An operator strike that shut down COTA buses for three days last summer helped muffle the agency's booming ridership in 2012.
In what was billed as the second-busiest year for public transit since 1957, Central Ohio Transit Authority bus trips were down 1.8 percent to 18.4 million in 2012, from 18.8 million during a banner year in 2011.
The American Public Transportation Association says public transit provided about 10.5 billion trips across the U.S. last year, up from 10.4 billion in 2011.
So what could slow an agency that last year celebrated being the nation's fastest-growing bus agency?
First, it was the strike. Then about a week later, a train derailed and temporarily shuttered COTA's nearby Fields Avenue operations center.
"Our folks have estimated that about 165,000 trips were not taken, when you combine the strike and the derailment," COTA spokesman Marty Stutz said.
The strike came during COTA's busiest busing day of the year: Red, White & Boom.COTA typically provides an additional 20,000 to 25,000 trips on top of its normal 60,000 to 65,000 during the city's annual fireworks celebration.
Toss in COTA's attempts to stop riders from using inactive identification cards from Ohio State University, and a fare hike on disabled riders, and it was a recipe for a disappointing year, Stutz said.
The agency lost about 100,000 OSU trips and an additional 50,000 trips among disabled riders.
"I wouldn't say we were incredibly surprised; however, we would like to make every effort to turn that around this year," Stutz said, adding that COTA is projecting 18.8 million trips in 2013.
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