Topic Resources

Tools Used
  • Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District (SID)

Columbus Ohio’s C-Pass Transit Pilot

The C-pass pilot program aimeds to alleviate the growing demand for parking in the downtown area by providing unlimited use of transit to employees working within downtown at no cost to themselves. The pilot provided transit passes to employees of five downtown employers during 2015-2016. The data from this pilot program was then analyzed and stakeholders within the SID decided to fund full scale implementation of this program to all 45,000 eligible workers working in the downtown area. This full scale implementation was branded Downtown C-pass, began operating on June 1st, 2018, and will stay in place until December 31st, 2020. At that point the program will be analyzed again and further funding decisions will be made.


Note: To minimize site maintenance costs, all case studies on this site are written in the past tense, even if they are ongoing as is the case with this particular program.

The Downtown Columbus, Ohio Transit Pass Program - known as the C-pass pilot program - changed commuting habits, causing more non-SOV modes of transportation to be used. 

The program was the product of a collaboration between the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), and the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District (SID). The SID chose to pursue this program.

Program organizers were aware that as downtown Columbus continued to grow, increasing congestion and parking shortages would inevitably become more common. Congestion was generally reducing the efficiency of Columbus, both economically and environmentally. Moreover, these parking shortages had two significant impacts on the downtown business environment. The first of which was that parking costs began to rise, making it harder for employees to affordably commute to downtown jobs. The second impact was that office properties could no longer bundle parking with leases, generally leading to a decrease in the occupancy of office space downtown. These impacts were recognized by those working at the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District, and they decided to look for more creative solutions to the problem than were traditionally used.

The SID looked to develop this transit pass pilot program in an effort to see if reducing the costs of transit would change individuals' commuting habits in a way that would relieve some of the parking troubles. 

Setting Objectives

To change commuting habits and relieve demand for parking, by decreasing financial barriers to transit, rather than demanding more parking be made available in the downtown space. Targets were not set.

Delivering the Program

The C-pass pilot program was directed at employees working within the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District (SID), which at that time included approximately 45,000 individuals. The pilot program increased access to public transit by providing transit passes to employees of four employers in the downtown area, at no cost to the employee. The idea here was that cost-free transit coupled with the high cost of parking would incentivize individuals to change their commuting habits away from single occupant vehicles. (Financial Incentives and Disincentives)

These employees commuted from areas throughout the central Ohio region, therefore giving this program a very wide reach. 

Based on success of the pilot program, full scale implementation began operating on June 1st, 2018.

In order to properly accommodate a diverse population, the program provided materials in multiple languages to help educate all eligible employees of the different ways in which they couldchange their commuting habits. 

The following table shows how the program addressed key barriers to taking transit. (Overcoming Specific Barriers)


How it was addressed


Cost of Transit

Provided transit passes to employees at no cost to themselves.

Lack of Familiarity with Transit System

C-pass program incorporated more robust marketing which assistsed potential riders in finding the optimal route for their commute.

Unwillingness to take the time to secure a transit pass

C-pass incorporated transit passes into smartphone apps and employee IDs, therefore making the process of securing a pass no longer a burden.

Poor Knowledge of Support Services

C-pass also ensured that downtown employees were aware of complemetary commuting services such as bike share and Car2Go.

Fear of Emergency Need for a Car

An Emergency Ride Home Program covered four free taxi rides home from work each year, in case of emergency. 

The program used smartphone apps, and employee IDs as transit passes instead of requiring a tangible transit passes. This was a unique way to decrease barriers to transit usage while also preventing fraudulent transit passes from allowing non-eligible individuals to access transit free of cost

Financing the Program

The C-pass program was being funded by a voluntary assessment per square foot which downtown stakeholders decided via petition to levy upon themselves through an established business improvement district. The funds collected by this assessment were supplemented by pilot funding from MORPC.

The C-pass pilot pilot cost $96 per person annually. The full Downtown C-pass rollout was budgeted to cost $40.50 per person and a total cost of $1.8 million a year or $4.5 million over the 2.5 year progam. That's $900 anually per displaced parking spot, if you assume 2,000 displaced parking spaces.

Measuring Achievements

Program impacts were measured using pre-survey data, COTA ridership data, and post-survey data.

  • The "pre-" survey data allowed for a baseline level of transit ridership to be created.
  • COTA ridership data then allowed for the effect of the pilot program to be discerned.
  • Post-survey data also measured impacts on longer-term attitudes towards transit usage. 


Population size of the program’s audience:

  • 826 for the pilot
  • 45,000 for the full Downtown C-pass roll-out

Overall impact per year across all participants:

  • Approximately 43 more daily transit commutes occurred as a result of the pilot program among pilot program employees, therefore displacing 43 parking spots daily. In practice it would be somewhat lower because some new transit riders may have previously been carpoolers.
  • The C-pass program is expected to increase daily transit commutes by 2,000, based on the modal shift observed during the pilot, therefore displacing up to 2,000 parking spots daily.
  • C-pass is expected to cost approximately $1.8 million annually, resulting in a cost of $900 annually per displaced parking spot, if you assume 2,000 displaced parking spaces. The average cost of construction for a structured parking spot is just under $24,000, which means that the C-pass program would be a more efficient way to deal with the parking shortage for at least 26 years, even before accounting for any operations or maintenance costs of structured parking.



Smart Technology

C-pass integrated an array of smart technology into transit, such as common payment, COTA’s new mobile friendly transit credentialing, and fare box systems. These technologies were being incorporated into the program because Columbus had won the 2016 USDOT Smart Cities Challenge, receiving $50 million in grants and leveraging $1 billion in smart technology investment, and this project was included in this suite of funding. 


The C-pass pilot program is easily replicable. The program uses a non-unique funding source in so far as downtown stakeholders are funding the project and other cities could likely convince their stakeholders to provide similar funding. Furthermore, this program uses existing infrastructure, in the form of the COTA bus system, to provide transit to downtown employees. This existing infrastructure can be found in most all large cities and therefore no immediate infrastructure expansion is needed to replicate the program. Generally, as long as a city can foster a culture of collaboration and establish similar partnerships to those found in Central Ohio, other cities should be easily able to replicate this program. 


The broader approach taken by the program involves treating transit as if it is a benefit of employment, much like healthcare or a retirement plan. This approach can be used to affect any number of behaviors, for example organizations could expand gym membership benefits or provide free health screening in order to promote greater health.

This case study was written in 2019 by Jay Kassirer.

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