COTA History

Where We've Been Drives Where We Are Going

Our Journey is Rich in History

Dating back to the mid-1800s, we are proud of the history that connects us to our roots and the Central Ohio community helping individuals and groups get where they want to go.

Year Key Events
1863 Columbus Street Railroad Company operates a horse-drawn streetcar to and from Union Station on High Street. The city’s population is 18,600.
1888 Columbus’ first electric trolley operates on the 11th Avenue Line, between High Street and the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
1890 By 1892, Columbus’ entire transit system is using electric trolley cars. Meanwhile, Columbus Railway and Light Co. forms and gets a 25-year lease to operate streetcars in the city. A deal with Columbus Edison Co. gives Columbus Railway and Light control of all the streetcar and electricity business in Columbus. During the ownership transition, streetcar operators go on strike, causing a significant disruption in service.
1913 A massive flood wipes out most Ohio infrastructure in the middle weeks of March. In the weeks ahead, Columbus Railway and Light becomes financially crippled.
1920 The Columbus Railway, Power and Light Co. reorganizes with local ownership. The firm expands streetcar transportation to Worthington, Westerville, Gahanna, Marble Cliff, Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington.
1926 Gas-powered buses begin to operate on Columbus streets, slowly replacing electric streetcars.
1937 Columbus Railway, Power and Light Co. becomes Columbus and Southern Ohio Electric Co.
1949 Columbus and Southern Electric sells its transportation assets to Columbus Transit Co. (CTC).
1950 Under new ownership, CTC purchases its first fleet of new buses.
1965 CTC retires the last trackless electric trolley coaches in Columbus, replacing them with diesel buses.
1970 Diesel-powered buses become more and more expensive to operate as gas prices continue to climb. Nationwide, transit companies are in financial jeopardy. Columbus citizens organize the Advisory Committee on Transit and pass a state law to allow regional transit authorities to form.
1970 Paratransit service begins.
1971 Columbus citizens form a task force to bring public-owned transportation to the city. Members include Franklin County commissioners and city councils in Bexley, Columbus, Grandview Heights, Grove City, Hilliard, Reynoldsburg, Upper Arlington, Westerville, Whitehall and Worthington.
1972 Columbus voters pass a 0.8 mill transit levy, which leads to the creation of the Central Ohio Transit Authority. Columbus attorney Frederick L. Smith, who helped champion the effort to save Central Ohio’s bus service, is elected as the first president of COTA’s board of trustees.
1972 COTA’s board offices move to 150 E. Broad Street. Operations and administration remain at 10 W. Long Street, former CTC headquarters. COTA establishes its Park & Ride program and sets up the first Park & Ride routes at area shopping centers. Cash fares are just $.50.
1974 COTA acquires the CTC bus service for $4.8 million. This purchase, plus the acquisition of 31 new air-conditioned buses, is financed by a $5.5 million federal grant, along with minor matching funds from the state and local COTA money.
1975 Voters renew a three-year, 0.8 mill levy, with 67 percent supporting COTA. COTA launches the Key Card program, which provides discounted fare for riders with disabilities.
1976 COTA hires James E. Reading as its first executive director and General Manager. By early summer, COTA installs 50 bus shelters and moves its administrative offices to 51 N. High Street.
1977 COTA introduces the Commuter Club, a month of unlimited riding for $20.
1978 COTA launches the Elsa Zoo Bus, taking riders to the Columbus Zoo three days a week. In August, COTA begins Project Mainstream, a mobility service for people with disabilities. COTA’s Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee (ATAC) forms to provide public input on Mobility Services.
1979 As one of the first express bus services, the Beeline gives people a quick ride up and down High Street. “For busy bees, the Beeline’s a honey of a ride!” Planning and construction begin for COTA’s 400,000 square foot McKinley Avenue Operations Center.
1980 COTA starts providing transportation for Red, White and Boom! The McKinley Operations Center opens.
1981 The COTA Flex Bus, a larger capacity bus equipped with a V8 engine, is introduced to Columbus by Mayor Moody.
1984 Facilities at West Broad, Cleveland Avenue and Kelton Avenue consolidate to Fields.
1984 While Transportation Supervisors have had radios since prior to Columbus Transit Company, as part of the renovations, COTA constructs the first “Radio Room” and equips all buses with Motorola radios for the first time.
1985 Richard Simonetta is appointed as COTA’s second General Manager.
1987 Ed Roberts becomes the first and only COTA bus operator to win the International Bus Roadeo, a competition that tests the maneuverability skills of operators. Howard Yoder came in 2nd Place in 1986 and 3rd Place in 2013.
1989 COTA passes a 10-year, .025 percent sales tax levy and restores regular bus service in many parts of Franklin County. A previous levy failed during the economic downturn of the mid-80s.
1991 COTA receives its first delivery of 41 lift-equipped buses.
