Columbus' peer city gives a model for an extensive public transportation system.

Today, Central Ohio Transit Authority celebrated its second annual luncheon to celebrate success and inspire hope for the future of Columbus transport. To do the latter, it is best to learn from example; COTA welcomed Robert Morgan, president and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, to hear how Charlotte transformed from a drive-to-work North Carolina city to boasting an annual ridership of 25 million-all from a vision.

"That vision is what found itself to the ballot in November of 1998 and the vision was premised on the federal formula: what do we have to do to qualify for federal funding of various modes of transportation?" Morgan says. "With that in place, we called for light rail in a couple of directions, bus rail in a couple of directions, commuter rail in a couple of directions and we launched a campaign led by the business community, largely employers for whom this was a human resources motivation."

One of those employers was MCNB, known today as Bank of America. They had the foresight, says Morgan, to know that in order to become a globally competitive bank, it was necessary to recruit people from around the world, which required an attractive, livable city to draw them to the job.

"At that time, transportation sounded like a frill and yet for someone you're trying to recruit, like from London, transportation is not a frill-it's an expected alternative to the automobile," says Morgan.

Taking the need for public transport seriously, Charlotte will soon boast 19 miles of light rail, 16 miles of street cars, and 25 miles of commuter rail and an extensive bus system.

Columbus has moved a step toward modeling Charlotte in what will likely be a long process. W. Curtis Stitt, President and CEO of COTA, shared that the amount of service COTA provides has increased 67 percent since 2006 and the CBUS, a free bus that circulates from Victorian Village to German Village, has increased from giving 200,000 trips, as announced at last year's luncheon, to now a total of 700,000 trips given since it began operating in May 2014.

However, cobbling the funds for a massive transportation system is not as easy as it was in 1998. "You all know the story, the federal government is now broke when it comes to public transport," says Morgan.

But that doesn't mean Columbus can't take on the challenge to make the city become a desirable place to live. Morgan mentioned that during meetings to plan Charlotte's transportation vision, people varied greatly on the definition of transport. Therefore, they included multiple means of transportation on the ballot-such as trains, bikes and buses-to increase its popularity.

The luncheon program stressed, however, that transportation isn't just about getting around. "The most effective development patterns are ones having a good public transportation network," says Yaromir Steiner, CEO of Steiner + Associates, in introducing Morgan. "It will also improve the quality of the air, the water we drink and the quality of life in our community."

For more on Downtown development and transportation see Briefing:panel discusses lack of Downtown residents/retailers.

-Julie France