Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Stuck in central Ohio | WOSU Public Media

By meerna Jun25,2024
Stuck in central Ohio |  WOSU Public Media

Anita Rosvanis, 38, lives in the Linden neighborhood on Columbus’ north side. He commutes to Gahanna to work as a home health aide.

It is a journey of several kilometers, which is entirely done by bus.

Reliable, efficient and affordable transportation is key to securing and maintaining a well-paying job. Most Central Ohioans still drive, but not all.

For residents who depend on public transportation, commuting to work is a costly endeavor – both financially and in time – and one that Columbus’s poor residents can rarely afford.

Three buses and a walk
Rosvanis walks to his COTA stop on weekday mornings around 10 a.m. A single mother of three children begins her journey by checking the bus timetable in an application on her smartphone.

“I hate it because I could be at home and spending time with my daughter, but the bus keeps coming later and later,” Rosvanis says. “Because at home it was written, what, 10:07, and now it’s 10:13. And I don’t like being late for this bus, because then I’ll miss the other one and have to wait longer.”

The bus arrives at 10:14.

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

In 30 minutes, Rosvanis arrives at the Easton Transit Center on Morse Road near I-270, where he waits a few minutes for a third bus. This bus takes her to the last stop north of Morse on Hamilton Road.

Rosvanis traveled on three buses before she reached Gahanna. But her journey wasn’t over. He still has to walk about half a mile down Morse Road to the apartment building where he works.

There is no sidewalk.

Anita Rosvanis lives on the north side of Columbus, but it takes her three buses, an hour and a half each way, to commute to her job in Gahanna.

Anita Rosvanis lives on the north side of Columbus, but it takes her three buses, an hour and a half each way, to commute to her job in Gahanna.

“Now I just have to walk on one side of the street because there’s a really narrow path on the other side and when cars come, someone gets hit on the side,” Rosvanis says.

Rosvanis’ one-way journey takes 1.5 hours. At work he earns $9 an hour.

“I spend most of my money on childcare and bus tickets, and the rest on utilities, food and anything I need for home or for my children,” Rosvanis says.

No cars in Columbus

The latest census report shows that 89 percent of all commuters in Franklin County use a car, truck or van. Less than 3 percent use public transport.

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

In those three hours a day both ways, she could look after her children, go to school or train for a better job.

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Jason Reece, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at The Ohio State University, says dependence on the transportation system can limit job prospects, especially for African Americans.

In the city of Columbus, 19.7 percent of African American residents do not own a car. This compares to 7.6% of white residents and 9.1% of Hispanic residents.

“If we think about things like employment and economic empowerment for this community in particular, transportation is going to be a huge barrier,” Reece says.

Even when looking at the entire Columbus metropolitan area, disparities still exist. African American households are three times more likely than white households to be without a car.

African-American commuters also have longer travel times on average than white commuters. This difference has only increased since 2000.

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

“For people who are really dependent on them, which used to be the bread and butter of the middle-class economy, they’re seeing their employment opportunities shift more and more to the suburbs and really outlying parts of the region,” Reece says.

Direct bus service to job sites outside of Columbus is also severely lacking. A recent study found that Columbus is the second-largest city in the country with no intercity public transportation – neither buses nor light rail.

“We haven’t invested in public transport as much as we need for decades,” Reece says. “As a form of infrastructure, we really need more resources dedicated to transit.”

Suburbs vs. Downtown

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

“We’re trying to provide better connections to jobs,” Stitt said. “There are more and more jobs further and further away.”

One of these employment offices is located in the Groveport area, now a warehouse center. However, many warehouse workers had to walk up to 3.5 km from the nearest bus stop.

In response, the communities of Groveport and Obetz stepped up to provide shuttles that would take workers from COTA’s last stop to the warehouses. They call this initiative GREAT: Groveport Rickenbacker Employee Access Transit.

Groveport Transportation Director Bob Dowler says the ferry’s $500,000-a-year cost to operate it is simply a good investment.

“I think what we really need to note here is that most of the tax revenue for both the village of Obetz and the city of Groveport comes from income tax revenues from the people who work at these companies,” Dowler says.

Employers also see the impact. Tony Malone, manager at Radial Corporation, a produce distributor in Groveport, says the GREAT shuttle service helps him retain employees.

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“We were in a situation where we had co-workers who couldn’t work full-time because they either lost their commute or didn’t want to walk,” Malone says. “It makes it much easier and more accessible.”

“You must work”

While opportunities are expanding in the suburbs, more service industry jobs are emerging in downtown Columbus. And these janitors, security guards, kitchen workers and others still struggle to get to work.

The pilot program, which will start next spring, will aim to improve public transport in the city center. 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 approximately 45,000 employees to free up parking spaces and encourage the use of public transportation.

Downtown Columbus will soon offer free COTA service to approximately 45,000 employees to free up parking spaces and encourage the use of public transportation.

We hope to encourage around 45,000 workers to use the buses, thereby freeing up parking spaces and attracting more businesses.

“Currently, less than 5 percent of downtown residents use transit to get to work,” says Executive Director Cleve Ricksecker. “If we can double or triple the number of people riding buses in the city center, the impact of that will be significant in many, many ways.”

However, free bus connections to the city center will not help in Rosvanis in the northern part of the city. He still pays to travel to work by bus – or rather three buses.

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

By meerna

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