2021 Annual Report
Advancing the Customer Experience
Expanding Access to Mobility Options
Achieving Organizational Excellence
ANNUAL REPORT 2021
COTA CONTINUES OUR COMMITMENT TO BE A driving force THAT MOVES OUR REGION forward.
Thanks to the dedication of Team COTA, especially our frontline employees, we have kept our community in motion through the second year of a pandemic, determined to meet the needs of our customers and focused on a stronger future. COTA has consistently shown up, proving to ourselves and our community that we are resilient.
Following a year of global challenges, COTA is more intentional and even better positioned to drive change. Guided by our strategic pillars, we are working to improve the customer experience, achieve organizational excellence, provide access to mobility options and prioritize the use of data and analytics. With principles of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the center of all we do, COTA is committed to these four pillars, acutely aware that our service directly impacts the economic viability of the Central Ohio community.
2021 was a year of continued change for our world, and Team COTA viewed every change as an opportunity. Our innovations included enhanced digital and mobile customer service solutions and artificial intelligence that improves traffic safety and reduces travel time. COTA expanded our on-demand mobility service, COTA//Plus, to offer more than 62,000 point-to-point rides. We began adding our first all-electric, zero-emission transit vehicles, launching a multi-year initiative to help our community achieve carbon neutrality. We launched a dynamic, reimagined website constructed from direct customer feedback and the highest standards of accessibility. And, day-to-day operations are adjusting in real time to allow for the largest renovation in our history at the McKinley Avenue facility to provide modern, safer work environments for our team members and build infrastructure for a rapidly changing electric fleet.
At the heart of our advancements is an equitable new fare structure adopted by COTA’s Board of Trustees to increase access to our services for customers who need them most. We simplified child discounts to help families, eliminated restrictions on transfers to benefit high-use riders, and eliminated upcharges on rush-hour lines to serve our community’s workforce. Our new technology launch this year enables unique fare-capping technology so customers never pay more than a daily or a monthly rate, regardless of how many times they ride in a day. As a result, our cash-paying customers can save hundreds of dollars every year.
To foster a culture of accountability internally, COTA welcomed our first-ever Chief Equity Officer, Monica Jones. Through her strong leadership, COTA established our first internal Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team. In addition, our four Employee Resource Groups—each dedicated to the unique needs of its members— hosted more than 70 enrichment, volunteer and community activities throughout the year, further emphasizing COTA’s capacity to show up and create change for the greater good of our communities.
As we look ahead and step into what is next, COTA will continue to do so through a lens of learned resiliency and determination. COTA’s plans for the future of mobility in our region are stronger than ever, and they will require a tremendous amount of community support to achieve. When we invest in accessible, equitable public transportation, we open the door for hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity and, most importantly, a more prosperous and vibrant community for all. We look forward to embarking on this journey with you in another new year.
Let’s stay connected,
Joanna M. Pinkerton, COTA President/CEO
Craig Treneff, COTA Board of Trustees Chair
Marlon Moore, COTA Board of Trustees Vice-Chair
CHAIR, COTA BOARD OF TRUSTEES
COTA and the entire Central Ohio community are incredibly grateful to Craig Treneff for his leadership of our Board of Trustees from June 2020 until May 2022. His guidance in helping to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic was key to setting a secure path for the future of mobility and transit for our entire community. We thank Craig for his service to COTA.
DURING HIS TENURE, CRAIG:
- LED COTA’S BOARD OF TRUSTEES ADOPTION OF A NEW AND EQUITABLE FARE STRUCTURE, CORRECTING A HISTORIC INEQUITY AND INCREASING ACCESS TO OUR SERVICES FOR CUSTOMERS WHO NEED THEM MOST.
- WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN OUR INNOVATIVE MOBILITY EXPANSION WITH BOARD APPROVAL AND COTA FUNDING OF NEW COTA//PLUS SERVICE ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF COLUMBUS.
- OVERSAW COTA’S SECOND APTA AWARD FOR OUTSTANDING MIDSIZE PUBLIC TRANSIT SYSTEM IN NORTH AMERICA IN 2020.
