OH: Coleman Can't Shake His Taste for Light Rail

Mayor Michael B. Coleman has a fever, and the only cure appears to be light rail.

In his 15 years as the city's longest-serving mayor, Coleman has mentioned passenger rail countless times. He brought it up again last week near the end of his State of the City address.

Coleman proposed a passenger rail line connecting Port Columbus and Downtown. He mentioned that there's no direct transportation between the airport and Downtown outside of taxis.

"Can we connect our Downtown to our airport by passenger rail?" he said. "It's not a question I am answering now."

Dan Williamson, Coleman's spokesman, said after the speech that the proposal was just an idea.

"The mayor has talked about light rail for years and will probably talk about it for years to come," Williamson said.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority offered a direct bus line between the airport and Downtown but stopped it more than a decade ago because of low ridership.

Even though about 17,000 passengers were departing from and landing at the airport daily, fewer than 40 people were taking the Downtown bus, according to reports at the time.

COTA still offers bus service at the airport, but getting Downtown requires a transfer.

The ride-sharing app Lyft is the latest to launch in the Columbus market and the latest to burn the city officials with whom the company was trying to build good will.

The West Coast company launched on Friday, but the city still had the impression that the two sides were working together to hash out code changes that would allow it to operate under local ordinances.

"They were looking to launch soon, but there was no date given," said Amanda Ford, spokeswoman for the Columbus Department of Public Safety.

Ford said the company is operating illegally if it is asking for donations in exchange for rides —the model Lyft operates on in other markets. If the rides are free, she said, it's no problem.

"We disagree with that," said Erin Simpson, a Lyft spokeswoman. "This is a new model not accounted for by existing regulations."

City officials have been analyzing local laws for months to determine how they could make changes that would allow the burgeoning tech companies to operate in Columbus and keep a level playing field for taxis, limos and other for-hire transportation.

Last year, the city council altered its livery code to allow the vehicles to be hired on demand, a necessary component of the Uber Black service. Uber representatives had approached the city to discuss code changes and, like Lyft, launched before any changes were made.

The city responded by running a "sting" operation, finding black-car drivers who were operating with Uber and warning them they risked losing their license.

Sometimes Columbus' steady stream of snowplow and parking news releases can become white noise, but last week was a reminder to read the fine print.

Before every observed holiday, the city posts a notice that its parking meters will not be enforced but that other parking restrictions must still be observed. They include rush-hour parking bans on major thoroughfares such as High, 3rd and 4th streets.

Several cars were ticketed for parking during rush hour last week on Presidents Day. Drivers need to read the signs on the block, not just the meters, said Rick Tilton, the assistant director of the Columbus Department of Public Service.


Dispatch Reporter Lucas Sullivan contributed to this report.

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