After its first four months, COTA Plus, the on-demand microtransit program operating in Grove City, is seeing an increase in ridership.

"The trend line is continuing to grow each week as well as month to month," said Doug Arseneault, COTA's public affairs administrator.

The ridership level "is not where we want it to be yet, but we're seeing momentum and good progress," said Michael Loges, senior economic development project manager for COTA.

The COTA officials provided Grove City Council with an update of the program's status Nov. 12 and how the transit authority and its partners, including the city, may be able to further enhance the service's impact.

COTA Plus launched July 15 as a one-year pilot program with a focus on providing first- and last-mile service. It operates as either a point-to-point rideshare service, for a fare, or as a connection to or from a COTA bus line at no cost.

The trip must begin and end within the defined zone of service in Grove City.

The program's zone of service in Grove City covers an area from Interstate 270 south to the area of London-Groveport and Seeds roads.

Grove City and COTA are each contributing half of the $360,000 cost of the pilot program.

Individuals can arrange rides through an account they set up through the COTA Plus app or by calling 614-308-4400.

As of Nov. 7, the average number of daily trips arranged through the COTA Plus app has reached 35, Loges said.

COTA has set a goal of getting to an average of at least 120 rides per day by the end of the initial pilot-program period, he said.

That goal was set after consulting with other communities, including Austin, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida, that have launched similar services, Loges said.

"It's an aggressive target," he said. "We know we've set a high goal post for ourselves, but we're hopeful we can get there. This is just a few months into the program and a service like this takes a while to mature."

The total number of completed COTA Plus rides since July 15 is 1,619 with 647 accounts set up through the app, Loges said.

More than 60 percent of people who download the app have gone on to set up an account, he said, and more than 75 percent of people with an account have been repeat users of the service.

The average estimated time of arrival for customers to be picked up is a little more than six and a half minutes, well below the 15-minute goal set by COTA, Loges said. The average ride duration is 7.8 minutes and 1.74 miles, he said.

Customers have given the service an average star rating of 4.86 out of five stars, he said.

The key to the program's success is getting people to download the app and try the service, Arseneault said.

COTA's marketing team has launched a multi-faceted campaign that includes digital advertisements, billboards, print media and a push out with social media, he said.

The COTA Plus app includes a notification system that alerts users when they are within the program's zone of service, Arseneault said.

COTA is working with companies located within the zone of service to arrange on-site demonstrations to show employees how to use the service and to book trips, he said.

One of the goals of COTA Plus is to help employees, customers and visitors make their way to businesses and major locations within the zone of service from the two bus lines or the COTA park-and-ride site at 2321 Old Stringtown Road, Loges said.

The transit authority has worked with Mount Carmel Grove City to create a voucher-code system that allows patients, visitors and family members without access to debit, credit or cash cards needed to use the app-based system to arrange a COTA Plus ride to and from the hospital to a regular bus stop or the park-and-ride site, he said.

Mount Carmel also has purchased 300 voucher-ride codes to distribute to those in need of assistance, Loges said.

There are 27 notable employers located within the COTA Plus zone, he said, and COTA has held information sessions about the program at a little more than half of those businesses.

"For the rest, we've stressed their ability to promote this new first-, last-mile connection when posting job requisitions," Loges said.

COTA is exploring the potential of working with partners to hold a job fair along the line 3 bus route that goes up Harrisburg Pike through the Franklinton neighborhood and into downtown Columbus, he said.

"The message there would be that these jobs (in Grove City) are within reach. They are closer than you think they are," Loges said.

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