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Commuters turn to COTA as gas prices rise

There are about thirty cars waiting at a park and ride lot, just off Cleveland Avenue in Westerville. The lot is nestled between a few other businesses and for some suburban commuters it marks the beginning and end of their workday. A little before five o'clock, COTA's Westerville Express, # 37 arrives from downtown.

About 2 dozen commuters stream off the bus and head to their cars. One of the commuters, George Tankovich, has been taking the COTA to and from work for the past two years. He says he started riding because he wanted to save money, but recently he has noticed an influx of passengers.

"Yeah it used to be there were some days where there were only two of us on the bus in the morning cause I take the earliest bus that goes into town," he said. "Now it's almost full everyday and coming home at night it's almost standing room only."

Tankovich says he enjoys relaxing during the early morning commute. He says he sometimes reads or talks to other passengers on the way to his federal government job. But in order to catch the early-morning bus he gets up at about 4:30.

"That's OK because I used to work for a job where I had to get up at a quarter till three every morning," Tankovich said.

Tankovich says by riding COTA, he saves about $300 a month.

"And with the way it's going up now, it's going to get closer to 400 dollars," Tankovich said. "So it's a real deal for us."

COTA spokesman Dan Liggett says High Street and express routes like the one in Westerville are getting more traffic.

"We have 26 park and rides throughout Franklin County and we're getting an increased ridership from those park and rides bound for downtown Columbus," Liggett said.

Compared to figures from last year, the amount of passengers for the month of May alone has increased 10 percent. Liggett says more passengers are buying monthly passes which cost 45 to 62 dollars depending on the route.

"Now when you compare that to the cost of filling up your tank at the pump for gasoline, those rates are about one fill up for many vehicles," Liggett said.

Norma Jackson chooses an earlier less-crowded bus- which drops her at the lot at 4:30 in the afternoon. She says gas prices have everything to do with her decision to ride COTA.

"It's just astronomical with almost $4 a gallon," Jackson said. "It's unaffordable. And most of us have to pay for parking once we get down there. So with parking prices and gas prices it's just feasible to take the bus."

Jackson works downtown as a consultant for the state. She says gas prices have forced her to re-evaluate her spending habits. As she hops into her SUV, she says her biofuel-friendly vehicle offers no relief.

"My car takes ethanol," Jackson said. "Even ethanol prices are escalating along with gas prices for some reason."

And bio diesel prices are affecting business at COTA. Prices have been fixed at $2.40 a gallon but when COTA's contract runs out at the end of the month, prices will jump to $4.44 a gallon. Liggett says COTA will quit using a 10 percent biodiesel mix, for now, but will re-evaluate the policy in six months.