OH: COTA Ridership Growth Tops in U.S.

March 13--In a near-record year for public transportation nationwide, the Central Ohio Transit Authority topped all big-city agencies in 2011 as COTA ridership grew 10.15 percent.

According to figures released yesterday by the American Public Transportation Association, Columbus was one of two major U.S. markets where bus ridership grew by more than 10 percent.

The additional 1.7 million trips on COTA buses pushed local ridership to nearly 18.8 million last year, the highest level in more than a decade.

Nationally, Americans took 10.4 billion trips on public-transit buses and trains in 2011, a number surpassed only in 2008, when gasoline topped $4 per gallon.

COTA President and CEO W. Curtis Stitt said ridership is up 7 percent so far this year. The U.S. Department of Energy has predicted gas prices of $3.90 or more per gallon through the fall, which could keep the ridership numbers rising.

"I don't know that we've got a secret," Stitt said. "We are doing everything we can to take advantage of the gas-price situation. It's the service that's on the street, though, that keeps riders there."

After scaling back operations during a string of difficult budget years in the past decade, COTA has been expanding routes and updating its fleet. Only the transit authority in St. Louis, at 10.04 percent, came close to matching COTA's growth rate last year.

Bus ridership was up for all Ohio transit authorities except Toledo's.

Nationally, it was the sixth straight year in which public-transit trips topped 10 billion.

APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said lower unemployment and rising gas prices were among the factors contributing to increased ridership.

Stitt and other public-transit officials from across the country are in Washington this week, in part to lobby lawmakers who are considering a new transportation-funding bill.

House Republicans recently abandoned plans to undo automatic funding for public transportation, but spending levels are still uncertain.

rvitale@dispatch.com

Copyright 2012 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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