COTA and the Zoo hope to increase their customer base as well as accessibility

Tom Stalf with a family about to board the zoo bus. Photo by Julie France

Sometimes, you need two kangaroos, a penguin and an armadillo to attract new customers. That's exactly what COTA and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium did today when they bused animals to the Ohio Statehouse to remind Columbus of a 20-year partnership between the two organizations.

The partnership allows COTA zoo bus riders to receive half off regular zoo admission or $4 off Zoombezi Bay admission. The zoo bus runs from May to September with stops outside the Statehouse on High Street, between Broad Street and State Street, and Griggs Dam Park and Ride.

According to Curtis Stitt, president and CEO of the Central Ohio Transit Authority, the partnership is intended to increase ridership, but COTA also has other motives.

"COTA is a part of the community, and we want people in the community to get to places that they want," says Stitt. "Certainly the zoo is one of those places."

In 2014, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Board of Directors had the same idea and pitched the plan for a Downtown satellite zoo in a 1.25-mill levy. However, the levy for the addition failed in May 2014, though hopes for the urban zoo remained.

This Monday, the board approved seeking renewal of its 10-year tax levy, but eliminated plans for the satellite zoo altogether, making the zoo bus partnership an even more critical means to bring those living in southern Columbus accessibility to wildlife.

"It's a great partnership," says Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo's partnership with COTA is no different from other partnerships, such as that with Kroger.

"We wouldn't be what we are today if it wasn't for our community partners," says Stalf, adding that the zoo bus is "just one example of how we work together to make sure we are inspiring our people about connecting with wildlife."

COTA and the Zoo also want the zoo bus to remove obstacles for prospective zoo employees, says Stalf. Zoo employees can ride the bus for free every day.

"It gives people an opportunity," says Stalf. "If you're looking for a job, take the zoo bus. If you're wanting to go with your family, take the zoo bus."

- Julie France