The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) is proud to help people from all walks of life reach their destinations in the vibrant, diverse city of Columbus, Ohio. We consistently craft messaging that speaks to the communities we serve, but we see Black History Month and Women’s History Month as opportunities to go above and beyond for our Black and women customers. Black Americans are five times as likely to depend on public transit to access vital services and opportunities, and women account for more than 55 percent of ridership. To neglect these key audiences would be to ignore the heart of the public transportation industry.
Our employees are the driving force behind how we meet the community’s needs, and Team COTA is made up of an incredibly diverse group of dedicated employees. COTA’s workforce is 60 percent Black or African American, more than twice the percentage represented in Columbus’ overall population. Our team is also 35 percent female, more than double the national average for the transportation industry. With a C-suite that is two thirds female leaders, our organization operates with a deep commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), from the top down.
DEI is part of the fabric of COTA, not only because of the backgrounds represented by our employees and the customers we serve, but also due to the impact minorities have had on the public transportation industry across history. We can’t talk about public transit without talking about the influence of Black Americans and women.
In 2023, we rolled out a new creative direction for COTA, placing the people that keep us moving forward at the center of our social media. This people- and history-focused campaign began with Black History Month in February and carried through to Women’s History Month in March, with creative palates that were distinct yet seamlessly woven together by coordinating themes and brand elements as well as the central message: We move together.
Before we began gathering stories from team members, we tapped into our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help craft a strategy. The Women for Inspiration, Strength and Excellence (WISE) ERG and the Black Employees Leading in Inclusion, Excellence, Vision and Education (BELIEVE) ERG play a large part in the development of policies at COTA as well as advocacy, corporate events, employee activities, networking and community partnerships.
We then began to develop a campaign with three key pillars: education surrounding the influence of historical figures in public transportation, awareness and support for minority-owned businesses in our city and recognition for COTA employees.
In the first two weeks of February, for example, we went from highlighting Carmen E. Turner — the first Black American woman to lead a major transit agency and the person responsible for enabling women in the Coast Guard to serve shipboard — to providing directions to Black-owned coffee shops, barber shops and restaurants to sharing the inspiring story of Brandon, who started work at COTA when he was sleeping in his car six years ago and has become a model for connecting with the community through the role of Bus Operator.
The real magic of this campaign comes from the bright smiles and unfiltered words of Team COTA. Providing space for COTA employees to share their stories is about more than just celebrating month-long national observances. It’s about giving our staff the recognition they deserve for providing such a vital service in our community and about humanizing the folks behind the wheel of someone’s commute or errand. Additionally, it helps with recruitment, which in turn helps us provide more and better service for our community. This campaign represents a true leveling-up in our commitment to moving every life forward.
The COTA history campaign fostered unprecedented positive dialogue and interaction on COTA’s social accounts. Across channels, in February and March, it generated a total of 217,199 impressions and 13,499 engagements. This content received overwhelmingly positive engagement in numbers greatly exceeding those of our standard content, which often garners negative comments regarding service. Many of the posts received hundreds, sometimes thousands, of likes and dozens of comments. Employees shared that they felt appreciated by the recognition of Team COTA on social media, and users reacted enthusiastically to the historical features, with some even sharing their personal connections to the history COTA highlighted. Our role in Columbus goes beyond transit provider; we are honored to be an educator and community connector as well.