COTA Night Owl encourages OSU students to ride downtown
Published: Monday, October 11, 2010
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 23:06
More students — many of them bar-bound — are turning to a late-night bus route created last year to shuttle passengers from Clintonville to the Arena District.
When the No. 21 bus route, dubbed the "Night Owl" by the Central Ohio Transportation Authority, launched in September 2009, about 10 percent of its riders were students, COTA spokeswoman Beth Berkemer said in an e-mail. Now, students make up about 60 percent of the riders, she said.
University officials worked with the transportation authority last year to create a route students would use. The result was a shuttle frequented by bar-bound students, running from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Peter Koltak, Moritz law student and former president of OSU's Undergraduate Student Government, who helped develop the route, said the project stemmed from students' complaints that they were required to pay $9 every quarter for a bus service they didn't use.
"We heard that students were complaining and saying, ‘Oh, well I don't use the bus that much, so why do I have to pay the fee?'" he said. "The rationale there was, well, you have to pay the fee, so why don't we look at services that make you more likely to use the bus?"
But the service, which isn't exclusive to OSU students, has earned a reputation as a free ride for alcohol-fueled students.
"Oh yeah, the party bus, the drunk bus," said Adrian Lawson, a Night Owl bus operator. "We're just taking (students) down there to have some fun and blow off steam."
Some students said the Night Owl is worth the $9 quarterly fee by itself — even though it gives students free access to any COTA bus route with their BuckIDs.
Aaron Ward, a first-year in communication and Night Owl rider, said part of the bus' appeal is that it keeps students from drinking and driving.
"It's also cheaper on a bus than it is a cab," he said.
Some students riding the bus questioned whether student fees should pay fare for their weekend adventures.
"I mean, Ohio State tends to lump a bunch of stuff into a lot of fees anyhow, so a lot of people don't even know that they are paying for the right to use it," said Chris Belcastro, a fifth-year in architecture and construction systems management.
He contends that many students will still call cabs to make the trek to the Arena District because they're quicker and don't operate on a schedule.
There are two buses on the Night Owl route that stick to a strict schedule, reaching each stop about once every half-hour. Riders unfamiliar with the schedule can text a number listed at certain bus stops to see when the next shuttle will arrive.
Koltak said the COTA route is safer than alternative buses, such as a privately operated bus that carries students for free from the Gateway area to the Arena District, commonly known as "the party bus."
"The bus drivers in COTA won't let the buses get too crowded or rowdy. They don't have a profit interest in it. They are just interested in getting you from one point to another," Koltak said. "With public transportation, you kind of have some assurances that you are going to have a safe, prepaid way to get where you want to go."
He said the route is part of a broader realization by COTA that catering to students is different than catering to other Columbus residents.
"What I think COTA is realizing is that students' lives tend to operate way differently compared to the average person in terms of when they get up in the morning, what they do socially, to when they get to bed at night," Koltak said. "I think COTA is sort of recognizing that ‘hey, we're charging everyone this fee, and then because of that we're going to shape our services to better fit our customer base.'"