- SHEPHERDED THE APPROVAL OF A $195 MILLION BUDGET FOR FY2022 TO EXPAND INNOVATIVE AND EQUITABLE TRANSIT WHILE MAINTAINING FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY.
In 2021, we pursued opportunities that made transit in Central Ohio more equitable, while also simplifying our customer experience. In November, COTA launched a new way to pay, correcting a historic inequity and making fare purchase easier. We are meeting both our cash-only and mobile customers where they are in life.
New! EQUITABLE FARES
Ensures customer pay no more than $4.50 a day or $62 a month
Two-hour accessibility for any fare paid in place of the one-way restriction
SIMPLIFIED CHILD DISCOUNTS
Eliminates height specifications for children 4 & UNDER: NO FARE 5–12 YEARS: $1
Eliminates the 75-cent upcharge on rush-hour lines. This makes the standard fare $2 on all lines.
*Only with use of the Transit app or a COTA Smartcard
Innovating for the Customer:
COTA//PLUS AND BUS ON-DEMAND
In 2021, COTA continued reimagining and expanding mobility solutions to meet customer needs for innovative service while the pandemic evolved and impacted our community. Originally launched in Grove City in 2019, COTA//Plus is our on-demand, micro-transit solution that offers no-charge trips to fixed-route transit lines and $3 point-to-point trips within neighborhoods. In addition to Grove City, COTA//Plus provides first- and last-mile transit to food, healthcare, employment opportunities, entertainment and fixed-route service for customers in the City of Westerville and across 17 neighborhoods on the South Side of Columbus.
And, because no idea is too small or too big, our team was the first in the nation to scale on-demand micro-transit technology to full-size transit vehicles. We introduced COTA’s Bus On-Demand service covering northeastern Franklin County; the only bus-on-demand zone in the United States. This service was nationally recognized in 2021 as Best of Mobility on Demand by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.
COTA will continue to examine ridership data and community needs in 2022 as we build back our workforce. We will update service three times a year, in January, May and September. Want to help? Visit cota.com/servicechanges and join us for our public meetings in advance of each service change to tell us how we can improve and where service is needed.
THE NEW COTA.COM
Based on transit customer feedback and a need to improve the mobile experience for all customers, COTA reimagined COTA.com in June, allowing our customers to more easily search for transit and plan their upcoming trips. The new website is completely ADA accessible and available in more than 100 languages thanks to the built-in translator tool.
With the launch of the new digital fare payment system, customers can also create and access COTA accounts via the website to view or add funds. This increases access to the new digital fare payment system.
OUTREACH TO NEW AMERICANS
COTA, along with the City of Columbus and Age Friendly Columbus, hosted virtual roundtables for the New American community, where we learned that travel training was a critical need. COTA quickly partnered with the YMCA New American Welcome Center and developed travel training resources for one of the fastest-growing populations in Central Ohio—our New American neighbors and friends. These experiences are just the start of our effort to understand the needs and serve our diverse New American community.
BACK TO SCHOOL DURING COVID-19
As Columbus City Schools (CCS) students returned to the classroom for hybrid learning in the spring of 2021, COTA partnered with CCS to offer a Student Discount Pass Program. CCS purchased more than 7,600 transit passes for eighth grade and high school students to use COTA for trips to school or beyond the classroom. We believe in and support the incredible mission of our local school systems to enrich students’ lives in the classroom and experiential learning in the community through internships, extracurricular activities and access to community amenities. Teaching young people how to move throughout our extraordinary community will continue to be a focus of ours with travel training for the next generation.
ADJUSTING TO A CHANGING EMPLOYMENT LANDSCAPE
As so many of our customers modified work schedules to work from home or work hybrid schedules, COTA restored 14 express lines on May 3 to help commuters comfortably return to the workplace.
We were also excited to resume the historical summer partnership with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to launch Zoo Bus 2021 summer transit service. Originating from downtown and nearby neighborhoods, it is an easy way to travel between downtown Columbus and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Zoombezi Bay for leisure or seasonal work.
