For the COTA transit audit, the Diamond Developers met at the southbound High and Woodruff bus stop to catch the number 2 bus towards downtown, with the goal being to reach the Panera Bread on East Broad Street in Bexley (5.4 miles). Upon arrival, the bus stop was clean and free of any trash or debris. There were two trashcans at the stop and a sign indicating the stop location and the lines that served the stopped. There was not a shelter however, which was something our group found odd as this is a very busy stop with student traffic as well as general everyday bus ridership. It was a cold and windy day so this was not exactly a pleasant start. The 2A (East Main to Hamilton Road) had an arrival time of 3:59 pm. The actual arrival was 4:05, about 6 minutes late and not the best start.
As the bus pulled up at the stop, it was easy to see it was already close to capacity as people were already standing. There were about 15 people that needed to get on at this stop, so as we all piled on, it became uncomfortably tight. Despite the overly tight conditions, the bus had minimal smell to it and was clean and free of trash. This was an older bus with fabric seats that were somewhat dirty, but that is expected with anything that is used so often. The speaker system was loud enough and the next stop announcements were audible throughout the bus, although we believe more speakers spread about the bus would help certain riders with hearing disabilities as the bus got loud at times with so many people on it. Overall this portion of the route was an okay experience. Being on-time is and has been an issue for COTA and this was our main concern with this part of our journey.
Getting off at Broad and High Streets downtown, our team knew we needed to get to the southeast corner of the intersection in order to get on the eastbound #10. It took us just a couple of minutes to walk to our next stop which was a very visually pleasing stop. Being downtown and next to the statehouse, this stop was probably designed with more attention and care, and made for an interesting wait. The shelter is large and had benches inside for sitting and waiting along with trash cans placed outside the shelter. The stop was pretty busy again with it being the middle of rush hour.
The #10L we planned to get on was 3 minutes late which helped us in the end seeing as our first bus was also late. The bus arrived at the stop with only a handful of people on it, but quickly filled up at this busy stop. This bus was newer and had plastic seats which feel cleaner as they don’t collect everything from everyone who has sat in them. The bus overall was also clean and had minimal or no smell to it.
Unfortunately, our group did not make it very far. We got off just a few stops later at Broad and 5th because we knew we were pressed for time. From here we walked up to Gay and High and waited for a northbound #2 back to the campus area. This bus, labeled 2V, arrived at a stop that was somewhat dirty and had a trashcan that was overflowing. Unfortunately again, this bus was not much better than the stop. The bus had a strong and offensive smell to it almost like urine and seemed rather dirty. The bus was not too full and everyone had a seat this time except a couple of riders who chose to stand. The conclusion of our journey got us back to campus right at the 5:14 mark, the end of class.
Overall, this trip was an okay experience. The actual rides were not bad on the busses, with the exception of the dirty and smelly final ride. The main issues we saw as a group dealt with the stops themselves and the schedules and punctuality. All 3 of our busses were 2-6 mins late, which is unfortunate. Also, while we never waited “too long” for a bus, we realized that was during rush hour. This is the time of day when busses are most frequent. If we were doing this at 10pm or at another off time, things could have been very different. For a person that takes COTA everyday or most days and has to transfer, every bus being 2-6 mins late can throw off a whole schedule. One bus being 6 mins late can make a person miss a planned transfer.
Another couple of issues we felt COTA needs to address immediately include bus capacities, real-time tracking, and labeling. With there being 3 routes that, when combined, consist of 50% of ridership, larger busses can most certainly be justified for those routes. In the case of the #2 during rush hour, it was uncomfortably full. People were obviously anxious to get off the bus because they were being pushed around and crowded. Larger busses on certain routes would not only address capacity issues but would also promote more ridership. Many cities have been using articulated busses for years, why isn’t Columbus? In regards to real-time tracking, COTA is embarrassingly behind other major systems and cities. With real time tracking, people can easily check when their bus will actually arrive at the stop via smart phone and even LED signs at bus stops listing arrival times. This allows people to stay inside a little longer when it’s cold outside or maybe hurry up to make the bus they want to get on. It allows people to not be overly reliant on schedules and would increase ridership and bring COTA into the 21st century. One group member mentioned that there was a sign at a bus stop recently that proudly announced real-time tracking was “coming September 2013!”. It is now almost 2016.
When it comes to labeling of busses, COTA makes it very confusing. Nearly everyone seems clueless on what the letters mean after the number (Ex. 2V). People will oftentimes ask drivers where the bus is headed and if it will make it to a certain location. Visitors are helpless if they are unfamiliar with Columbus and people who don’t ride public transit are completely intimidated by the confusion. With the planned system redesign, COTA officials need to consider a new way to label and design routes so they’re not so confusing.
The rides were not terrible, nor were they great, but COTA has a lot of work to do. With smart redesigns and implementation of common-sense technology and amenities, COTA can finally become a world-class transit system.