Stranded In Central Ohio

Anita Rosvanis, 38, lives in the Linden neighborhood on Columbus’s North Side. She commutes to Gahanna to work as a home health care aide.

That’s a journey of several miles, undertaken entirely by bus.

Reliable, efficient and affordable transportation is key to securing and keeping a good-paying job. Most Central Ohioans still get around by car, but not all.

For residents dependent on public transportation, commuting to work is a costly endeavor – both in money and time – and one that poor Columbus residents can seldom afford.

Three Buses And A Walk

Rosvanis walks to her COTA stop weekday mornings around 10 a.m.  The single mother of three starts her journey by checking the bus schedule with an app on her smartphone.

“I hate this because I could be at home spending time with my daughter, but the bus wants to come later and later and later,” Rosvanis says. “‘Cause at the house it said, what, 10:07, and now it’s saying 10:13. And I don’t like missing this bus because then I’ll miss the second bus and have to wait longer.”

The bus arrives at 10:14.

Rosvanis rides the first bus for about 7 minutes, gets off at Cleveland and Innis, then waits about 10 minutes before the second bus picks her up.

A 30-minute ride takes Rosvanis to the Easton Transit Center off Morse Road near I-270, where she waits several minutes for a third bus. This bus takes her to her last stop north of Morse on Hamilton Road.

By the time Rosvanis arrives in Gahanna, she has traveled on three buses. But her trip is not over. She still has to walk about half a mile on Morse Road to the apartment complex where she works.

There is no sidewalk.

Anita Rosvanis lives on Columbus’ North Side, but it takes her three buses – an hour and a half one-way – to get to work in Gahanna.

 

“Now I just have to walk on one side of the street, because on the other side it’s a real narrow path and when cars come you get sideswiped,” Rosvanis says.

Rosvanis’ one-way trip takes her 1.5 hours. At work, she makes $9 an hour.

“Majority of my money goes toward child care and a bus pass, and the rest will go on utilities, or food, or whatever I need for the house or for my kids,” Rosvanis says.

No Car In Columbus

The most recent Census report shows 89 percent of all Franklin County commuters take a car, truck or van to work. Just under 3 percent take public transportation.

The average commute time in Central Ohio is about 20 minutes. For Rosvanis, it takes about four times as long.

During those three hours a day, round-trip, she could otherwise be caring for her kids, going to school or training for a better job.

Jason Reece, an Ohio State University assistant professor in city and regional planning, says being dependent on the transit system can limit people’s job prospects, especially for African-Americans.

In the city of Columbus, 19.7 percent of African-American residents don’t own a car. That’s compared to 7.6 percent of white residents and 9.1 percent of Latino residents.

“If you think about issues like employment and economic empowerment for that community in particular, transportation is going to be a tremendous barrier,” Reece says.

Even looking at the entire Columbus metropolitan area, the disparity still exists. African-American households are three times more likely than white households to go without a car.

When using public transit, African-American commuters also have longer travel times, on average, than white commuters. That gap has only increased since 2000.

African-American households in Columbus are three times more likely than white households to go without a car.

Reece says Columbus’ transportation problem only grew as jobs moved to the suburbs, places traditionally underserved by COTA buses.

“For those folks who are really dependent on those, that really used to be kind of the bread and butter jobs of a middle-class economy, they’re seeing their employment opportunities kind of push further and further out into some of the exurbs and really out to the farther parts of the region,” Reece says.

Direct bus service to jobs outside of Columbus is critically lacking, too. A recent study found that Columbus is the second-largest city in the country without intercity public transit – neither bus service nor light rail.

“We’ve not had the investment in public transit that we’ve needed probably for several decades now,” Reece says. “And as a form of infrastructure, we really need more resources directed to transit.”

Suburbs Vs. Downtown

COTA is certainly aware of the city’s shift to suburbs. When the organization relaunched its route system, then-president W. Curtis Stitt said their goal was to shift the focus away from downtown.

“We are trying to make better connections to where people work,” Stitt said. “There are more and more jobs further and further out.”

One of these job centers is in the Groveport area, now a hub for warehouses. Many warehouse workers, though, had to walk up to 2 miles from the nearest bus stop.