DRIVEN by DATA
As the world of mobility evolves, COTA leverages data to improve and optimize our services. By understanding our customers and how they move, we can make improvements that better fit the needs of our current and future ridership. COTA will grow in lockstep with the Central Ohio region, and data will help us scale our services equitably.
RAISING THE BAR
COTA remains committed to operational and reputational excellence. Despite unprecedented industry workforce challenges, Team COTA never stopped moving our region forward.
HOW WE ARE SUPPORTED
|Federal & State Funding||$30.1m||$40.9m|
|COVID-19 Funding (one-time)||$51.6m||$49.9m|
|ARPA Funding (one-time)||$93.3m||$—|
*New Method of Accounting in 2021 **Unaudited
Board of Trustees members
2021 FIXED ROUTE RIDERSHIP
WEEKLY RIDERSHIP AVERAGE
2021 COTA//PLUS RIDERSHIP
2021 MAINSTREAM RIDERSHIP
ECO-FRIENDLY HYBRIDS OR COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS
TRADITIONAL FUEL FLEET
ECO-FRIENDLY HYBRIDS OR CNG
TRADITIONAL FUEL BUSES
ELECTRIC BUSES IN THE FOURTH QUARTER
COTA//PLUS VEHICLES IN THE FIRST QUARTER
$19,862 TOTAL CHARITABLE DONATIONS BY EMPLOYEES
EQUITY, DIVERSITY and INCLUSION
At the heart of COTA’s guiding principles lies a steadfast commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. To lead the charge, COTA welcomed our very first Chief Equity Officer to the team, Monica Jones. Under Monica’s leadership, COTA is shaping a more prosperous future for years to come.
As an organization, COTA acknowledges the need to constantly look through an EDI lens to meet the needs of our customers and employees. It’s crucial to see the full person on our teams and vehicles, and in doing so we strengthen our community, our workforce and the service we deliver. Ultimately, COTA recognizes we will accomplish our goals by maintaining this EDI focus in all that we do.
In 2021, COTA consciously made a crucial culture change by hiring me as its first Chief Equity Officer and establishing an internal EDI team to ensure progress across the entire organization. With one of the most diverse executive teams of any organization in the region, COTA is taking a stand to ensure we reflect the community we serve. COTA wants our work to be accessible, provide opportunities and advance our region together. This starts with our internal teams feeling valued, and our workforce representing the community we serve.
IN ITS FIRST YEAR OF IMPLEMENTATION, EDI IN ACTION HAS MEANT:
- Assessing internal team demographics and challenging ourselves to ask more questions as we recruit, retain and develop employees.
- Staffing EDI into a working division with three dedicated employees.
- Partnering with our Employee Resource Groups to understand sentiments and needs going forward.
- Aligning as a Leadership Team to hold each other accountable and learn together. Support across COTA’s leaders and Board has been critical and transformative.
- Reframing past policies and procedures with more inclusive language.
- Educating each other through change. This includes establishing Juneteenth as a paid holiday and informing all employees, in partnership with our BELIEVE (Black Employees Leading in Inclusion Excellence Vision and Education) Employee Resource Group, about this holiday’s significance.
- Establishing a feedback loop to address current areas of growth and implement changes accordingly. This included:
- Updating internal process to actively seek and maintain relationships with Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs), making them a first option when pursuing business needs.
- Ensuring our four Employee Resource Groups are safe spaces to ask questions and influence the whole of COTA.
- Showing up beyond the walls of COTA to connect with community partners doing shared work, such as our signing of the Mobility XX pledge to increase the number of women in the transportation industry by 10 percent over the next 10 years, as well as our continued partnership with the City of Columbus to address the needs of the community we serve.
Our work to date has laid the foundation for what’s ahead. As a year of assessment and understanding, 2021 was just the beginning. 2022 will be a year of movement and progression. The plan has been set, and now we will work the plan together to influence the future of COTA.
