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Columbus May Offer Free Transit Passes to All Downtown Workers

Downtown workers in Columbus may be able to ride the bus for free starting next year. Photo: Sam Howzit/Flickr

A few years ago, a group of property owners in downtown Columbus realized they had a problem: They were running out of room for car commuters. There wasn't enough parking to accommodate more.

Rather than lobby elected officials to spend millions on parking decks, they came at the problem from a different angle -- making transit more appealing.

For the last year and a half, Columbus's Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District -- which has property taxing authority downtown -- has been piloting a free transit pass program for 844 downtown workers. It made an impact: The share of workers in the program who commute via transit increased from 6 percent to 12 percent.

Now the Special Improvement District wants to expand the program to all 40,000 workers downtown, reports Kimball Perry at the Columbus Dispatch:

Half of the $5 million cost to provide the passes for more than 2½ years would come from 550 owners of properties in the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, who would pay 3 cents per square foot of space per year, said Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of the district. Capital Crossroads would seek grants from foundations and others to pay the rest of the cost.

Capital Crossroads would team with COTA to provide the bus passes for district workers from June 1, 2018, to the end of 2020.

If results from the bus-pass test hold up and the program opens to all 41,165 district workers, Capital Crossroads estimates that it would free up 2,400 parking spaces -- about four parking garages -- and allow for 2,900 more people to work in the district. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people would trade their cars for COTA on their commute, the district estimates.

For its part, COTA is offering Capital Crossroads a deal on the passes. A $744 annual pass would cost the district just $40.50.

"We'd like to have more riders," COTA spokesman Marty Stutz said. "We (also) want a more robust and vibrant Downtown."

Capital Crossroads hopes to identify matching funds to launch the program by next June, Perry reports.

More recommended reading today: At Boston's WBUR, a writer who struck and killed a cyclist 20 years ago makes a plea for safer driving. And the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia explains a new local bill that would require the city to follow up after collisions to improve intersection safety.

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