COTA Launches Year-Long 50th Anniversary Celebration

The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) is entering the new year by celebrating its 50th anniversary. All this year, COTA will be taking a look back at five decades of service to the Central Ohio region.

vintage image of boy holding lamppost with COTA bus in backgroundCOTA began offering transit service on Jan. 1, 1974, after purchasing the privately owned Columbus Transit Company for $4.8 million. Since its launch, the authority has grown from a small bus company to a multi-modal transit agency that serves 27 municipalities and 17 townships over 562 square miles in Franklin, Fairfield, Delaware, Licking and Union Counties. It is estimated that COTA has provided more than 880 million passenger trips since 1974.

“This milestone speaks to the hard work and dedication of tens of thousands of COTA frontline employees and support staff from the past and present” said President/CEO Joanna M. Pinkerton. “In our 50th year, COTA remains committed to connecting our customers to jobs, education, health care, food sources and events that unite our communities. We continue to invest in ways to support our customers and employees by ensuring that COTA remains a leading force in shaping the future of mobility in Central Ohio. We are grateful to the Central Ohio community for their continued investment and support in our people and organization.”

a woman boarding a vintage COTA bus“For 50 years, COTA has been a crucial resource to our region, providing transit access to millions of customers each year,” said COTA Board of Trustees Chair Marlon Moore. “Our customers and our employees are the heart and soul of COTA and as we celebrate five decades, we are also preparing for the future, one that will bring the Columbus region a world-class transit system to meet the needs of our growing and changing population. This is not only a celebration of the past – it energizes us for a bright future.”

Here is a look at some of the key milestones in COTA history:

  • 1974 – COTA launches service to the Columbus community
  • 1978 – COTA Mainstream service launches to support people with special mobility needs. COTA also launched the first Zoo Bus with daily trips to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium all summer
  • 1980 – The first Red, White & Boom is launched in Columbus and COTA begins providing express and expanded service before and after the annual fireworks celebration.
  • 1992 – COTA introduces the first Day Pass that allows access to unlimited daily trips.
  • 1997 – The Ohio State University and COTA partner to provide unlimited transit access to Ohio State students by using their BuckID.
  • 2004 – COTA begins providing bike racks on all new buses.
  • 2010 – COTA introduces its first hybrid transit vehicles to its fleet.
  • 2013 – Low-emission compressed natural gas buses are introduced to the fleet.
  • 2016 – Complimentary on-board Wi-Fi becomes available on all buses.
  • 2017 – COTA redesigns its entire transit system, realigning its lines to better connect customers to hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes.
  • 2018 – C-pass is launched, providing eligible downtown workers with unlimited access to transit at no cost to them through financial partnership with downtown businesses. CMAX, the region’s first partial-bus rapid transit line, is also introduced on the Cleveland Avenue Corridor.
  • 2019 – COTA Mainstream On-Demand is launched providing same-day booking for customers with special mobility needs. COTA//Plus microtransit is also introduced in Grove City.
  • 2021 – COTA introduces its first zero-emission electric vehicles, powered by alternatively-sourced electricity to its fleet and announces plans to becomes a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions organization by 2035.
  • 2022 – C-pass type programs extended to two additional business districts and open to all Central Ohio high school and post-secondary schools.

For information on COTA’s history of serving the region, including historic photos, visit To download and share images of COTA transit vehicles through the years, click here.

COTA bus downtown