Stephen Carney has taken the bus to work just about every weekday since 1994. He and his wife, Amy, live just off High Street in Clintonville with their six girls, and COTA's No. 2 bus comes every 10 or 15 minutes to take Stephen south to his Downtown office.

Stephen Carney has taken the bus to work just about every weekday since 1994. He and his wife, Amy, live just off High Street in Clintonville with their six girls, and COTA's No. 2 bus comes every 10 or 15 minutes to take Stephen south to his Downtown office. But the Carney girls are no strangers to public transportation, either.

The Carneys' 14-year-old daughter, Julia, recalls taking bus trips with her dad at an early age. "I thought it was cool because I didn't have to wear a seatbelt or be in a car seat," said Julia, who remembers these "bus adventures" as a special treat. "It's always fun to have one-on-one time with a parent," she said.

Now Julia sometimes takes the bus by herself to friends' houses, and last year, she took the bus once a week to Columbus State Community College for a class. "I've been riding the bus for ages, so I know what it's like," she said. "I wasn't scared to do it on my own. It wasn't anything new."

For parents who aren't as COTA-savvy as the Carneys, summer is a good time to get kids acquainted with central Ohio's sole option for public transportation, especially for families within walking distance of a bus stop.

One-way rides for adults are $2 ($2.75 on express routes), and COTA drivers accept cash, said COTA spokeswoman Lisa Myers. A ticket isn't required. Up to three kids 48 inches and under ride for free, and children over 48 inches up to age 12 are $1, Myers said.

COTA also offers a Summer Youth Pass, which might make sense for frequent riders or teens with summer jobs. For $62, kids 17 and younger get unlimited rides from June 1 to Aug. 31 with the pass, Myers said.

COTA also has partnered with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for more than 20 years, Myers said, offering bus service to the zoo from the Statehouse or the Griggs Dam Park & Ride through Labor Day. Present your COTA coupon, and you also get half off zoo admission or $4 off Zoombezi Bay admission.

Riding COTA also solves the often-infuriating parking issue when driving to Downtown-area festivals, and the transit authority accommodates the increased ridership during popular festivals with expanded service to and from ComFest, the Columbus Arts Festival and Red, White & Boom.

"Even if people only ride once a year, that's the one," Myers said of Red, White & Boom. Taking COTA that day also gets riders free admission to Huntington Park to watch the fireworks, Myers said. Suburbanites can take advantage of expanded hours at Park & Ride locations and hitch a ride Downtown and back with a $5.50 wristband ($2 for children 13 and younger and over 48 inches, free for the first three kids under 48 inches).

COTA also offers easy access to evergreen, kid-friendly sites such as COSI, the Scioto Mile, Franklin Park and Columbus Commons. And once you're near the city center, the free CBUS circulates through the Brewery District, Downtown, the Short North and back again every 10 to 15 minutes, seven days a week.

Carney takes his girls on COTA buses mostly on weekends in the summer for daddy dates. Sometimes they'll have a particular destination in mind, such as an exhibit at the Wexner Center or a movie at the Gateway Film Center. But often Carney opts for multiple outings on one bus trip, perhaps Half-Price Books, a record store and a pizza shop for lunch.

For preschool-aged kids, the bus itself is the adventure. Getting on and off the bus and riding in a big seat next to Dad is a big deal. "That's exciting when you're 4," Carney says.