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COTA to take feedback on route changes and reductions amid driver shortage

Bus riders get on and off a COTA bus in downtown Columbus.
file photo

Central Ohio Transit Authority riders could see more route changes in January, after a shortage of bus drivers already forced COTA to make cutbacks in September.

Riders can hear about potential changes, provide feedback and ask questions at public hearings at 6 p.m. Thursday and noon Tuesday.

The hearing will stream on COTA's Facebook page and on its website.

COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin said no decisions have been made yet for January adjustments, but the staffing shortages that forced reductions in route frequency earlier this month are still a factor.

“The workforce challenges continue. And we do have reduced service as a result. Like most organizations, COTA is impacted by the national worker shortage. And we will continue to recruit and hire new transit operators, but those new hires are not able to offset the retirements and other departures," Pullin said in an August meeting about the route changes that took effect this month.

In that meeting, service planner Amber Boyd said planned reductions make the system work more smoothly during this period of hiring constraints.

“Reducing service to match our staffing levels means that the transit vehicles you see out on the street will actually run true to schedule and riders will encounter far fewer, reduced or canceled trips. We make this move only after exhausting all other options,” she said.

After hearing from the public, COTA will finalize service changes and present them for more public feedback sometime in December, before they take effect in January. The transit system is expected to revisit route adjustments again in May.

COTA is offering incentives like bonuses for drivers.

The wage for drivers in training is $17.50 an hour, but after nine weeks of training, it rises to $21.10. Over the course of five years, it rises to $33 an hour. Openings are listed at cota.applicantpro.com/jobs/.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Fox joined the WOSU newsroom from the Tribune Chronicle/Vindicator in the Youngstown area, where she’d been a reporter since 2014. Contact Renee at renee.fox@wosu.org.