New technology has provided scientists with the opportunity to observe and analyze how major sporting events can greatly disrupt public transportation in an entire city. A recent case study conducted in Columbus focused on the home football games of Ohio State University, which attracted over 100,000 fans to Ohio Stadium on the university’s campus. The study aimed to understand the effects of these games on the reliability of bus services across the entire city, even for those not traveling near the university.

The case study was led by Luyu Liu, a former Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, and the findings were published in the Journal of Transport Geography. The researchers examined the bus service provided by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), which serves an area with a population of over 1.2 million and generated 19 million trips in 2019. The primary data source for the study was the General Transit Feed Specification data, which provides real-time information on bus services used by transit apps.

The Impact of Home Football Games

The study compared bus service on the days when Ohio State had home football games in 2018 and 2019 with days when the Buckeyes had away games or no games at all. The researchers found that the disruptions in bus service differed before and after the games. The disruptions before the game had a longer duration but were not as severe, whereas the disruptions after the game were more disruptive but of shorter duration. This can be attributed to the fact that people tend to arrive at games over an extended period but leave immediately after the game ends.

The study revealed that the unreliability of bus service was 8.7% higher than average at the peak before the game and 24.5% higher at the peak after the game. The period between these peaks, which lasted approximately 7 hours, represented the core of the disruption. However, the researchers noted that transit service was still affected to some extent before and after this 7-hour period. These findings suggest that disruptions caused by major sporting events can have a far-reaching impact on the entire transportation system of a city.

While this study specifically focused on the impact of football games on bus service, the research methodology and measures developed by the researchers can be applied to analyze various other disruptions to regular traffic flow. These disruptions may include crashes on interstates, bridge collapses, construction delays, and other large-scale events. By using these tools, city transportation planners can better prepare for and mitigate the impacts of such disruptions on the transportation system.

Long-Term Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The researchers also examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the accessibility and reliability of public transit in Columbus. Interestingly, the study showed mixed results. In the early stages of the pandemic, when lockdowns were implemented and overall traffic declined, public transit experienced increased reliability as buses could move more freely. However, in May 2020, the transit authority had to make significant schedule changes due to plummeting ridership and financial difficulties. As a result, certain areas of the city, especially the northeast region, have not fully recovered their service levels from before the pandemic. This has posed challenges for people reliant on public transit for their daily needs.

The researchers hope that these findings will encourage officials to invest in building and improving infrastructure for public transit. They emphasize the increasing challenges faced by transit systems in ensuring reliable and accessible services amidst climate change, pandemics, and other disruptive events. By proactively identifying and addressing vulnerable areas in a city’s transportation system, it is possible to minimize the impact of disruptions and better support the needs of the community.

Major sporting events like home football games can significantly disrupt public transportation in a city, affecting not only those traveling near the event venue but also bus riders across the entire city. This study sheds light on the need for proactive measures to address such disruptions in order to ensure reliable and accessible public transit services. By leveraging real-time data and advanced analytical tools, city transportation planners can be better equipped to analyze the vulnerabilities in their transportation systems and make informed decisions to minimize the impact of disruptions.


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