The Groveport Rickenbacker Employee Access Transit helps transport workers to warehouses in the otherwise-disconnected neighborhood.

In response, the communities of Groveport and Obetz stepped up to provide a shuttle to take workers from the last COTA stop to the warehouses. They call the initiative GREAT: Groveport Rickenbacker Employee Access Transit.

Groveport’s transportation director Bob Dowler says the cost to operate the shuttle, $500,000 a year, is just a good investment.

“I think that what we really have to look at here is that the majority of tax revenue for both the Village of Obetz, and I can speak more to the city of Groveport, comes from income tax revenue from the people that work in these businesses,” Dowler says.

Employers see the impact as well. Tony Malone, a manager at Radial Corporation, a product distributor in Groveport, says the GREAT shuttle helps him retain employees.

“We were in a situation where we had associates that couldn’t stay on full-time because they either lost the ride or didn’t want to walk,” Malone says. “So this makes it much easier, much more accessible.”

“You Have To Work”

While opportunities increase in the suburbs, downtown Columbus is itself seeing more jobs in the service industry. And those janitors, security guards, kitchen staff and others still struggle to get to work.

A pilot program, which starts next spring, will try to improve public transit in the core of downtown. Building owners in the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District plan to raise about $4.5 million to provide free COTA service.

Downtown Columbus will soon offer free COTA service to some 45,000 employees, as a way to free up parking and encourage public transit.

 

The hope is to encourage some 45,000 employees to take the bus, freeing up parking spaces to lure more businesses.

“Right now, less than 5 percent of the people in downtown take transit to work,” says executive director Cleve Ricksecker. “If we can double that or triple the number of people who ride the bus downtown, the impact of that is significant in many, many ways.”

Free downtown bus service, however, won’t help Rosvanis on the city’s North Side. She continues to pay to ride a bus – or rather, three buses – to work.

“I want to provide a good life for myself and my children,” Rosvanis says. “You know, and just staying at home, bills aren’t going to get paid, my kids aren’t going to get new clothes or shoes or anything. So you have to work.”


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Comments (11)

  1. Amanda Glauer- TLP Team Leader at Huckleberry House November 1, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you so much for running this story. I work with transition age youth coming out of homelessness here in Columbus and this is an issue so many of them face. By heightening awareness of this issue, I feel our community can work together to remove these barriers. We had a young person who came to us through the family shelter and after a few months in the program gained employment at a warehouse. Their bus route was an hour and 15 min to get to work but busses didn’t start early enough for them to make it to work on time. Their supervisor was kind enough knowing their situation to allow them to start their shift 30 min later to accommodate the bus. Had this supervisor not been willing to do this, they would have missed out on an employment opportunity. Coming from the family shelter with the desire to move ahead. With the desire to provide for your family. Wanting to position yourself to never face homelessness again…and having 30 min be the reason you can’t have those things..we can do better! Thanks again for bringing light to this issue!

  2. Stu Nicholson November 1, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    An excellent start toward examining an important issue. I would like to see it include an examination of why Columbus and Central Ohio has been so resistant to incorporating rail-based public transit into its transportation portfolio. Look to any city that has done so (including Cleveland) and you will see that it not only provides more options for commuters, but it enables transit providers to reconfigure their “rubber tire” fleets to serve more and better routes. Moving people better by rail is also a proven economic development generator not just at transit centers, but all along the rail lines. Denver area real estate developers were building both single and multiple unit housing and promoting it as “close to the new light rail line and that was a full year before the first trains began running.

    Adding intercity passenger rail to connect Columbus with other Ohio cities (and beyond) would also expand opportunities for access to jobs, housing, education and health care. This is also part of what should be a more diverse array of transportation options. But Columbus lost a bid for a major political convention (in part) because it could not offer such transportation diversity. Columbus is also at a competitive disadvantage in its current bid to attract Amazon’s second corporate headquarters for much the same reason.

    I hope your look at what Columbus lacks in terms of public transportation options will go deeper and broader.

