Annual Report 2023

2023 COTA Impact Report

Moving Forward, Together

In 2024, our community will have the opportunity to support transformational investments in mobility corridors and infrastructure improvement that will help prepare us for the tremendous growth that is already coming to Central Ohio. But as we look forward, we must also take a moment to reflect upon 2023 — and we couldn’t be prouder of our team and what we accomplished over the past year.

In 2023, Team COTA tackled our Operator shortage with intensified focus and purpose, adding more new employees than in any year in the past decade. As a direct result of these efforts, we were able to add service for our customers and our community for the first time in three years. Our service enhancements could not have come at a better time, as we also experienced significant, consistent increases in COTA ridership for the first time in three years.

Meanwhile, Team COTA continues to offer innovative solutions to community challenges. We enhanced transit safety while providing compassionate human services. We provided students who go to school at local institutions such as Columbus City Schools, the Ohio State University and Columbus State Community College unlimited access to COTA at no cost to them. And we made new and continued investments in connecting residents to their jobs.

All of our success is due to the talent and commitment of our team, especially our frontline employees. We are grateful to each of them, and as we work to educate the public about how transit can benefit our region in the future, we are truly excited for the year ahead.


Dr. Marlon Moore

Chair, Board of Trustees

Sean Mentel, J.D.

Vice Chair, Board of Trustees

Joanna M. Pinkerton


Monica Téllez-Fowler

Deputy CEO

Core Community Initiatives

1 Commitment to Improving Workforce & Service

COTA’s top priority in 2023 was to grow our workforce of hard-working frontline employees to better serve our community. While these efforts will continue in 2024, measurable progress was made last year. The national labor shortage that has impacted all industries hit public transit particularly hard. But thanks to aggressive recruitment, including two of the largest hiring events in COTA history, we were able to add enough new Operators to improve service for the first time since 2020.

Service improvements included:

  • An additional hour of weekday frequent late-night service
  • Increased frequency on high-ridership Lines 1, 2, 10 and CMAX
  • Fall service for Zoo Bus

The timing of this restoration has been fortuitous, coming just as COTA began to experience a steady increase in customers. Ridership momentum that was halted in 2020 began to pick up for COTA in 2023, as more than 900,000 additional trips were recorded across all transit lines compared to one year earlier. Team COTA is committed to doing everything possible to continue these trends in 2024 because more people using transit service creates a more sustainable and connected community.

2 LinkUS

LinkUS is Central Ohio’s growth and transportation initiative. Our 15-county region is on track to reach 3.15 million residents by 2050! That amounts to 726,000 more people in about 25 years. LinkUS is our region’s proactive plan to bring rapid transit solutions and transportation options to accommodate major population growth, and it includes:

  • Faster, more reliable public transportation
  • Safe and expanded bike and pedestrian paths
  • Walkable communities with more affordable access to work, home and entertainment


After a successful pilot program in 2022, COTA continued to deliver equitable, accessible public transit services through our Income Assistance Program. This provides a 50% discount for customers who participate in several countywide programs, including SNAP, cash assistance, Medicaid, publicly funded childcare and other programs.

Those receiving Income Assistance have their fares capped at $2.25 per day and $31 per month. In 2023, Income Assistance Program customers took 120,650 trips. Customers can apply for the program at the COTA Customer Experience Center at 33 N. High Street in downtown Columbus.

4 COTA C-Pass Program

Expanding COTA access to Downtown and Short North residents, C-pass provides eligible workers and community residents with no cost, unlimited rides on any COTA fixed-route service at any time for work, play or to help get them to vital services across the region.

Following a successful pilot in 2022, the Short North C-pass program was renewed in June 2023 and saw more than 1,350 customers — many of them area restaurant and service workers from employers such as the Hilton Hotel and the Greater Columbus Convention Center — and more than 37,000 trips in the second half of the year. All told, the COTA Short North and Downtown C-pass provided nearly half a million trips for area residents.

5 COTA Mobility Center at Rickenbacker

COTA broke ground in October 2023 on a new $24.3 million COTA Mobility Center, aimed at boosting economic development throughout the region by connecting Central Ohio residents to job opportunities in and around Rickenbacker.

Providing more than a meeting point for transit vehicles from COTA and other agencies across multiple counties, the innovative center will also offer space for:

  • Education
  • Childcare and family support
  • Community gathering space
  • Food access through the Mid-Ohio Food Collective

This will provide much-needed services to improve quality of life for Rickenbacker-area workers, employers and residents. We are excited to bring this state-of-the-art facility to Southern Franklin County in 2025.