1992 The DayPass gives riders unlimited trips on local and crosstown routes.
1993 Columbus City Center and WCOL unveil the newest additions to their advertising campaigns thanks to COTA’s wrap-bus advertising program.
1994 Glenna Watson becomes COTA’s third General Manager.
1997 COTA partners with Ohio State to offer GO BUS!, allowing Buckeyes to flash their student ID and ride COTA hassle-free.
1998 Ronald Barnes arrives at COTA from Cleveland’s RTA to serve as COTA’s fourth General Manager and the title is changed to CEO/President. The development of a long-range transit plan, Vision 2020, is presented to the community. Jim O’Neil begins as the manager of Mobility Services’ “Project Mainstream.”
1999 Franklin County voters approve a permanent 0.25 percent sales tax to help finance COTA, making it the first permanent funding in COTA’s history. COTA builds its first Transit Center in Linden. The Transit Center offers child care, banking and information that riders need to take the bus.
2000 Customer Service gets an automated phone system to increase savings and provide improved support.
2002 All fixed-route buses are equipped with GPS to improve on-time performance.
2004 Former AEP Executive, Bill Lhota, takes the reigns at COTA as the second CEO/President. In the same year, COTA celebrates 30 years of service. COTA also launches the popular Bike & Bus service, encouraging riders to use multiple modes of transportation.
2006 The COTA Board of Trustees approves the Long Range Transit Plan. This bold, new vision aims to improve transit in four ways: (1) Expanding fixed-route bus service, (2) Increasing service for riders with disabilities, (3) Introducing new technologies to make transit more convenient, (4) Planning for future transit investments and initiatives. Also that year, voters approve an additional 0.25 percent, 10-year renewable sales and use tax to fund COTA’s Long Range Transit Plan.
2008 Ridership grows and grows and grows in 2008, partly due to the soaring cost of gasoline. Also this year, COTA welcomes the City of Dublin into its service territory.
2010 COTA President/CEO Bill Lhota and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland introduce six environment-friendly hybrid buses to the central Ohio community. Under Lhota’s leadership, COTA improves ridership numbers, upgrades its fleet and moves its administrative offices to the LEED-certified William J. Lhota Building at 33 N. High in downtown Columbus.
2010 Additionally, COTA receives a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant to study a variety of transportation alternatives to improve public transit in the Cleveland Avenue corridor. Line 1, COTA’s second busiest line, operates along Cleveland Avenue between Downtown and Polaris Parkway.
2011 COTA led the nation, growing in ridership by nearly 10.2 percent over 2010, according to figures released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The company adds 40 fixed-route and 21 paratransit vehicles with COTA’s new brand and color scheme and hosts the 7th Annual Rosa Parks Day Celebration. Introduces the 31-Day Pass.
2011 A new LEED-certified Mobility Services & Assessment facility at Fields Avenue opens. The facility includes a streetscape mural of the Short North area, created by central Ohio artist John Sunami.
2011 The Northeast Corridor Alternatives Analysis (NECAA) Project begins as the first step to securing federal funding to implement transit improvements on Cleveland Avenue. A number of alternatives were studied, including Bus Rapid Transit. The project also included a public involvement program to solicit public comment and input about the NECAA, and to provide ample opportunity for customers, residents and other stakeholders to participate in the alternatives analysis process.
2012 Curtis Stitt is appointed as COTA’s third CEO/President. COTA dedicates the first passenger shelters on Capitol Square. Based upon a 19th century streetcar passenger shelter located at the U.S. Capitol, major amenities include infrared heaters, internal lighting and copper roofing. The heaters are timed to operate during certain portions of the year and only during normal bus service hours, while being triggered to turn on by predetermined temperature levels. Shelter lights are activated by how dark it becomes outside.
2012 The company joins with APTA and its members in a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Representatives to sponsor an amendment that would restore dedicated motor fuels tax revenues for public transportation.
2012 A train derails on the Norfolk Southern rail track just west of Fields Avenue and south of East 11th Avenue. A quarter-mile perimeter surrounding the area was blocked off, impacting regularly scheduled bus operations from COTA’s Fields Avenue facility.
2012 Through Poetry in Motion, a project using poems with the guiding theme of “The Power of One” and civil rights, local students with Transit Arts and GCAC’s Art in the House program create artwork to pair with selected poetry for display in COTA’s fleet of more than 300 buses.
2012 This art project establishes a partnership between COTA, GCAC and the Poetry Society of America, and has been successfully implemented in several other cities’ transit systems.
2012 COTA receives the Gold Standard Award for Excellence in Security from the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
