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Going the Extra Mile: Sophia Mohr

The vast, ever-changing nature of Central Ohio presents mobility challenges that are unique to our city’s time and circumstance. Fortunately, these challenges also represent opportunities to break the traditional public transportation mold by developing innovative programs to serve the community.

“We’re looking at the future of mobility in the central Ohio area and how COTA as the transportation mobility provider can be the backbone for how central Ohio moves,” Mohr, chief innovation officer of COTA, says. “Mobility is going to be how Columbus is going to thrive economically in the future for all of us.”

For Mohr, the heart of COTA’s innovation efforts is to respond to community needs and support the prosperity of all Central Ohio residents. COTA will continue to be a fundamental mobility solution for daily commutes, but serving as a means of access for food, healthcare and social programs are also top priorities.

A Central Ohio native, Mohr knows the region, and she’s eager to keep it as mobility-friendly as possible — both for the present population, and for the anticipated influx of new residents.

“I’ve always appreciated how easy it is to get around Columbus. However, as the city grows, it’s going to be much more challenging to get around then it used to be if we don’t look forward toward innovative mobility solutions,” she says. “That’s where COTA comes in.”

Responding to current and anticipated needs requires significant planning and preparation. COTA’s working closely with city leadership and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to understand future growth patterns. We are also testing mobility solution effectiveness within different parts of Columbus. Mohr says an idea may work well for one community, but fail to meet the needs of another. Listening to rider responses creates a community-inclusive transit experience.

In addition to this future forward approach, COTA adapts to the changing needs of our customers in real time. COVID-19 forced COTA to quickly identify new community needs prompted by the pandemic.

“COVID has actually forced us to look at solving problems in a way that we wouldn’t have tried to solve them before,” Mohr says. Among their pandemic-prompted changes are on-demand bus routes through the micro-transit COTA//Plus app. Originally launched in Grove City in July 2019, the app allows riders to hail a COTA vehicle at their bus stop. Since some standard routes in northeast Franklin County were suspended due to public health regulations, COTA expanded the app for use among riders in parts of Westerville, Gahanna, Northeast Columbus and New Albany.

As a response to community needs following school closures, COTA also offered free rides to Columbus City School students picking up meals from their school and Wi-Fi hotspots in areas without broadband connections.

Pandemic or not, COTA’s purpose is to serve the city, whether it’s lifelong residents, recent transplants or the predicted one million new residents to come in the next 20 years.

“We have the right passion to make sure that not only do we serve the needs of the community, but we’re part of the forward vision of where Columbus is going to go. That is one of the reasons I really appreciate COTA’s mission,” Mohr says. “It doesn’t just mean to move every life forward, but it also means to leave no one behind.”