Jan. 23--COTA's proposed Downtown circulator route might not be free after all.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority has budgeted for an expected 50-cent fare to ride the bus that would loop between the Short North and German Village, beginning in May.
Original plans called for free rides along the route on High and Front streets between Sycamore Street and Buttles Avenue.
The fare doesn't have to be finalized until COTA's February board meeting, but it will remain at 50 cents unless businesses subsidize the line, said Mike Bradley, interim vice president for planning.
Business support could help reduce the fare or eliminate it altogether, he said. COTA's local fare for other lines is set at $2.
"If we could get private-sector participation, it could reduce it all the way to zero," Bradley said.
Authority spokesman Marty Stutz said COTA typically looks to recover about 20 percent of its expenses through fares, but plans to provide the reduced rates on the circulator because it is not a traditional route.
COTA has had similar alignments in the past. The authority eliminated a route that ran north and south along High Street between the Short North and the former City Center Mall in the early 2000s, Stutz said. That route used buses that looked like trolley cars and cost 25 cents to ride.
The new circulator will make up the bulk of the 63,000 service hours COTA plans to add in 2014.
That represents growth of about 7 percent over the 918,742 service hours provided in 2013. Fixed-route ridership increased slightly last year to about 18.5 million rides, but fell short of COTA's 18.6-million-ride goal for 2013.
Ridership and cost control were among the biggest factors in allocating performance bonuses that total about $350,000 for 146 nonunion employees, including top administrators.
In 2007, COTA developed a plan to give the once-a-year payments using six criteria, including hitting targets for cost control, ridership and reliability.
In 2013, COTA met targets for expenses, on-time performance, complaints and the number of miles between service-interrupting bus problems.
If all goals were met, COTA could have distributed about $476,000 in bonuses, said Marion White, the authority's chief financial officer. COTA budgets separately for merit raises.
COTA has been trying to reduce costs since around 2005, said CEO Curtis Stitt. During that time, the authority has narrowed the gap between what it spends on each service hour compared to a group of peer transit agencies from other cities.
"We have gotten our costs under control while other transit agencies' have been rising," he said.
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