COTA Plus service expanded in, near Grove City

Alan Froman (afroman@thisweeknews.com)
A COTA Plus van makes a stop at a Park & Ride in Grove City on Oct. 14. The COTA Plus service has been expanded to include most of Grove City, Jackson Township and Urbancrest.

The city of Grove City and Central Ohio Transit Authority have expanded the COTA Plus service to include almost all of Grove City, Jackson Township and Urbancrest.

The expansion, which started Oct. 1, extends the service area from 5 square miles to more than 22 square miles, said Michael Loges, COTA's senior economic-development project manager.

"There's a few tiny pockets in Grove City where we don't reach, but 99% of Grove City and the township are included and Urbancrest is now part of our zone of service," he said. "There are about 35,000 more residents who are included in the zone of service now, and COTA Plus now offers rides to all of the major employment centers in Grove City, including companies like FedEx and Tigerpoly Manufacturing near state Route 665, the SouthPark Industrial Center off Gantz Road up near I-270, the Walmart distribution center and OhioHealth Grove City Methodist Hospital on Stringtown Road."

Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said the service should add to the residents' and businesses' "quality of life."

"The big thing with the expansion is that we are now able to provide, in essence, a regional transportation system in Grove City," Stage said. "It furthers our goal of being a complete full-service community."

COTA Plus was launched as a one-year pilot program July 15, 2019. It operates as either a point-to-point ride-share service or as a connection to or from a COTA bus line at no cost.

In Grove City, COTA Plus provides mobility within the designated zones that include service to Mount Carmel Grove City and SouthPark industrial area, according to the COTA website. Customers may request a ride using the COTA Plus mobile app.

The initial zone of service in Grove City included an area from I-270 south to the area of London-Groveport Road and Seeds Road.

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

Grove City Council in February approved an appropriation of $42,008 from the city's general fund to support the second year of the service and its expansion.

Riders may arrange rides in Grove City, Jackson Township and Urbancrest via an account they set up through the COTA Plus app or by calling 614-308-4400.

Grove City was the first COTA Plus community in central Ohio, according to the COTA website: cota.com/cotaplus. COTA also began offering its microtransit service Aug. 24 in Westerville.  

The goal for Grove City's program is 116 individual rides per day, Loges said.

"We haven't hit that yet, but we are trending toward that direction," he said.

Before the Oct. 1 expansion, COTA was providing about 40 to 50 rides daily to the original zone of service, he said.

"We looked at other communities around the country where microtransit service was started, and it typically takes a year and a half to two years for it to really take hold," Loges said.

Residents and businesses have to learn the service exists and grow more comfortable with the concept, he said.

"One of the areas we're focusing on is increasing the conversion rate – that is, the number of people who make use of the service after downloading the app," Loges said.

The service is designed to offer customers convenient transportation to jobs, health-care services, schools and other needed destinations that aren't on COTA's regular bus routes in and around Grove City, he said.

COTA Plus vehicles will arrive within 15 minutes after a customer requests a trip within Grove City, Jackson Township or Urbancrest, Loges said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of COTA Plus requests dropped, but the number has risen back to near the pre-pandemic level, he said.

COTA temporarily has suspended all fares during the pandemic, including those for COTA Plus. Only two customers are allowed on a vehicle at a time, except for people who are traveling together, said Jeff Pullin, COTA's public- and media-relations manager.

Normally, COTA Plus is free if customers use it to connect to a COTA bus, where they would pay the regular bus fare. Customers were charged $3 before the temporary suspension if they wanted to use COTA Plus for direct service from pickup to destination.

COTA Plus service in Grove City is available  from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.

Mount Carmel Grove City was included in the original zone of service, and COTA Plus has been a boon for hospital employees, patients and visitors, said Jason Koma, regional director of government affairs and regional development for Mount Carmel Health System.

"When we were planning the Grove City hospital, being able to provide additional transportation options for our patients, family members who might visit them and our employees was mission critical," he said. "People usually don't expect that they or their loved ones are going to need our services, and it's really important they have a convenient way to get here. Grove City was a great partner in exploring some options for us."

The COTA Plus service has been just what the doctor ordered, Koma said.

"I think what has blown us away is the innovative and unique nature of the COTA Plus service COTA created," he said.

He said although he has heard anecdotally about some Mount Carmel Grove City employees using COTA Plus, the hospital's patients and their families are the most common users of the service, Koma said.

The expanded COTA Plus service area will be helpful for students at South-Western City School's Career Academy, said Amy Schakat, the district's coordinator for career-technical education.

"It will give our students access to a lot more workplace-learning opportunities in our community. They will be able to use COTA Plus to get to just about any workplace in our area," she said. "Some of our students don't have driver's licenses and may not be able for one reason or another to get a license, or they don't have access to a car. This service will let them get to a workplace."

It also will benefit local businesses that will have a larger pool of South-Western students from which to choose, Schakat said.

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