council conference session June 3 to discuss five possible routes.
No prices were discussed for what could be a three-month pilot program, although Kristine Gross, SHARE vice president of sales and planning, said estimates for a similar program devised "two iterations ago" were "roughly $35,000."
The company in January worked out a $50,000 pilot program with the city of Dublin that was to extend through July and would provide midday ride-sharing shuttles designed to transport senior citizens to various stops within the city.
That deal also has seen high school students with developmental disabilities transported from schools to their homes, as well as routes that carry people from such areas as the Mall at Tuttle Crossing to nearby COTA stops that then could transport them into downtown Columbus.
Michael Martins, SHARE chief growth officer, said his company would seek to work with the Upper Arlington officials to develop "custom mobility solutions" for senior citizens and others.
If an agreement is struck, SHARE would transport people via 14-seat transit vans that also would give the city and potential corporate partners "a large canvas for potential branding opportunities."
SHARE presented five options:
* A Lane Avenue shuttle that would start at the Shops on Lane Avenue at Whole Foods and travel to High Street in Columbus and back.
"That replaces the COTA service and provides connections with residents to Ohio State," Gross said.
* A "commuter" route that would be available in mornings and evenings, Mondays through Fridays, that would provide connections among Upper Arlington, Ohio State, Battelle and downtown Columbus.
"These loops would run about 40 minutes each, and we would work out the times," Gross said.
* A "community circulator" that likely would start at the senior center and make stops at such places as the Upper Arlington Main Library, the Tremont Center, the Kingsdale Center and the Mallway.
"This is an opportunity to really make sure that people have access and opportunities to reach all of the many excellent amenities you have in Upper Arlington," Gross said. "This keeps UA dollars in Upper Arlington.
"This is a way to make sure you're promoting retailers and shops and restaurants in Upper Arlington."
* A First Community Village connector that would provide connections between First Community Village and the Shops on Lane Avenue.
"They would get access to the senior center, the library and the amazing programming that's out there in Upper Arlington," Gross said.
"This one's tied to allowing seniors to age in place," Martins said.
* A "weekend downtown shuttle" that would be about a 30-minute loop from a specified point in Upper Arlington to stops outside the city, such as Lennox Town Center off Olentangy River Road, the Short North and COTA bus lines.
"This is really more of a marketing and branding opportunity for the city of Upper Arlington," Gross said. "It could help attract the next generation of residents to come back and live here."
Depending on how, if at all, city leaders instruct SHARE to move forward, the company is expected to return in coming weeks with additional details about routes and the associated costs of a three-month pilot or longer-term arrangement.
Company officials said the pilot program would help gauge how likely people are to use the routes and also might help tweak them so that additional or different loops and stops are created.
Most council members expressed guarded support for the project but said there are several details to be worked out.
Martins said typical programs seek partnerships with corporations or other entities to help ease municipalities' financial burdens if longer-term shuttles are established.
Upper Arlington senior planning officer Chad Gibson said it hadn't been determined if riders would pay for the service.
"The lack of COTA bus service on West Lane Avenue ... is the primary driver of these discussions," he said. "With the ongoing and significant redevelopment in the Lane Avenue corridor, the limited availability of public transit is a concern and the city is looking at options for how this issue may be addressed.
"A firm direction and timeline for moving forward is yet to be determined."
Councilwoman Carolyn Casper called the microtransit routes "a great idea" and said she has supported public transit and ride-sharing programs in Upper Arlington for many years.
But Casper said she wants to craft a program that both serves older residents and promotes ride-sharing among youths so fewer vehicles are on local roadways.
Councilwomen Sue Ralph and Michele Hoyle also said they tentatively were supportive, noting the program could be expanded in the future and offer transportation to and from Ohio State football games.
Councilman Jim Lynch added his support to the concept but said he's concerned about the cost, especially if multiple routes are established.
"I think it's a great concept," he said.
"My radar is kind of going off inside, though. I can see costs going up because there's so many options we like. I can easily look at $300,000 in expense a year."
Lynch said once additional details about costs, routes and the timelines for implementation are brought forward, he'll have to weigh the potential benefits with his efforts to streamline city operational costs.
"We're actually trying to streamline, not take on more -- at least in my eyes," he said. "I would encourage you to come back with sponsors before you come back to us with costs, not wait until after pilot projects."
Council has not set a timetable for further discussions about the potential establishment of routes or when the items might be up for official action.