6 Strategic Response Specialist Team

The Strategic Response Specialist Team provides security support for customers and employees and connects COTA’s most vulnerable customers to resources they may desperately need. The team deploys trained personnel to immediately respond to any incident in which an individual is either causing or experiencing distress on or around a transit vehicle. The program is gaining state and national attention for its success in improving safety and providing a more compassionate response in tense situations.

In 2023, the Strategic Response Specialist Team responded to 2,052 requests for outreach and support. Many of the requests for assistance came from unsheltered, mental health impacted and vulnerable individuals. The team is so crucial to our community, it received the Community Impact Award by the Ohio Public Transportation Association.

7 The Next Generation of Onboard Wi-Fi

In 2023, more than 18,500 COTA customers each month utilized onboard complimentary COTA Wi-Fi to start their workday, access entertainment or chat and text with friends and family on their commutes. COTA is always pushing to add innovative technology that better serves customers and improves COTA performance, so in 2023, we began installing 5G-enabled hardware on all fixed-route and Mainstream vehicles.

In 2024, COTA will be the first transit agency in the nation to deliver advanced 5G Wi-Fi service across its fleet. While the new Wi-Fi will improve customers’ browsing, download and video speeds, these buses are truly “rolling data centers” and help COTA improve safety, service and performance with more accurate and real-time information.

8 Transit Stop Improvement Program

Since 2019, COTA has added 145 shelters to our transit stops and improved nearly 165 transit stops overall. By the end of 2023, 65% of our customers board at stops with transit shelters, which greatly reduces their exposure to the elements. By comparison, only 41 percent of our customers had access to shelters in 2018. COTA continues to improve pedestrian accessibility and ADA access at our stops through our ongoing Transit Stop Improvement Program.

As our community grows, we continue to prioritize our resources and your feedback to move our region forward. Here’s a snapshot of where we are today:

Our impact in 2023

Our Support in 2023*

*Preliminary, unaudited data that are subject to revision. 

Our Fleet

429 Total Fleet


Electric Buses


Compressed Natural Gas




Mainstream On-demand




Traditional fuel fleet

Our Routes

38 Total operational routes

562 Square miles of service area

3,000 Active transit stops

Ridership Data*

11,127,967 2023 Fixed-Route Ridership


Increase in fixed-route ridership in 2023


Weekly Ridership Average


Increase in COTA//Plus ridership in 2023


2023 COTA//Plus ridership


Increase in Mainstream ridership in 2023


2023 Mainstream ridership

*Preliminary, unaudited data that are subject to revision. Ridership increases calculated by comparing 2023 data to 2022.

Employee Benefits

COTA is a people-first employer dedicated to being the best organization within the industry as well as in Columbus and Central Ohio. COTA provides competitive pay for all levels. In 2023, COTA worked to improve the lives of our frontline employees by working with Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 208 to implement policies that help families grow and industry-leading wages to honor our current employees and recruit the next generation of transit professionals.

Always a proponent of personal and professional growth, COTA also offers tuition reimbursement and student loan repayment programs.

COTA’s benefits package also includes:

  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Holidays
  • Sick pay
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Student loan stipends
  • Disability insurance, including short-term and long-term
  • Retirement and savings benefits are offered through the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), 457(B) Deferred Compensation Plan

Industry-Leading Paid Family Leave Policy

COTA, working in conjunction with TWU 208, unveiled an industry-leading Paid Family Leave policy for all part-time and full-time COTA employees. The new policy allows parents and children to recover from childbirth, ease the transition into family life, create strong new bonds and establish new routines as a family without taking on additional financial hardship.

The policy allows birthing parents to receive full pay for 12 weeks, while non-birthing parents, adoptive or foster parents and domestic partners of birthing parents receive full pay for six weeks. Full-time or part-time employees who have worked for COTA for at least six months are eligible for paid family leave.

Employee Resource Groups

Veterans ERG (VERG) is committed to serving Team COTA and community partners through innovative and diverse programs and activities, including redesigning the bus shelters at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) and the Veterans Administration, flag installations for Memorial Day, and managing the Veterans Honor Wall content refresh.

In 2023, VERG had 110 members, up 10% from 2022’s membership.

Parents Actively Collaborating Together (PACT) promotes an inclusive environment for working parents and family structures through support, education, resources and outreach. PACT’s signature event is Camp COTA, which allowed children of COTA employees a chance to experience a day in the life at COTA and explore future career opportunities.

