CBus, the downtown bus that ran from Short North to Brewery District, is not coming back

Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch
The free CBus circulator which took people between the Brewery District, Downtown and the Short North, will not return.

COTA's free and popular CBus circulator will not be returning even as workers and visitors slowly come back Downtown as cases of COVID-19 surge again.

"There are no plans to bring back CBus," said Jeff Pullin, spokesman for the Central Ohio Transit Authority.  The confirmation comes after months of saying no decision had been made.

The transit system halted CBus service, along with AirConnect between Downtown and John Glenn Columbus International Airport, and the late-night NightOwl service and express lines after the pandemic took hold in March 2020.

Pullin said other COTA lines cover the CBus route, and many Downtown workers use C-pass, which allows them to ride anywhere on the COTA system for free. C-pass is paid for, in part, by Downtown special improvement district property owners.

"Getting businesses Downtown to invest in C-pass provided a greater benefit for Downtown workers than a Downtown circulator," Pullin said. 

COTA has restored express service and may bring back AirConnect and NightOwl service, which are "not dead," he said. But not Cbus. 

"There is always a chance we will reevaluate some sort of similar service in the future," Pullin said.

CBus service began in May 2014, taking riders for free along the High Street corridor from the Brewery District through Downtown to the Short North.

At first, sponsors helped defray costs, Pullin said. But by 2018 and 2019, those sponsorships went away. The annual cost to COTA to operate CBus those years was $1.5 million, he said.

Pullin said CBus ridership for those years was 692,221 in 2018 and 658,775 in 2019.

Cleve Ricksecker, former executive director of the Capital Crossroads and Discovery special improvement districts, was key in securing sponsorships, said Marc Conte, the groups' interim executive director.

"I understand COTA can’t go around offering free service," Conte said. He also acknowledged that many Downtown workers are eligible for C-pass and can use any of the lines along the High Street corridor. 

But Conte called CBus a great service. "I’d love to see it return," he said.

And he believes riders would be willing to pay for it.

Betsy Pandora, executive director of the Short North Alliance, said the loss of CBus is another casualty of the pandemic.

"CBus was critical in providing visitors with a convenient option to travel between Downtown neighborhoods, including the Short North, and provided a mobility option for employees and residents as well," Pandora said in an email. "We look forward to continuing to partner with COTA on ways in which other lines of services, their C-pass program, and other upcoming planned enhancements to transit service can serve visitors, employees, and residents of our community in the same manner as CBus."

Two riders waiting for buses on North High Street near Broad Street on Thursday said they were frequent CBus riders.

"It's disappointing," said Danniela Rivera, 40, of Franklinton, when told that CBus isn't returning. "It sucks for tourism." Rivera said she remembered visitors to the city boarding the bus in past summers.

"I'd like to see them bring it back," she said.

So would Lori Brown, 57, also of Franklinton. She used to ride CBus to go to the grocery stores and to the Short North.

"That is bad news," she said of CBus' demise. "It was free and convenient.

"I want that bus to come back."