Let’s get to work,
Monica Jones, Chief Equity Officer
EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUPS
COTA KNOWS OUR INTERNAL EFFORTS RADIATE TO OUR EXTERNAL WORK. Both as a team and as a community, we know we are better together. Internally, this means all employees feel a strong sense of belonging. To foster diversity and inclusiveness, COTA created Employee Resource Groups, each dedicated to the unique needs of its members.
VETERANS EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUP (VERG)
ADVISORY TEAM: 14 | MEMBERS: 123
COTA VERG is committed to serving COTA team members and community partners through innovative and diverse initiatives, programs and activities. Members of the VERG strive to provide an inclusive environment and advocate for the mental health and wellness, professional growth, career advancement and overall support of COTA Veterans and their families.
BLACK EMPLOYEES LEADING IN INCLUSION, EXCELLENCE, VISION AND EDUCATION (BELIEVE)
ADVISORY TEAM: 16 | MEMBERS: 91
BELIEVE exists to create a safe platform where employees can empower, embrace, support and educate one another on African American culture and the issues we face. BELIEVE strives to break down barriers and dissolve systemic issues through advocacy, corporate events, employee activities, community partnerships and networking. It also pushes the organization beyond a diversity statement and into the domain of how to be a true leader for diversity, equity and inclusion for all.
PARENTS ACTIVELY COLLABORATING TOGETHER (PACT)
ADVISORY TEAM: 8 | MEMBERS: 24
PACT is committed to promoting an inclusive environment for working parents and family structures through support, education, resources and outreach.
WOMEN FOR INSPIRATION, STRENGTH AND EXCELLENCE (WISE)
ADVISORY TEAM: 12 | MEMBERS: 53
WISE leads an intentional, inclusive and intersectional lens focused on career development, wealth building and whole person living for all women across Team COTA, united in the belief that every woman’s voice, journey and experience has power.
TO MOBILITY OPTIONS
During 2021, COTA introduced programs that improved access to mobility options for all of our community’s residents. Together with our partners, we advanced the LinkUS Columbus initiative, bringing our community one step closer to high-capacity rapid transit. COTA continues to deliver equitable solutions that improve access to healthcare and vaccines, jobs, education and entertainment.
COTA, in partnership with the City of Columbus and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, unveiled the LinkUS initiative in late 2020, and progress accelerated in 2021. LinkUS is Central Ohio’s mobility and growth initiative that will shape the region for decades to come by reimagining mobility investments along key corridors to create greater access to mobility options to support economic development, housing, workforce access, quality of life and a safer, cleaner environment. Two corridors—East and West—made significant progress in community input and development and were officially accepted into the Federal Capital Investment Grant (CIG) Program by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration in October. This is a critical step forward in Central Ohio’s ability to partner with federal funding sources to implement transformational infrastructure for our region.
In 2021, a Leadership Coalition for LinkUS was convened to engage corporate, community, philanthropic, civic and neighborhood leaders to provide insight and direction to the LinkUS mobility and growth initiative. From that engagement, LinkUS partners will soon release a recommendation on how to move the initiative forward in order to promote equitable mobility, sustainable growth and shared prosperity for the region.
DISCOUNTS FOR VETERANS
At COTA, we are especially honored to serve Veterans in our community. In 2021, we extended our reduced fare options to all Veterans, who now qualify for a 50 percent fare discount across the transit system. We also continued our annual tradition to honor our service members on Veterans Day 2021 by waiving fares for all active and retired military personnel.
We are also proud to support high frequency service to the congressionally designated National Veteran’s Memorial and Museum—the nation’s only memorial and museum honoring all veterans—located right here in Columbus.
COTA MAINSTREAM ACCESSIBILITY
COTA Mainstream offers transit access for those with functional limitations that prevent them from riding COTA’s fixed-route vehicles. 2021 was a year for ensuring that service remained safe and efficient for customers and operators. COTA explored technologies and services to make booking a ride as easy and accessible as possible. Mainstream On-Demand continued providing private, same-day, nonstop, door-to-door service for our Mainstream customers, also offering a no-fare trip to anyone in the community for any COVID-19 vaccination appointment.