2013 COTA celebrates National Bus Driver Appreciation Day. The FTA authorizes the Project Development phase for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
2013 The new Westview Turnaround at 5271 N. High Street begins operating, serving as a layover and turnaround for line 2 (North High Street), line 4 (Indianola Avenue), and line 95 (Morse Henderson Road). Previously, COTA operated a leased space at Graceland Shopping Center. The new facility is COTA owned and operated. Working with stakeholders in the Sharon Heights community and the Clintonville Area Commission, COTA successfully identified and negotiated the acquisition of vacant property from The Hadler Companies. The design of the Westview Turnaround incorporates many of the proposals and ideas offered by the community.
2013 COTA opens Ohio’s largest compressed natural gas fueling station and begins using 30 new transit coaches powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). The buses are fueled at the newly constructed, COTA-owned and operated fueling station on the grounds of the McKinley Operations facility. These first CNG buses, produced by Gillig Corp., represent the beginning of a 12-year transition to an all CNG powered fleet.
2013 The five-year Short-Range Transit Plan (SRTP) gets an update. The SRTP update will incorporate public input in development of future transit service plans, bus purchases, facility upgrades and maintenance, customer service improvements, plus other initiatives. The Plan also provides the documentation necessary to support federal funding of transportation improvements listed in the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
2014 COTA launches CBUS, a free downtown circulator with nearly 30 stops in the area.
2016 COTA introduces Wi-Fi connections on its buses, which gives passengers an opportunity to stay connected while on the go.
2016 The City of Columbus is awarded the United States Department of Transportation Smart Cities Challenge, reflecting the community’s commitment to innovation, increased mobility options, and sustainability. COTA is a major partner with the City and other community and business stakeholders in this transformational effort.
2016 COTA launches AirConnect provides direct transit service between Downtown Columbus and John Glenn International Airport seven days a week.
2017 The Transit System Redesign (TSR) is launched, a collaborative effort between COTA, public stakeholders and the Board of Trustees to develop a new bus network. The TSR features simplified routes, increases frequency and connections to more places and people, and reduces bus congestion downtown.
2018 Joanna M. Pinkerton joins COTA as its fourth President/CEO.
2018 The C-pass program kicks off and gives eligible downtown workers and residents free access to ride any COTA bus at anytime.
2018 Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) named Outstanding Public Transportation System, recognizing the organization as the best transit organization of its size in North America by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA.)
2018 COTA introduces the CMAX rapid transit line, connecting customers to major destinations along Cleveland Avenue between downtown Columbus and Polaris.
2019 COTA Mainstream on Demand launches. COTA Mainstream is a shared-ride public transportation service providing origin-to-destination transportation for people whose functional limitations prevent them from riding COTA’s fixed-route buses for some or all of their trips. In 2019, COTA contracted with UZURV to provide private, accessible, same day, non-stop, door-to-door service. This also includes flexible advanced scheduling, guest permission and requests for specific drivers.
2019 COTA introduces COTA Connector, an important enhancement to how riders can access COTA service without using cash. Customers can set up an account to electronically transfer any amount of money from their bank or credit card to a Connector account and board COTA using the Connector App or a Smartcard.
2019 First-of-its-kind ride-hailing service COTA//Plus hits the streets. COTA//Plus integrates technology with a microtransit solution to provide customers with further access to jobs, healthcare and more, while also offering a fast, convenient and comfortable transit solution.
2019 New Downtown facility opens and includes an interactive customer service center. The company also provides transportation to 19.1 million riders throughout the year.
2020 For the second time in three years, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) earned the Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award, recognizing the organization as the best transit organization of its size in North America by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA.)
2021 The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) debuts their zero-emission, battery-powered electric buses — an environmentally friendly transit option. Adding electric buses to the COTA fleet supports Central Ohio’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions and plan for a greener tomorrow.
2024 Monica Téllez-Fowler joins COTA as its fifth President/CEO.


Our thanks go to Harold Bell & Jim O’Neil for providing much of the historical content found here. Harold was a model bus operator, working with CTC/COTA for 36 years.