Assessing Transit Changes in Columbus, Ohio, and Sacramento, California: Progress and Survival in Two State Capitals, 1985-2002


John Schumann

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, mode - rail, mode - tram/light rail, mode - mass transit


Transit, Sacramento (California), Ridership, Rapid transit extensions, Public transit, Political factors, Political aspects, Patronage (Transit ridership), Mass transit, Local transit, Local government, Line extensions (Rail transit), Light rail transit, Funding, Financing, Federal aid, Columbus (Ohio)


This paper compares the changes experienced by transit systems in two state capitals of similar size: Columbus, Ohio, and Sacramento, California. Over the past two decades, Sacramento added a light rail transit (LRT) starter line and experienced significant ridership growth on its multimodal rail and bus system, while Columbus remained all-bus and experienced a decline in patronage. Reasons underlying the divergent performances of these two systems are analyzed and discussed. It is concluded that, in Sacramento, willing political leadership took good advantage of a one-time opportunity for federal funding to build an LRT starter line; that adding LRT made transit more visible and effective and encouraged voter approval of additional local operating and capital funding; and that all of this resulted in a synergy that attracted more riders to the total LRT and bus transit system and led to extension of the rail system to a third corridor in 2003. Although planning for LRT was begun in Columbus during these same years, a serious interruption in the flow of local funds hampered transit development, required cuts in bus service, and prevented development of that region’s planned LRT line. Columbus currently has an LRT project in preliminary engineering, and recent reports suggest a consensus to proceed may be emerging.