When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, COTA offered transportation assistance to customers in underserved communities who were scheduled to be vaccinated at a pop-up mass vaccination clinic at St. John Arena. We also worked with more than 45 non-profit organizations to provide more than 16,000 transit passes to those with vaccination appointments. Additionally, any customer, regardless of physical limitations, is able to reserve a Mainstream-On- Demand trip at no cost to access a vaccine or booster appointment. This program will continue in 2022.
LYFT AND COTA
Nearly 44 percent of Lyft customers do not own a personal vehicle and 55 percent say they use Lyft to get to and from public transit. In May 2021, COTA partnered with the rideshare service company Lyft, adding COTA’s public transit information within the Lyft mobile app. Now, both CoGo Bike Share and Lyft rideshare customers can compare, coordinate and plan COTA’s transportation options within the Columbus area in a single, seamless experience.
ELECTION DAY TRANSIT
COTA in 2021 encouraged customers to get to the polls on Election Day by removing one of the barriers to in-person voting: transportation. We did so by offering no-fare rides on all COTA fixed-route vehicles, COTA Mainstream, Mainstream On-Demand and COTA//Plus on November 2.
Sustainability through capital improvement projects were at the core of how COTA continued our quest to achieve organizational excellence in 2021. Our commitment this year and beyond is to combat global warming and achieve net-zero carbon emissions prior to 2050 by modernizing our facilities and our vehicles and finding renewable power sources for all of our electricity needs.
2021 RECOGNITION FOR COTA
2021 SMART BUSINESS MAGAZINE COLUMBUS SMART 50 AWARD
Joanna M. Pinkerton, President/CEO, COTA
COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST C-SUITE AWARD HONOREE RECOGNITION
Joanna M. Pinkerton (2019 and 2021)
BEST COMPANIES FOR WOMEN TO ADVANCE BY PARITY.ORG
Central Ohio Transit Authority (second year in a row)
OHIO PUBLIC TRANSIT ASSOCIATION EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2021: COMMUNITY IMPACT AWARD
Olando Epps, Bus Operator/Veterans Employee Resource Group Chair, COTA
HIRE VETS GOLD MEDALLION AWARD BY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Central Ohio Transit Authority
2021 ADWHEEL GRAND AWARD BY THE AMERICAN PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ASSOCIATION
COTA’s Safe & Secure Campaign
COLUMBUS CEO FUTURE 50 CLASS OF 2022
Aslyne Rodriguez, Director of Government Affairs
CERTIFICATE OF ACHIEVEMENT FOR EXCELLENCE IN FINANCIAL REPORTING
LEADERSHIP COLUMBUS PROGRAM GRADUATE 2021
Elizabeth Murch, Legal
TSA PATRIOT AWARD, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY/TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Amanda Brooks, Manager, Risk Assessment
2021 INTELLIGENT TRANSPORTATION SOCIETY OF AMERICA BEST OF MOBILITY ON DEMAND AWARD
COTA//Plus and Bus On-Demand
2021 COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST/COLUMBUS INNO BIZTECH AWARDS: OUTSTANDING INNOVATION
COTA//Plus and Bus On-Demand
INTRODUCING COTA’S NEW ELECTRIC TRANSIT VEHICLES
In October, COTA welcomed our first two electric transit vehicles to the fleet after extensive safety and efficiency testing at both the Transportation Research Center Inc. and The Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research, helping the City of Columbus achieve its 2050 carbon neutrality goals. We continued our aggressive conversion commitment and are on pace to be diesel-free by 2025 on our fixed-route transit vehicles. With steps such as these, COTA reduced greenhouse gasses by almost 10 percent in the last decade while doubling the amount of service we have on the road. During the same period, the Central Ohio region saw a 40 percent increase in transportation-related greenhouse gasses from single-occupant, freight and other vehicles.
“COTA IS DOING EVERYTHING WE CAN TO SERVE OUR REGION AND DELIVER ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS THAT WILL HELP ENSURE THE AIR WE BREATHE WILL BE SAFE FOR GENERATIONS TO COME.”
