IndyGo Moves Forward

by Lauren Albert

IndyGo’s ridership has been growing steadily each year since 2009, with 2013 ridership surpassing 10 million for the first time since 1990. In October 2014, IndyGo carried more passengers  than any other month in 13 years.

Such success generates a big, values-driven question about transit: As a community, should we focus our investments on ridership or coverage? It’s not one or the other, but we need to find a balance that reflects what we value here in Indianapolis.

IndyGo Forward

To set the community’s transit direction for the next seven years, IndyGo and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) teamed up to lead the IndyGo Forward planning process. Riders, policymakers, and the public are taking part in the discussion about how transit service should be distributed in Indianapolis.

IndyGo’s current system allocates 60% of its resources to ridership and 40% to coverage. A ridership goal focuses on high-frequency routes where density is high. A coverage goal aims to give a little service to everyone, regardless of use.

After several public input meetings it became clear that residents want more service in high-density areas and would like to see an 80% ridership/20% coverage system, which requires a shift in allocation of resources.

Here are highlights from 2014 and a glimpse at what’s coming in 2015.

MARCH: Governor Pence Signs Mass Transit Bill
Senate Enrolled Act 176 allows Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Madison, and Marion counties to use existing Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) capacity for certain public transportation projects if approved by voters.

It includes the following stipulations:

  • 25% of the cost of new fixed route services must come from fares
  • 10% of the cost of new service must come from non-tax and non-fare sources
  • Projects must adhere to the City’s minority, women, and veteran business enterprise participation guidelines
  • Revenue raised cannot be used for light-rail projects

In Marion County, the City–County Council places the question on the ballot under local ordinance, to determine whether funds for Marion County come from LOIT or county option income tax (COIT) and what the tax rate will be (between 0.1% and 0.25%). A referendum could be on the general election ballot as early as 2016.

MAY–SEPTEMBER: Bus Rapid Transit Line
Public meetings in May, August, and September and additional meetings with community representatives helped craft final recommendations for the proposed east–west Purple Line that runs through Midtown. This Bus Rapid Transit line would offer 10- to 15-minute frequency on weekdays and 20- to 30-minute frequency on weekends, serving stations a half-mile apart. Two alternatives for western routes south of 38th street are still in discussion. The goal is to intersect with the Red Line and provide additional service in the busy 38th and Meridian streets corridors. Environmental review and engineering will commence once funding is secured.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded IndyGo a $2 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. An additional $1 million from affected municipalities will be used for planning and engineering work to make the Red Line the first Electric Bus Rapid Transit (EBRT) route in the United States. Study and design work will begin early in 2015. With additional federal funding in 2015 to help with construction, work could begin as early as 2016 and the EBRT could open two to three years later. USDOT TIGER14_Project_FactSheets

SEPTEMBER: IndyGo–IPS Study Begins
IndyGo and Indianapolis Public Schools maintain large, publicly funded bus systems that face financial challenges. A new study will try to determine if existing IndyGo service can supplement or enhance some of the IPS yellow school bus service and reduce IPS’s transportation capital and operational expenses. The study will also examine whether such a move could help IndyGo increase ridership and operating revenue, to achieve more effective utilization of its fleet for community benefit.

SEPTEMBER: Downtown Transit Center Groundbreaking
Indy’s new hub for public transit will include a large public indoor waiting area as well as bus bays with canopies to protect passengers from the elements. IndyGo and the City of Indianapolis are also exploring possible bike and car share facilities at the transit center to increase multimodal options.

With the Downtown Transit Center expected to open in mid-2016, IndyGo is responding to requests for a high-ridership network by identifying opportunities to make the transit network more useful for spontaneous travel. This means route changes downtown to serve the transit center as well as changes outside of the downtown area to streamline routes for faster travel time and to add more frequent service to popular areas like Meridian Street—the strongest transit corridor in the system.

There will no longer be a Downtown loop. All downtown routes will have to alter their travel patterns to serve the Downtown Transit Center, as connections will be timed to occur there.

To increase frequencies in 2015, IndyGo is proposing to consolidate parallel routes and reduce the wait time between buses. The trade-off is that some passengers may have to walk a few blocks further to reach their route, but once they get to their stop, the wait time will be shorter.

Another change to service is how timed connections work downtown. Currently the main timed connections for the system happen at 10 and 40 minutes after the hour at Ohio and Meridian streets. To enhance frequencies system-wide, route departures at the DTC will be staggered. For example, four hourly routes (4, 15, 25, and 28) will be staggered to leave the transit center every 15 minutes, which will allow the Capitol Avenue/Illinois Street corridor to have 15-minute frequency. The trade-off is that some passengers may have to wait at the transit center for their next bus longer than they do now, but staggered scheduling allows for more frequent service on busy corridors, improving service for a large number of riders.

Lauren Albert is a marketing specialist at IndyGo.

View the adopted changes to MIDTOWN routes

A version of this article appeared in the December 2014/ January 2015 edition of the magazine.