IndyGo rolls out enhanced bus service while Red Line is delayed

File photo of an IndyGo bus.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Sarah Horton sat on an IndyGo bus rolling eastbound on E. Washington St. along the number 8 route, one of the bus agency’s most popular rides, which for the first time was passing by a stop every 15 minutes instead of twice an hour on a Sunday as part of an enhanced scheduled paid for by the new transit tax.

“Its exciting for Sundays because it ends up being really extremely inconvenient to have to wait for a bus that comes twice an hour and then its cramped when people get on,” she said. “It’d be easier to get things done as far as being able to leave earlier so that I’m able to get stuff done and maybe come home on a Sunday where I don’t want to be out all day every day.”

When Marion County voters approved a new $56 million a year income tax in November of 2016, many thought it was going for the proposed Red Line from Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis, and someday it might, just no one knows when.

Until that time, the tax, which went into effect last Oct. 1, will pay for more service along IndyGo’s most popular routes.

“We’re investing in the frequency on some of our core routes that have the highest ridership particularly route 8, and that one runs on Washington St. between the airport and Cumberland on the east side, and route 39 that uses N. Meridian St. and E. 38th St. out to the Post Road area,” said spokesman Bryan Luellen. “Those routes are currently number one and number two for ridership.”

IndyGo’s goal, along with adding late night runs to and from the Indianapolis International Airport and beefing up other east/west routes, is to add 250 trips, many of them on weekends.

“We fully anticipate there are people who haven’t taken jobs because of the lack of service in some areas,” said Luellen, “so if we’re investing in those areas, and particularly in time of day and frequency, people will start to respond to that change.”

Luellen expects more enhancements in June and again in the summer of 2019 when the Red Line is scheduled to begin running, if $50-75 million promised by Congress comes through.

The first two-thirds of the appropriation was approved a year ago but has yet to be made available for IndyGo to begin Red Line construction.

“We will not break ground without the $50 million,” said Luellen.  “We’re at the mercy of the feds and until that grant is executed we’re ready to go.”

Another $25 million is expected but not yet appropriated by Congress.

Though portable roadside signs promise Red Line construction is soon to begin, no one has a target date for turning the first shovel on South Shelby Street all the way to the University of Indianapolis.

IndyGo will then tackle N. Meridian St. near 28th St. where Citizens Energy already has the street closed for the DigIndy sewer tunnel construction followed by work in Fountain Square, on Capitol Avenue and finally on N. College Ave., the leg of the 13-mile rapid transit route that has generated the most opposition from residents and business owners.

“A lot of people heard about the Red Line and thought that was the only thing the taxes paid for,” said Luellen. “That is not the case. The overall system plan calls for a 70% increase in service.”

IndyGo’s anticipated revenues for the Red Line, which will take 15 months to build, are based on ridership projections critics find unrealistic given past declines and electric bus battery technology that is still in its infancy.

Former Mayor Greg Ballard’s commitment to an electric municipal fleet, Vision Fleet, was never fully realized amid unmet and unrecorded projected cost savings, vehicle reliability and impracticality which led some members of the City County Council to call for negotiations to end the city’s contract.

Shoran Roddy wasn’t thinking about electric buses and rapid transit and new taxes and a countywide solution to transportation as she rode down East Washington Street on the Number 8 which was running every 15 minutes instead of every half hour on a dreary Sunday afternoon.

“Hopefully it’ll make things a little bit easier as far as traveling back and forth. It all depends on the weather and situations going on as far as the traffic but I think its something that should have happened a long time ago,” she said. “Its easier travel, less time going back and forth to work. I am on the bus. That’s my way of commuting and I think it will help a lot of people out.”

If you want to know more about where the future of mass transit is going in Indianapolis, IndyGo will host a Red Line update at 6 p.m. Monday at Big Car at 1125 Cruft St. in the Garfield Park area.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city will talk about Marion County’s overall transit challenges at Community Church at Murphy’s Landing, 7401 S. Harding St., at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

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