by Thomas P. Healy
In an attempt to make up for lost time caused by federal government delays, IndyGo is accelerating Red Line construction in the College Avenue corridor through May.
According to Transportation for America (T4A), a Washington D.C.–based transit advocacy group, the 2018 fiscal year ended with USDOT retaining nearly $1.8 billion in federal funding for new transit projects, some of which was appropriated by Congress as far back as 2017.
In its “Stuck in the Station” site documenting federal delays for transit projects, T4A notes that while IndyGo was fortunate to receive a portion of a federal Small Starts grant in 2017, funding was split over two years.
“USDOT obligated $25 million for Indianapolis’ Red Line BRT from FY2018 funding. However, that project already had a Small Starts construction agreement in place and received $50 million from FY2017. Small Starts grants are typically given in one installment; it’s unclear why this grant was split between multiple years, though it could be another way that USDOT is slowing down funding for transit projects.”
Federal delays in making appropriated funds available to IndyGo added approximately six months to the construction schedule. This led to the prospect of a February 2020 launch for new service, which was unacceptable.
“We want to open during the warm period of the year,” said Mike Terry, IndyGo president and CEO. “It isn’t just about the Red Line—it’s about enhancements to the entire system, and you don’t want this in the middle of winter.”
Enhancements include the launch of increased weekday and weekend frequency, expanded hours of service, a switch to a grid-based network, and fare system upgrades.
“It’s a whole network overhaul,” added Justin Stuehrenberg, IndyGo’s vice president of planning and capital projects. “People need to be given the opportunity to comprehend this new system without the threat of inclement weather and darkness.”
Mayor Joe Hogsett expressed his concern to IndyGo about construction delays in frequent meetings with IndyGo management. During a January media briefing, he said that IndyGo had made promises to the community that upgraded services would begin in autumn 2019. “People want to see the Red Line come online,” he said. Reminded that the federal government had been the source of the delay, Hogsett responded, “I’m not pointing fingers. I’m glad to know IndyGo is trying to figure out a way to accelerate construction.”
IndyGo couldn’t catch a break with the feds. The partial government shutdown in December and January affected the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA). IndyGo’s Stuehrenberg explained that FTA grants are offered on a reimbursement basis. “We have to submit invoices and then they pay us back. During the shutdown there was nobody there to process the invoices.”
Fortunately, IndyGo’s cash flow was sufficient to support expenditures during the 35-day shutdown, especially since one local revenue source is off-limits. The City-County Council stipulated that no funds from the local option income tax be used for the Red Line. “It was very clearly defined by the Council that they expected this money to go toward the remainder of the plan, not to the Red Line,” Stuehrenberg said.
With federal government shutdowns in the rearview mirror, IndyGo has incurred the additional expense of having its contractor add as many as 20 construction crews. They will join utility crews who have been at work on the College Avenue corridor since December. “There will be crews working on both sides of the street at the same time, installing drainage infrastructure, repairing curbs and sidewalks, repairing and replacing curb ramps,” Stuehrenberg said.
Crews will be scattered throughout the corridor, he said, and work will continue until 7 p.m. as well as on Saturdays. The occasional Sunday workday will allow crews to make up for bad weather days, he said.
Trash and recycling carts can still be placed at the curb. If the hauler cannot gain access during construction, Stuehrenberg said IndyGo contractor Reith-Riley is responsible for servicing the bins. Driveway access will be maintained as much as possible but he said there might be an occasional blockage. The big issue is parking. To accommodate the new construction schedule, parking is temporarily prohibited on both sides of College Avenue. “That’s the biggest challenge,” Stuehrenberg said. “We recognize that this is going to inconvenience a lot of people.” He said IndyGo hopes that the accelerated schedule will limit significant long-term interruptions.
IndyGo is looking to make transit even more affordable by proposing the following changes:
- Maintaining current $1.75 base fare ($0.85 half fare) and adding a 2-hour free transfer ticket
- Offering the option of an account-based system with tap card and mobile phone app
- Capping fares for customers using account-based system
⁃ Daily cap at $4 ($2 half fare)
⁃ Weekly cap at $15.75 ($7.65 half fare)
- Eliminating free fixed route for Open Door customers
– Making Open Door customers eligible for half fare
The way IndyGo collects fares will also change. In June 2018 IndyGo selected Flowbird Group as the vendor to help design an account-based ticketing system that integrates upcoming bus rapid transit (BRT) service as well as expanded local fixed route service and paratransit service. Flowbird North America has experience with such systems through its work with New York City Transit, Houston METRO, Minneapolis Metro Transit, and QLINE Detroit.
“IndyGo’s current cash-only or prepaid paper pass fare collection system that we have in place today does limit spontaneous use of transit. A comprehensive fare upgrade in the midst of a system overhaul is a huge opportunity,” said Bryan Luellen, vice president of public affairs for IndyGo. For example, Strada Ticket Vending Machines will be installed to permit off-board fare payment at bus rapid transit stations, an effective and efficient way to speed up service. Strada devices are also expected to improve convenience by accepting coins, bills, and credit and debit cards. The firm is also at work on developing a custom mobile ticketing app for both iOS and Android platforms.
IndyGo plans to start rolling out the new fare collection system prior to commencing Red Line service. “Once the BRT service starts, there will be a short period of free fares for all services so people can get used to the new system,” Stuehrenberg said.
While the accelerated construction schedule runs through May, overall construction won’t be complete until July 31. “Then, sometime in September, we’ll activate the whole new fare system,” Stuehrenberg said. He noted that a month-long start up and testing phase for both customers and operators will also occur during September. “There’s a lot of change we’re throwing at people and we want them to be in the best position to understand.”
A version of this article appeared in the February/March 2019 print edition of the magazine.