Posted August 02, 2017 in Articles
Author: Kimball Perry, The Columbus Dispatch
About 43,000 Downtown workers will be eligible for bus passes, free to them, starting next summer under a unique program drawing national interest.
“This is a very practical, cost-effective way of dealing with a problem we have Downtown,” Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of Capital Crossroads, said late Wednesday, moments after that agency’s board of directors voted to proceed with the program.
The problem Ricksecker mentioned is the large number of cars, especially single-occupancy cars, driving Downtown and parking all day before returning home. That creates a lack of adequate parking, which employers have said is an impediment to attracting workers. It also hurts Downtown office rents, which are down 28 percent since 2002, and vacancy rates which are at 19 percent, Ricksecker said.
To address that, the 550 owners of Downtown property in a Special Improvement District agreed to pay 3 cents per square foot of space per year to help fund the program. That will raise about half of the $5 million needed to pay for the COTA passes for eligible Downtown workers. The rest will come from grants and other fundraising.
The Capital Crossroads board set fundraising goals at its Wednesday meeting that “we feel confident we will meet,” Ricksecker said.
“It’s huge,” Ricksecker said of his board’s approval to proceed with the program. “The board was enthusiastic about it.”
Under it, Downtown workers would receive a COTA pass that allows them to ride the bus at no cost to them from June 1, 2018 through the end of 2020. COTA is helping by charging the SID $40.50 per annual pass that normally costs $744. Passes would be purchased only for employees who ask for them.
Capital Crossroads expects 4,000 to 5,000 Downtown workers to use the program. Now, it estimates 83 percent of Downtown workers drive to work, 10 percent carpool and 5 percent ride the bus.
A successful program is expected to free up 2,400 Downtown parking spaces — the equivalent of four parking garages. Fewer cars commuting Downtown also means cleaner air and would save each worker who participates the $120 or more per month it costs to park Downtown.
Other cities have been calling Ricksecker to check up on the program’s status, hoping to learn from and possibly implement it or something like it. The program is the first in the country where property owners contribute half the money.
“The more people who think about this, the more sense it makes,” Ricksecker said.