Free bus pass program hopes to solve downtown parking troubles

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Parking in downtown Columbus can be a headache and a struggle for commuters. The lack of parking is also making it difficult for companies to grow or start businesses downtown.

The Capital Crossroads Special Improvements District (SID) has come up with a solution to this by giving about 43,000 downtown workers free, unlimited access bus passes. It’s called the Downtown Transit Pass Program and it’s slated to launch on June 1, 2018.

“We’re seeing a real parking crunch,” said deputy director of the Capital Crossroads SID Marc Conte. “Part of that’s good news because a lot of our surface parking has been re-developed into new housing, which has been very important to the revitalization of downtown, but because of that we’re seeing that office workers are having a hard time leasing additional office space because they can’t find places for new employees to park.”

Conte said they already did a small experiment to see how many downtown employees they could convert from driving their own car to work, to taking transit. Within just a few months back in 2015, the percentage went from 6.4% of people using transit, to just about doubling to 12.2%. He said if that same increase happened today, that would potentially free up 2,500 parking spaces and increase the downtown workforce by 3,500 people.

“Right now, I’d say the average un-reserved parking space is about $100-$120 a month,” said Conte. “So, if you’re paying that out of pocket and now you could take the bus for free, you’re looking at a nice little pay bump.”

He said the program would help with traffic congestion, air quality, office occupancy and give low-income workers access to downtown jobs.

“It’s going to be a big behavior change for a lot of people and not everyone’s going to do it, but the beauty of it is we don’t even need 25% of people taking transit,” said Conte. “If we could get this number up to 10% or 15%, it frees up a lot of parking.”

Matt Temple participated in the transit experiment program and said he now enjoys his bus commute from Westerville to downtown.

“You never know if you’re going to find a parking spot or not. The various garages fill up at different rates and you could end up being a half a mile away,” said Temple. “It’s been nothing but a great experience for me. I enjoy riding the bus to be honest, just because you’re gaining that little bit of time to be able to do something other than just focused on driving.”

Conte said parking garages are expensive to build and with the future of autonomous vehicles on the horizon, not many are willing to invest money into them.

He said the program would cost about $4-5 million a year, with property owners picking up half of the cost. The rest of the funds are being raised through private foundations and corporate donations.

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