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New CMAX Bus Line Offers Quicker Commute On Cleveland Avenue

Esther Honig
The new CMAX buses run on compressed gas and offer riders free WIFI and USB ports to charge their electronics

During the Tuesday morning commute,  the temperature hovered around -3 degrees outside Linden Transit Center on Cleveland Avenue. The holidays are over, and for many that means it's back to work. 

For some commuters, a new bus line launched on January 1 has made getting there a little easier.

The new CMAX bus stop on Cleveland Avenue is pretty fancy. It’s a covered structure, so riders are protected from wind and rain. Some of the stops are decorated with artwork from local artists, and there's a big-screen TV that has up-to-date arrival times for all the buses.  

Keyun Berry, who lives in the Linden neighborhood, was riding the bus to go see his cousin. Like many residents, he was just learning about CMAX.

“This is the first I'm hearing of it,” Berry says.  “I was standing down there waiting, I see this bus and I am like, 'What is this?'”   

The buses themselves are unique. They're lower to the ground, so passengers can get on and off faster, painted red and blue, and they're powered by compressed natural gas.

Riders can also take advantage of free Wi-Fi and USB ports to charge their phones or tablets. But the feature that riders care most about is that these buses arrive at a stop every 15 minutes and every 10 minutes during rush hour.

Credit Esther Honig
The CMAX bus helps elevate what was a very congested public transportation route.

The CMAX bus line has been a decade in the making and represents a nearly $50 million investment, most of which came from the federal government.

The line runs up the Cleveland Avenue corridor, starting in downtown Columbus and reaching north to Polaris Parkway. With a limited number of stops and a technology that syncs buses with traffic signals to stay on time, it reduces the average transit time by 20 percent.

For people like John Stuart, that shaved 30 minutes off his morning commute.

Stuart, a painter, has ridden a Cleveland Avenue COTA bus nearly every day for the last 10 years, and it's taken up a lot of his time. On the previous route, the bus would stop about every other block and often became packed with riders.

“You have to stand up a lot, especially in the evenings, like around 5:00, there's only standing room,” Stuart said.

The CMAX helps do away with that congestion. According to one COTA representative, there's an average of 10 passengers aboard a CMAX bus, although that's expected to increase as more people learn about the new line. 

For some riders, though, the CMAX does little to improve their commute.

Isaiah Harvey, who works in construction and at warehouses, calls the COTA system “unreliable” and says he takes the bus to get to work everyday.

Harvey is most upset by the major route changes COTA made in May, when some routes seen as underutilized were cut and more buses were added to popular routes. Harvey says he now has to take two buses instead of one, and wishes buses ran around the clock.

“It would be nice to have a bus that actually runs all night, you know, instead of asking my girlfriend or someone to give me a ride at like two in the morning,” Harvey says.  

Credit Esther Honig
COTA says CMAX will link more than 211,000 residents and 170,000 employees to jobs, healthcare providers and schools.

While the CMAX will not be a solution for everyone, COTA estimates it will link 211,000 residents and 170,000 employees to jobs, healthcare providers, and schools. Apart from just moving people, city leaders hope the new bus line will bring much needed economic activity to the Cleveland Avenue corridor.

Berry is optimistic about what the New Year and the new bus route will bring to his neighborhood. He says it's the little things, like a new bus route, that will help everyone tackle the bigger issues in 2018.