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Mobility Hub Project Moving Forward in Columbus, Ohio

The Central Ohio Transit Authority is leading an effort to develop "smart mobility hubs," complete with interactive kiosks, at four locations in Columbus, Ohio.

Public transit agencies continue to look for opportunities to cross-pollinate with other forms of mobility in an era of easy app-enabled transportation. So, it's no surprise transit and smart city officials in Columbus, Ohio, plan to bring bus service, bike- and car-share companies, ride-hailing and other community services together at so-called “Smart Mobility Hubs.”

The city is focused on developing four of these hubs along the Cleveland Avenue bus rapid-transit line in the Linden neighborhood, which was identified as an “opportunity neighborhood.” The hubs will be located in areas like the public library branch, community college and community center, and St. Stephen’s Community House. Each will be anchored by an interactive kiosk, providing not just transit information and trip-planning across multiple forms of transportation, but information about other community services and even job opportunities. 

The kiosk could be a “gamechanger," said Marilyn Mehaffie, CEO of the nonprofit St. Stephen’s Community House, during an Oct. 24 webinar to discuss the project.

“This kiosk will assist with transportation, not only to and from St. Stephen's, but also to other vital community resources,” said Mehaffie. 

The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), which provides regional, fixed-route bus service in Franklin County — home to Columbus — and into the surrounding three counties, is taking the lead on the mobility hub project, which will bring together multiple forms of transportation along with a system to book and pay for transit that includes multiple providers.

“The purpose of the smart mobility hubs project is to create a physical space with consolidated transportation resources for travelers," said Matt Graf, technical lead with HNTB, a transit infrastructure company involved in the project. "The interactive kiosks and public Wi-Fi will provide access to real-time transportation information and comprehensive trip-planning tools." 

“The smart mobility hub facilities will provide multiple modes of transportation in the form of designated bike-/scooter-sharing areas, pick-up and drop-off zones for ride-sharing, park-and-ride lots, and access to COTA services,” Graf added, during the webinar.

With community input, the Smart Columbus team identified some of the key locations to focus new mobility efforts. The program’s aim is to deploy several hubs, document the process, and set the stage to deploy more of the hubs to other parts of the city.

The mobility hubs are expected to go live by April 2020, said Mandy Bishop, program manager for the city of Columbus.

COTA and city officials say no agreements with private-sector transportation providers like Uber, Lyft or the numerous bike and e-scooter companies have yet been inked. However, those details are being worked through.

The multi-modal trip-planning app will include COTA “as the backbone, and then one other vendor,” Bishop explained. “There will be other companies that we will certainly reach out to.”

“I’ll just add that there are at least 10 companies in town that are really excited about the multimodal trip-planner,” said Doug Arseneault, public affairs administrator for COTA. “Everyone’s really excited to try out this new system and see how it can benefit all of us.”

Efforts to partner with multiple transportation providers, while placing complete trip-planning and payment under a single app are underway at a number of transit agencies in cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Chicago.

“We’re seeking long-term outcomes that will make our city a place to work, live and visit,” said Bishop.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.