COTA will add more service hours and subtract more of its old diesel-powered coaches in 2014. The agency will replace them with buses fueled by compressed natural gas.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority plans to add more than 60,000 service hours next year, partly through the creation of a Downtown Circulator line that would run along High and Front streets between the Short North and German Village.
Additional service hours is the biggest reason for a $9.2 million expected increase in operating expenses in 2014, said Marion White, COTA's chief financial officer.
COTA trustees approved a $182.8 million budget for 2014, an 8 percent increase over the $168.2 million the authority was projected to spend this year. COTA officials have said fares will not increase next year.
The 2014 budget includes $54.3 million for new buses, building renovations and other capital expenses.
An additional $4.4 million will be earmarked for the increase in service hours, from 918,000 to 981,000 next year, White said. About one-third of the new service will be on the Downtown Circulator, which is scheduled to launch in May.
COTA still is working on the route's alignment and is considering whether it can offer free or reduced fares.
The authority also has to pay for a $2.3 million increase in its share of medical premiums, White said. COTA is trying to make up for part of the increase by lowering its pension pick-up for employees, which will save about $400,000 next year.
An additional 36 compressed-natural-gas buses will be added in 2014 as COTA continues with a 13-year plan to switch from diesel fuel, he said. New buses and "paratransit" vehicles will cost about $18.2 million; about $14.2 million of that will be paid for with grants.
Grants will pay for more than half of COTA's capital expenses in 2014.
Part of the agency's capital budget will be used to buy 1.5 acres near the I-71/Rt. 665 interchange in Grove City for $250,000. Grove City will give COTA an additional half-acre to build a 133-space park and ride within the next 10 years, said Mike Bradley, director of capital projects and planning.
"This is just as fast as getting into your car Downtown," he said. "This is competitive with your automobile."
COTA already has a park and ride on Stringtown Road in Grove City, but a new Mount Carmel Health System emergency-care center that is expected to open next year could create a need closer to the interchange, Bradley said.
"This is a hot area," said Grove City Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage.
Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio