July 20--Even on a 95-degree day, Shawn Moten chose convenience over comfort.
A sweltering July afternoon failed to win over many Central Ohio Transit Authority riders yesterday on the idea of a transit center that would consolidate Downtown bus stops.
A cool wait for the bus -- or a warm wait or a dry one, depending on the weather -- wouldn't be worth the tradeoff of a longer walk to get there and a longer ride home, regular riders said.
"I'd go for the quickest option," said Moten, waiting for a Broad Street bus in the not-too-helpful shade of a Statehouse parking-garage entrance.
At the first of four public hearings on potential changes to COTA's Downtown service, other COTA riders also criticized the proposal, which is favored by Mayor Michael B. Coleman but not by transit authority officials.
A 2010 update of the city's Downtown development plan envisioned a transit center as a boost for efforts to revive High Street retail. Buses and passengers congregated around Broad and High block views of storefronts and prevent on-street parking in the heart of Downtown, backers say.
Jim Stapleton, a 22-year COTA rider who attended last night's hearing at COTA's Downtown headquarters, said buses at Broad and High also deliver customers to Downtown businesses.
"Where people are waiting, there is business," he said.
A COTA study of its Downtown operations suggested that rerouting more than a third of High Street buses a block west to Front Street bus stops would accomplish the same development goals with less cost to taxpayers and less disruption for passengers.
A transit center -- with restrooms, stores and food service -- would cost between $20 million and $40million to build and $5million a year to run, COTA consultants estimated. The most likely location would be at Gay and High streets, just a block north of Broad and High, but the consultants said routing buses through a center would add up to six minutes to some riders' trips.
COTA executives prefer diverting 32 of 89 evening rush-hour buses to Front Street, but the plan would require converting Front Street to two-way traffic north of Broad. Consultants estimated that option would cost $1.6 million to build new shelters and $1.2 million to run annually.
It would mean an extra minute or two on the bus for passengers.
Neither plan would require a fare increase, COTA Vice President Doug Moore said. The agency hasn't budgeted for either option, though, he said.
COTA President and CEO Bill Lhota said the agency likely will pursue one of the two plans instead of sticking with the status quo.
"We want to work with the leaders of this city," he said.
COTA has three more hearings scheduled over the next week at its Downtown headquarters, 33 N. High St. They'll take place at noon today, and noon and 6 p.m. Tuesday.
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