The city of Westerville is working with the Central Ohio Transit Authority to bring COTA Plus, an on-demand micro-transit service, to residents beginning Aug. 3.
First piloted in Grove City, the program operates similarly to ride-share programs like Uber and Lyft with trips scheduled 15 minutes ahead of time via the COTA Plus mobile application or a call to 614-308-4400.
The cost will be $3 per person, per ride, or a day pass is $6 per person. Children under 12 ride free with a parent. Senior citizens 65 years old and over will pay $2 per person, per ride, or $4 for a day pass.
Westerville traffic engineer Jennifer Alford said city staff has been working on the service at the direction of city council for several years, and council approved legislation for a contract with COTA for the service on March 17.
The city would be billed on a monthly basis by COTA with service beginning Aug. 3 and continuing through July 31, 2022.
Financed through general-fund money, Alford said the first year of service, running Aug. 3 through July 2021, would cost the city $450,000 and in its second year from August 2021 through July 2022, the total would be $425,000 for Westerville.
The local transportation circulator will serve Westerville residents and employees within the city limits and a portion of the Polaris area, Sunbury Plaza and Glengary Shopping Center.
It is expected to be available from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday with expanded coverage for special events on weekends.
"Some kind of transportation service or 'circulator' was a goal identified in the Westerville Community Plan," Alford said. "The Strategic Mobility Plan that was approved by council in February of this year further supported this as our 2019 Online Survey identified the No. 1 transit strategy as 'Investigate a local circulator.' "
As staff worked on understanding the needs of residents, workers and visitors, Alford said, it became clear that a fixed-route service was not going to fit in Westerville.
"So we began looking at on-demand services that are similar to Uber or Lyft, but more economical for riders and with a more recognizable entity," she said. "With a growing senior population, we felt it was important to partner with another organization that was well known and would have trained staff able to meet our needs."
Uniformed COTA drivers will pick up customers in a branded, six-passenger COTA Plus vehicle at designated neighborhood pickup spots.
Users should expect to share a ride with their neighbors heading in similar directions.
COTA Plus was originally to launch June 15, but city manager David Collinsworth said the city revisited the start date as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
"It obviously doesn't make sense to start this up with so many businesses idled and folks working from home," he said.
Alford said she's hopeful no further adjustments to the timing will be needed, but the safety of users must be considered first.
"COTA will be cleaning the vehicles frequently to prevent the spread of the virus," she said. "Since this service uses an app for all payment, there will be no issues with exchanging money or anything."
Alford said the stops won't be designated with signs, but they will be available through the app and are spaced about 400 feet apart.
A resident will pull up the app or call COTA and request their ride and be told where to find the nearest pickup spot.
Those with mobility concerns will get door-to-door delivery, Alford said.
She said the overall benefits of the transit in Westerville include access to transportation for all within city limits; the first- and last-mile connections to COTA bus lines; improved access to healthcare, the library and other community destinations; relieving parking demands in Uptown; hotel guests can visit Westerville destinations; Otterbein and Westerville schools students obtain easier access to jobs; and Westerville City School District students can get free rides from after-school activities within the city.
To get started upon the August program launch, residents can visit their mobile-application store, search for COTA Plus, download the application and set up a desired payment method before scheduling their first ride.