COTA Plus service hits road in Westerville on Aug. 24

MARLA K. KUHLMAN
mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com
This map shows the proposed service area for COTA Plus in Westerville.

The city of Westerville and the Central Ohio Transit Authority is bringing COTA Plus, an on-demand microtransit service, to residents beginning Monday, Aug. 24.

Scott Tourville, Westerville city engineer, said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic delayed the launch that first was planned June 15 and then Aug. 3.

"A few extra weeks has helped us make sure we're able to do everything in (our) power to make this project successful," he said.

Tourville said the service contract has been adjusted with an end date of Aug. 23, 2022. He said the total cost has been reduced to a little less than $680,000 over the duration of the program.

The contract is financed through the city's general fund, according to Jennifer Alford, Westerville traffic engineer.

The program was piloted in Grove City in July 2019. It operates similarly to ride-share programs, with trips scheduled 15 minutes ahead of time via the COTA Plus mobile application or by calling 614-308-4400.

"Westerville has had a strong response with the offering of the COTA CMAX line," said Julie Colley, assistant city manager. "It really simplified and added value to Westerville commuters who are coming to and from downtown Columbus.

"This is a great next step to continue public transportation in the community and a smart way for students and seniors to get around spots like Uptown, the Westar business district and Polaris."

Colley said Westerville studied how COTA Plus operated in Grove City before designing how it would function for Westerville.

"Westerville developed a mobility plan for the future based on accessibility and the growth and development of our community," she said.

"The model and demand showed us COTA Plus is a reliable and affordable option for transportation."

Jeff Pullin, COTA spokesman, said no COTA fares are being charged as a result of safety protocols because of the coronavirus.

When charging fares return, he said, the cost would be $3 per person, per ride, or a day pass at $6 per person could be purchased.

Children 11 and younger may ride free with a parent. Senior citizens 65 years old and older would pay $2 per person, per ride, or $4 for a day pass.

Westerville City Schools middle school and high school students and C-pass holders would ride for free. Additionally, riders connecting to a COTA bus stop could ride for free.

Alford said city staff members have been working on the service at the direction of City Council for several years. Council approved legislation for a contract with COTA for the service March 17.

She said the city is "very excited" for the launch.

Elliott Doza, a COTA project manager, said COTA officials are excited to begin the service in Westerville.

The transportation circulator will serve Westerville residents and employees within 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. Mondays through Fridays, with expanded coverage for special events on weekends.

Uniformed COTA drivers will pick up customers in a branded, six-passenger COTA Plus vehicle at designated neighborhood pickup spots.

Residents can visit their mobile device's application store, search for COTA Plus, download the application and set up a desired payment method before scheduling their first ride.

For more details, go to westerville.org/cotaplus.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla