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Who in the world is doing public transit well, even during a pandemic?

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Who in the world is doing public transit well, even during a pandemic?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This marks the fourth day in a series of stories that examine the issues surrounding public transportation in Richland County.

MANSFIELD -- So who is doing public transit via buses well in the United States and around the world, even during a pandemic?

As Richland County Transit prepares to launch a transit development plan in 2022, it's worth looking around to see what other communities are experiencing success -- and challenges.

The fact is, it's a crucial time for public transit across the country, according to a story this month at governing.com:

Transit systems across America are facing an existential moment. Ridership remains dramatically down from its 2019 levels and budgets are only kept afloat by federal subsidies that will not continue indefinitely.

But this moment of peril for public transportation is also an opportunity to break old routines.

“Transit agencies get stuck in their service patterns, without considering the fact that those service patterns may not be reflective of what people want,” says Yonah Freemark, senior research associate at the Urban Institute. “They have bus routes, in some cases, that they’ve had literally since they were running streetcars.”

Pandemic travel

(Urban Institute chart using Federal Transit Administration data)

Here are a few locales doing it well:

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City made national headlines in 2019 when its City Council voted to make bus rides free, becoming the first metropolitan area in United States to provide no-fare public transit.

The program, which will remain in place until at least 2023, helps to create social equity by providing access to jobs, education, health care and housing, officials said.

“I think that’s the way to go, right? If we can get people out of their cars and ride public transit, but then do it in an efficient, safe, environmentally friendly way, why wouldn’t we do that?” KCATA executive officer Robbie Makinen said in a published report.

Kansas Bus

Kansas City, Mo., became the first metropolitan city in the United States in 2019 to offer fare-free bus service. (KCATA photo)

The free fares likely helped the KCATA ridership from free-falling during the COVID-19 pandemic as many other public bus services experienced.

“When it started, everyone said it wouldn’t work,” Makinen said. “I believe we’ve proved them wrong.

“While everybody else’s ridership went down during COVID to about 20%, ours never dipped below 60%, and we’re back up to 80% now."

The cost to the city is about $9 million annually, which officials said has been somewhat recouped by boosting economic activity, in addition to the social equity benefits for marginalized segments of the community.

Other metropolitan areas, as well as smaller cities, have also gone fare free for public transit, including Olympia, Wash., Montgomery County, Md., and Vail, Colo.

Columbus, Ohio

Anyone who has visited downtown in the state's capital quickly recognizes a huge problem -- a lack of parking.

Columbus is also a growing city in which many people tend to drive to work. Parking fees a few years ago were rising rapidly, as much as $150 to $200 per month.

COTA

A Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) bus in Columbus

Eligible workers can use their C-pass any day, any time, on any route, at no cost to them or their employer under a program authorized through 2025.

The C-pass is free, thanks to a partnership between COTA, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and downtown property owners of the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.

Workers can obtain a C-pass if their employer is participating and they work in eligible buildings within the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District. Some, though not all, Franklin County and City of Columbus employees also qualify.

Zurich, Switzerland

A 2018 ranking on InsiderMonkey.com ranked Zurich as the best for public transit in Europe.

"Once again we are in the land of Alps, watches, chocolate, and apparently good public transportation. This time it’s the country’s largest city which ranked first on our list of 10 European cities with best public transportation," the story said.

Zurich buses

A trolley bus in Zurich, Switzerland.

"So, the best way to get around Zurich is on foot, because it’s really one of the most stunning cities in Europe. However, you won’t mistake if you decide to take a tram, bus or train instead because taxis are expensive, plus you are not going to worry about parking your car risking a parking fine. After all, buses and trams stop at intervals of 300 meters," the story said.

Actually, when looking at public transit as a whole, all European countries should be linked together.

According to a story in USA Today, "Unlike the United States, where the mass transit systems run autonomously in the major cities, the European transit system works as a cohesive unit, providing travel options among major and smaller cities, as well as many smaller municipalities."

Crucial components everywhere

According to a story published on Remix.com in March 2021 on the top 10 public transit systems in the United States, there are some common crucial components planners should consider:

-- Accessibility, according to ADA standards, is a must.

-- Convenience with stops located in areas people frequent most often.

-- Affordability. One of the biggest reasons people use public transport is to save money on gas and commuting. Fares should fit the riders.

-- Frequency since riders must be able to depend on consistent, reliable service. One survey found frequency was one of the most important factors listed when considering transit satisfaction.

-- Visitor-friendly. Transit systems should be easy for visitors to use and understand. Put maps in many different locations with all applicable details, including timetables and fare information.

-- Technology. Today's transit riders love to use their phones to pay for service or upload funds to their transit account.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"