    • Larry November 2, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      Stu – try not to be so naive. As someone who works for a company that would profit form such endeavors, you know the reason why – the boondoggle costs that come with rail projects, and the taxes necessary to keep these projects – and their union run hacks floating. Just because you visit a another city and you find their transportation options wonderful, gives you know clue as to the tax burden placed upon local residents. Columbus is full of well educated and smart people – that is why we have not invested in the projects you drool over. And yet – we are the fastest growing city in the Midwest…imagine that.

      • David November 3, 2017 at 1:44 am

        We are growing because of tax abatement but our lack of transit and crowded roads will be our doom.

      • Bill Hutchison November 7, 2017 at 2:31 am

        Attitudes such as yours are why Columbus does not have rail based transit. Many other cities are making the investment and its paying off for them.

      • Frank November 7, 2017 at 10:57 pm

        Larry, those are great concerns. Rail projects are expensive, but not nearly as expensive as the cost of sprawl and the maintenance associated with it. Effective public transportation is difficult to implement in sprawled communities, however the lack of it can be costlier. Individuals who cannot commute, cannot work. The cost of benefit programs ultimately falls back onto tax payers. A better solution is to stop subsidizing sprawl and encourage walkable and bikable development.

    • Karen November 2, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Well said, Stu. I think Larry illustrates exactly one of the short-sighted reasons we have been unable to provide our residents better, and more efficient, public transportation. As great as Columbus is, I think we will continue to lose out on many things, like political conventions, Amazon (or other major businesses) and major sporting teams because of this continuing issue.

  3. Charity Justma November 1, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    15 years ago I was a youth in Huck Houses TLP. One day on my way to work there was a sign posted saying Cora was on strike because of wage dispute during the July 4 holiday week. At the time I had no cell Phone and no alternative method of transportation. This strike was aired on the news but that was no excuse for my employer. I was let go from my job.

    Now as an older adult and with a vehicle my heart goes out to those in the transition struggles. A group I’m apart of called “Helping the Homeless beC.A.U.S.E together we can make a difference #ChillyNoMore” goes out on the streets at night to pass out Chili, Blankets, hot coffee/cocoa and warm cider. We also provide this for those at bus stops especially on sundays when the bus schedule changes. There are many who have to wait at the bus the night before to get to work on time the next day. It’s remarkable seeing so many dedicated to their jobs willing to sleep at bus stops. Anyways, we are glad this issue is finally being focused on. We need better transportation services for those who need it. It would be big savings on our environment if more people road but first they system has to be improved for others to want to do so.

  4. Susan Woolwine November 2, 2017 at 12:03 am

    I encourage All Aboard Ohio visit Dayton History (Carillon Park) which has a historical display in their Transportation Building that discusses inter urban transportation used in the past. They also have pictures and one of the actual inter urban train cars. BRING BACK THE INTER URBAN TRANSPORTATION.

  5. Francis Mize November 2, 2017 at 4:26 am

    Unfortunately any ballot initiative to add any major infrastructure projects in Ohio always gets voted down. Coming close to a 40 year resident of Ohio (and two of it’s major cities Cincinnati and Columbus) over the years I’ve seen the hurtles are multifaceted and difficult to overcome. Save for a the (relatively few) people in the “inner city” of states largest cities, Ohio is a very conservative state. Data shows the Median age to be around 40 years old but I suspect if you remove those living in the major cities that number would increase dramatically. Therefore there is a large number of retirees who do not feel the need to fund new infrastructure in the cities they don’t need and will not use. These same people also represent the largest age group of voters in the state. I suspect this same group also contributes to a large amount of the tax base already as well; as they would own businesses, properties and substantial private accounts. Wether it be light-rail to connect the state’s big 3 C’s cities, or a (desperately needed) subway system for Columbus, out where the corn grows they see no need to change the status quo and spend a penny more on anything. Convincing them otherwise will be a monumental task thus far impossible.

  6. David MacLuna November 4, 2017 at 7:48 am

    Since the deep tunnel project, we’ve got the tools and experience necessary for subway building – considering weather, the sprawl of metropolitan Columbus (only Kingy’s Pizza Pub, on Rt 33, is holding us back from annexing Lancaster, I think), and that there’s the old sewer system under Broad Street and under High Street – remember when a section collapsed and ate a BMW? – it’d be very practical to build and certainly boost growth.

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