Blog | Case Study

C-pass a Game-Changer for Downtown Columbus

COTA Uses Technology and Unprecedented Business Community Collaboration to Offer Free Transit for DT Columbus Employees

The fare management system overhaul that the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) underwent recently was not your average technology refresh. The final  solution, a Genfare Link implementation which was engineered and implemented by Genfare, is in fact a revolutionary system that is fully integrated and serves  as the backbone for a first-of-its-kind program to offer free travel systemwide for all Downtown Columbus employers and their employees.

Downtown Columbus employees receive free travel via COTA.

“We wanted to be sure that Downtown Columbus would be competitive in the market for employers — to truly be a ‘Smart Columbus’ — and we also needed to help address the growing lack of parking and increased congestion,” said Joanna Pinkerton, COTA President and CEO. When COTA developed the requirements for its new fare management program, the executive team knew that they needed to take advantage of as many new technologies as possible so it could be convenient for every passenger and serve to attract and grow ridership.

“The result is a secure, fully integrated solution with off-the-shelf application program interfaces (APIs) using an open-technology stack,” said Vijay Balan, Genfare’s Chief Technology Officer. “The solution is completely unique, because it allows for the use of all fare media types, is device agnostic, has minimal touchpoints, and most importantly, facilitates integration among multiple stakeholder organizations.”

This adaptability was key, because COTA’s executive team knew that this solution would ultimately provide far more than just an updated fare payment system – it needed to serve as the cornerstone for C-pass, a uniquely collaborative program to offer complementary transit use for all participating employers in Downtown Columbus and their employees.

C-pass was developed jointly by COTA, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District (SID) and the Downtown Columbus business community and property owners. The C-pass program gives eligible downtown employees access to ride any COTA bus, anytime, regardless of the size of the company. C-pass offers unlimited bus access because it was purchased by property owners within the SID with additional funding from MORPC. “The business community and property owners knew that transit as an employee benefit was critical to maintain Columbus’ competitive position, so they essentially agreed to tax themselves to fund the C-pass program for their employees,” said Pinkerton.

“Unfortunately, public transit is not usually high on business’ radar,” said Cleve Ricksecker, Executive Director of the SID. “But the Columbus business community has decided to stop viewing transit as a social service and consider it to be more like the economic driver that it truly is. I am so proud of this community.”

Eligible employees can use a wide variety of media to board COTA’s buses, including employee identification badges and access cards, because of the of-the- art, adaptable design of the Genfare solution. In total, there are more than 45,000 potential C-pass program participants, representing approximately 1,200 employers of every size.

More than 45,000 downtown employees are eligible for free rides.

With the Genfare fare management system fully implemented in December 2017, the C-pass program was promoted to businesses beginning in early 2018, with a significant marketing effort in May ahead of the June 1 launch of the program. According to Balan, there have already been more than 5,000 downloads of the C-pass mobile application, with more than 15,000 employees taking advantage of the free COTA trips in just the first few weeks of the program.

For more information on COTA’s C-pass program, visit
View the downloadable PDF file here.

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