Buckeye fans planning to attend Ohio State’s football game Saturday evening shouldn’t plan to take a bus home.
COTA stopped offering service after 11 pm in March 2020, attributing the cuts to a driver shortage.
“We continue to recruit, hire and train operators and hope to boost evening service in the future,” COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin said. “But coming out of a global pandemic, like every industry, this will take time.”
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Jessica Healy, 34, who lives in Clintonville, has tickets to Saturday’s contest and had planned taking a bus home until a reporter told her the buses no longer run that late.
Now she frets about taking a Lyft or Uber in Columbus’ notoriously gridlocked post-game traffic.
“That’s going to be a nightmare,” Healy said. “It could take me an hour to get back.”
She was especially angry that she learned of the service cuts from a reporter.
“How long would I have sat at the bus stop?” Healy said.
COTA couldn’t provide ridership numbers comparing football Saturdays to a typical Saturday, but there is no question demand skyrockets when the Buckeyes play at home.
Ohio Stadium seats roughly 105,000 fans and tens of thousands more pack the University District to tailgate and watch the game at the neighborhood’s sports bars.
Saturday’s contest with Wisconsin is scheduled to start shortly after 7:30 pm, making it unlikely that fans who stay for the entire game can catch a bus before 11 pm, potentially leaving fans stranded if they don’t have other plans.
The Buckeyes have already held two night home games, against Notre Dame on Sept. 3 and Toledo last Saturday.
Ohio State football: Kickoff times still not set for two home games
It’s not clear how many more night games Ohio State will play in Columbus this season. A home contest against Rutgers starts at 3:30 pm on Oct. 1, and the rivalry game against Michigan on Nov. 26 is slated for its traditional noon start, but kickoff for home games is Oct. 22 against Iowa and Nov. 11 against Indiana are still to be determined.
COTA also discontinued its game-day park-and-ride Express service to Ohio Stadium from the Ohio Expo Center and from Crosswoods.
The reduction in service is part of a broader series of service cuts made as the Pandemic resulted in both lower ridership numbers and an exodus of workers. Some buses don’t run as frequently, and once-popular routes like the C Bus that serves Downtown have been eliminated.
COTA says it has hiked salaries and held recruiting events throughout the Columbus area in an effort to find more drivers.
The starting training wage, for example, went from $15.50 per hour to $17.50 per hour, and the agency offers signing bonuses between $2,000 and $2,500.
COTA officials also launched a recruitment campaign over the summer that resulted in a 75% increase in qualified applicants, Pullin said.
But it remains unclear when the postgame service will resume.
An earlier version of this story misstated when COTA discontinued rides after 11 pm
Ohio State football schedule in 2022
- Week 1: Ohio State 21, Notre Dame 10
- Week 2: Ohio State 45, Arkansas State 12
- Week 3: Ohio State 77, Toledo 21
- Week 4: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m., Columbus, Ohio
- Week 5: Ohio State vs. Rutgers, Oct. 1, 3:30 pm, Columbus Ohio
- Week 6:Ohio State vs. Michigan State, Oct. 8, East Lansing, Mich.
- Week 7:Ohio State vs. Iowa, Oct. 22, Columbus, Ohio
- Week 8:Ohio State vs. Penn State, Oct. 29, State College, Pa.
- Week 9: Ohio State vs. Northwestern, Nov. 5, Evanston, Ill.
- Week 10:Ohio State vs. Indiana, Nov. 12, Columbus, Ohio
- Week 11: Ohio State vs. Maryland, Nov. 19, College Park, MD.
- Week 12: Ohio State vs. Michigan, at noon Nov. 26, Columbus, Ohio