—Joanna M. Pinkerton, President/CEO
In September, COTA’s Board of Trustees approved the purchase of eight additional electric vehicles in 2022 for the continued assessment of feasibility of a full electric fleet.
COTA also embarked on a renovation of the McKinley Avenue facility, which will include expansive electric vehicle charging capabilities to support the transition to diesel-free transit vehicles as our electric fleet expands.
As part of the renovation, COTA has partnered with Marker Construction, which is leading construction of the McKinley project, on a construction workforce development initiative that offers job training to students, women, minorities, unemployed adults and formerly incarcerated individuals. The $250,000 program introduces job seekers to construction industry careers and skill development as well as transit, building and vehicle technology.
VEHICLE MAINTENANCE INTERNSHIP & APPRENTICESHIP TRAINING PROGRAMS
This year, in collaboration with TWU Local 208 and the State of Ohio Apprentice Administrators, COTA has been named a State of Ohio Registered Apprenticeship Sponsor for our Vehicle Maintenance Department’s Apprenticeship Training Program (ATP).
COTA also re-introduced our Vehicle Maintenance internship program, bringing local high school students into COTA to work as new technicians and learn technical skills while on the job.
Technology is having an impact on the future of COTA and the nature of our work. TechCred helps Ohioans learn new skills and helps employers build a stronger workforce with the skills needed in a tech-infused economy by reimbursing businesses training dollars to upskill employees. In 2021 COTA was awarded $97,929 in technology-focused training dollars from the Ohio Department of Development for upskilling its employees.
COTA SHOWS UP.
We show up for each other, for our customers and for the region we are honored to serve. 2021 emphasized our resilient and devoted nature, and we plan to further build on that commitment in 2022 in partnership with you.
As we reflect on the accomplishments of 2021, we feel a sense of gratitude and excitement for the year to come. The decisions we made through the lens of equity have helped us structure for a more prosperous future for our region. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Team COTA, we are primed to advance in ways that will truly move every life forward in our region.
In 2022 and beyond, customers can look forward to exciting developments, such as the rapidly advancing on-demand modernization of our ADA and senior services. Most importantly, people within the four counties, 37 cities/villages/townships and 562-square-mile service territory we serve can expect increased levels of outreach and community engagement. We need your input on how to further the LinkUS initiative vision to bring high-capacity rapid transit and more mobility options to keep our region moving, together.
WE ARE GRATEFUL TO HAVE you ALONG FOR THE RIDE.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
CRAIG P. TRENEFF, CHAIR
Attorney at Law
Treneff Cozza Law, LLC
Appointed by Franklin County Commissioners
MARLON MOORE, PhD, VICE CHAIR
Marlon Moore Consulting
Appointed by the City of Columbus
TRUDY A. BARTLEY
Associate Vice President, Local Government & Community Relations
The Ohio State University
Appointed by the City of Columbus
Former Assistant City Manager
City of Westerville
Appointed by City of Westerville
City of Columbus Department of Public Service
Appointed by the City of Columbus
STEVEN D. GLADMAN
Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus & Franklin County
Appointed by the City of Grandview Heights
Vlog Boss Studios
Appointed by the City of Columbus
Kooperman Mentel Ferguson Yaross, Ltd.
Appointed by City of Columbus
Chief Information Officer
City of Dublin
Appointed by City of Reynoldsburg
Assistant Business Manager
Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 669
Appointed by the City of Columbus
Chief Financial Officer
Appointed by the City of Columbus
Former Chief Business Development and Strategy Officer
Appointed by the City of Bexley
JOANNA M. PINKERTON, P.E.
Chief of Staff
Chief of Transit Operations
ANDREW BIESTERVELD, P.E.
Senior Director of Capital Projects
Assistant Vice President, External Relations
Chief Equity Officer
Chief Innovation & Technology Officer
Chief People Officer
Chief Financial Officer
Senior Director of Development
Senior Director of Information Technology
Chief Legal/General Counsel