COTA Plus, the on-demand microtransit program operating in Grove City, is scheduled to expand beginning April 6.

CORRECTION: The COTA Plus program in Grove City will start April 6. The print and earlier online version of this story gave an incorrect starting date.

COTA Plus, the on-demand microtransit program operating in Grove City, is scheduled to expand beginning April 6.

The expanded zone will be about three times larger than the current area of service that has been in place since the COTA Plus service began on July 15, 2019, said Michael Loges, senior economic development project manager for COTA.

Grove City Council approved legislation Feb. 3 to appropriate $42,008 from the city's general fund to provide the city's share of the cost of expanding the service area.

That amount represents about half of the cost of the expansion, with COTA providing the remainder.

COTA Plus launched as a one-year pilot program to provide 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 original zone of service in Grove City covers an area from Interstate 270 south to the area of London-Groveport Road and Seeds Road.

The additional service area extends east and west of the original zone and includes downtown Grove City, the South-Western Career Academy, senior centers and additional residences, employers and retail stores, Loges said.

"The expanded service allows COTA Plus to access more destinations, whether they be employment sites or quality-of-life destinations," he said.

An estimated 42,861 people live in the COTA Plus service area with the expansion, an increase of 27,797 or 185%, Loges said. An estimated 23,734 employees are covered in the expanded service area, an increase of about 10,339 or 77%.

As of Jan. 30, 3,356 completed rides were made using COTA Plus and the service's app had 903 accounts, said Doug Arseneault, COTA's public affairs administrator. The average wait time for pick up was 7.1 minutes and the average ride duration was 7.8 minutes.

The average number of daily trips has reached about 35, he said.

The most requested destinations within the current zone include the Mount Carmel Grove City Hospital, the Southpark Industrial Park and businesses along state Route 665, Arseneault said.

The expanded zone will be in place through the end of the initial one-year pilot term on July 14, Loges said.

"This will improve access to jobs, health care, schools and internship opportunities," he said. "We will be getting in touch with South-Western City Schools to talk about how we can better integrate this offering with their needs."

COTA plans to return to council in July with a desire to continue the program and perhaps expand it further and is ready to talk with the city about how the program could be sustained going forward, Arseneault said. Under the initial agreement for the pilot program with the original service area, the city and COTA equally shared the $360,000 cost.

Mount Carmel has agreed to provide $50,000 toward the cost of operating COTA Plus, Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said.

"We're beginning to get some corporate buy-in" and the city will look for more financial backing from companies that benefit from the first- and last-mile service COTA Plus provides for some of their employees, he said.

COTA is looking to launch business accounts for the service, Loges said.

Individual riders have to request and book trips through the COTA Plus app or by calling 614-308-4400.

That will continue, but business accounts would allow companies to set up a way that employees could use the service as needed, such as when inclement weather occurs, to get to their jobs, Loges said.