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Joanna M. Pinkerton

CEO, Central Ohio Transit Authority

COTA CEO Joanna M. Pinkerton
Technology is enabling new services and improved customer experiences at the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), which is just what Joanna M. Pinkerton intended it to do.

“We are a people-obsessed, customer-obsessed culture. All of the tech and all of the data doesn’t really mean anything unless you’re applying it to a problem that serves people,” said Pinkerton, who has been president and CEO of COTA for four years.

Pinkerton has more than 20 years’ experience in the engineering and transportation industries, including several with Union County, Ohio, and the state’s Department of Transportation. She helped to lead COTA’s first strategic planning process and oversaw the development of a new “customer experience center.” She also hired the agency’s first chief innovation officer.

The COTA system serves metro Columbus, an area covering 562 square miles across five counties with a population of 1.4 million residents. In 2019, COTA served some 19 million riders. And like so many transit agencies, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, COTA has been focused on expanding transportation access, often through new services, partnerships and programs.

“I’m really grateful that I have a very forward-thinking and highly motivated board of trustees,” Pinkerton reflected. “Under their guidance … we’ve been able to go through strategic planning processes, which are really focused on how rapid shifts in mobility technology can be used to serve people.”

In addition to providing standard fixed-route bus service, COTA offers on-demand microtransit, as well as on-demand and scheduled paratransit services. New systems are also providing on-demand connections, like third-party bike-shares, to the private sector.

Meanwhile, COTA is at work behind the scenes to implement a variety of technologies, largely at the enterprise level — to tie all of the different services together.

“Because we’re focused on a better customer experience, it has to be safer. It has to be greener. It has to be smarter and more equitable,” said Pinkerton.
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.