Recent technological advancements have enabled scientists to gain insights into how major sporting events can disrupt public transportation in an entire city for extended periods. A case study conducted in Columbus focused on home football game days at The Ohio State University, where over 100,000 fans congregated at Ohio Stadium.
The study, led by Luyu Liu during his time as a PhD student at Ohio State and recently published in the Journal of Transport Geography, utilized data from the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), the city’s public transit system. The research analyzed General Transit Feed Specification data, which provides real-time information on bus services used by transit apps.
The findings revealed that bus service reliability across the entire city was significantly compromised for more than 7 hours on game days compared to regular days. Even passengers not traveling near the university experienced delays, showcasing the widespread impact of the sporting event on public transportation.
Harvey Miller, co-author of the study and a geography professor at Ohio State, noted that the disruption was not limited to traffic near the stadium, emphasizing the broader implications for bus riders throughout the city.
The study compared bus service on days with home football games in 2018 and 2019 to days with away games and non-game days. The disruptions before the game lasted longer but were less severe, while after-game impacts were shorter but more disruptive.
The researchers found that the unreliability of bus service was 8.7% higher than average before the game peak and 24.5% higher after the game peak, with a critical 7-hour period between the two peaks.
While the study focused on football game disruptions, the researchers believe the methodology can be applied to analyze various traffic disruptions, such as crashes, construction delays, or other major events.
City transportation planners can utilize these tools to identify vulnerable parts of the transportation system and prepare for disruptions in advance. The study emphasized the potential application of these findings beyond short-term disruptions, examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on longer-term public transit accessibility in Columbus.
The researchers discovered mixed results, with increased reliability shortly after lockdowns began in March 2020 due to decreased overall traffic. However, major schedule changes in May 2020, prompted by declining ridership and financial difficulties, impacted accessibility and reliability. Some areas of the city, particularly the northeast, still struggled to recover service levels.
In conclusion, the researchers hope that these findings prompt officials to invest in and enhance infrastructure for public transit to address the vulnerabilities highlighted by the study.