In 2023, PACT had 46 members, up 87% from 2022’s membership.

Black Employees Leading in Inclusion, Excellence, Vision & Education (BELIEVE) strives to break down barriers and dissolve systemic issues through advocacy, corporate events, employee activities, networking and community partnerships. In 2023, BELIEVE organized two out of the four annual COTA-led Food Drives, distributing more than 16,500 pounds of produce.

In 2023, BELIEVE had 120 members, up 36% from 2022’s membership.

Women for Inspiration, Strength and Excellence (WISE) leads through an intentional, inclusive and intersectional lens that focuses on career development, wealth building and whole person living for all women across Team COTA. In 2023, WISE championed a new initiative volunteering with Dress for Success and planned COTA’s first-ever activities for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

In 2023, WISE had 65 members, up 43% from 2022’s membership.

People Respecting Individual Definitions Everywhere (PRIDE) strives to create and maintain a safe, inclusive, equitable and supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies at Team COTA. PRIDE is committed to creating alliances and fostering connections that promote equity and respect for all people. In 2023 PRIDE attended Stonewall Pride Parade with 40+ COTA employees and partners, kicked off their Pronouns Initiative, and partnered with Marketing for a Pride Month campaign and 614 ad.

In 2023, PRIDE had 35 members, up 169% from 2022’s membership.

Helping the Next Generation of Customers

For COTA, investment in Central Ohio’s future means we meet the needs of the next generation of customers. When COTA launched the Educational Pass Program, it was a big step to provide supplemental transportation to area students, breaking down any barriers to the classroom.

Through a collaborative effort with Columbus City Schools (CCS), COTA provides supplemental transportation services for more than 13,000 CCS students in grades 9-12. In the first year of the partnership, CCS students accounted for more than 343,459 trips during the 2022-23 academic year. Students in South Columbus also have access to COTA//Plus On-Demand service, taking more than 2,800 trips during that academic year. We are proud to continue our partnership with CCS in 2024.

Educational Pass means more than 50,000 Ohio State University students have access to COTA by using their BuckID, and other local schools have joined the program as well. In 2024, COTA will continue to share this opportunity with local schools and districts to help better move our next generation.

COTA is also proud to launch an outstanding partnership with Columbus Promise, a public-private program that ensures participating CCS students who graduate attend Columbus State Community College at no cost to them. COTA provides unlimited transit access to students participating in the program, keeping them on a pathway to success. This collaboration is a true vision of moving every life forward.



The Central Ohio region is expanding rapidly, bringing jobs and economic opportunity to our residents. According to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), by 2050 our region is expected to add more than 750,000 new neighbors while adding 357,000 jobs. That requires a public transportation system, and the infrastructure, to successfully meet these new demands and ensure equitable access to jobs, entertainment, healthcare, food, housing and greenways.

LinkUS, Central Ohio’s comprehensive transportation and growth initiative, will be the solution. Together, we continue to forge a path toward fast and reliable rapid transit, safe sidewalks, protected bike lanes and expanded trails for our growing region.

On Election Day in November 2024, COTA, the City of Columbus, MORPC, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners and our many LinkUS partners will come to the community asking to add a new 0.5% COTA sales tax to the existing 0.5% tax. This 1% total sales tax will help the region secure at least $650 million in additional federal funding for the initiative, and allow COTA to implement five new rapid transit corridors and increase our service hours by 45%.

To learn more about why some of your neighbors are already supporting LinkUS, check out their stories here.

Electric Coaches and Zero-emission Vehicles

Supporting the region’s environmental and carbon-reduction goals, COTA continues its push to operate a diesel-free fixed-route fleet by 2025 and achieve full, net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045.

Today, just 5% of the fleet — or 22 of the 429 vehicles — are diesel, and in 2023 we grew our electric fleet to 24 coaches. By 2025, COTA will have at least 50 electric vehicles in service, with plans to also explore hydrogen fuel cell technology.


There are multiple ways to help keep COTA customers and Operators safe. In 2023, we completed installation of new air filtration systems utilizing advanced filters and UVC lighting on all COTA fixed-route and Mainstream vehicles.

The systems continuously clean the air, removing harmful particulates and infectious aerosols to reduce the spread of germs and diseases such as the flu, COVID-19 and the common cold. New transit vehicles entering the fleet will continue to be upgraded with these filtration systems.

Hop on Board

Keep rolling with COTA by downloading the Transit app.