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New Levy Helps COTA Implement Long Range Plan

Central Ohio Transit Authority officials say they're studying service improvements now that a new source of revenue is on the horizon. Voters narrowly approved a quarter-percent tax levy that begins in January 2008.

Riders heading west on COTA's Number 3 bus may not realize it but they're hearing a bit of the future.

"Next stop: Spring and Marconi."

This announceator is tied into a GPS system and calls out bus stops automatically. With voter approval of an additional quarter-percent sales tax, COTA plans other improvements from its long range strategic plan. They include scanners that read a bus pass while it's in a rider's pocket and video displays at shelters that will tell riders in real time when their bus will arrive. But according to President Bill Lhota, the company may address more immediate needs as early as next spring.

"We have a serious crowding problem particularly on our big local lines, and we need to figure out how we can add more service to alleviate that condition," Lhota says.

The just-approved, 10-year sales tax will go into effect in January 2008 in COTA's existing service area - all of Franklin County and parts of Fairfield, Licking and Delaware counties. It's expected to bring in about $44 million a year - doubling the tax money COTA currently receives. In the meantime, the company may borrow money to buy new buses. But COTA has no plans to extend service outside the current operating area.

"The long range transit plan did not include service beyond where Reynoldsburg, Westerville and Columbus have annexed such as Delaware or Newark or Lancaster."

The new revenue will not affect the labor agreement COTA has with its drivers - the current contract does not expire until the end of 2008. But as the company restores service that had been cut to balance its budget Lhota says additional people will be hired.

"As we expand our service we will absolutely have to hire more bus operators," Lhota says. We will carefully look at every administrative position we add to make sure it is justified. We will be very careful to try and stretch every dollar as far as we can."