Missing the Bus 

Indy's public transportation system goes backward

Indy's public transportation system goes backward
NUVO staff with reporting assistance from Glenn Guimond

“The kind of minimalist system we have has made it unattractive to nearly everyone but those who can not drive and thus have no alternative.” That was IndyGo President and CEO Gilbert Holmes, describing Indianapolis’ public transit system less than two months ago, in the wake of a recent study showing that IndyGo’s number of buses, operating budget and local tax revenue trailed far behind similar Midwestern cities (“Indianapolis Is Missing the Bus,” Public Interest, Dec. 24). With buses running as often as every five to 10 minutes on the most popular routes, these cities offer more reliable and accessible service than IndyGo can afford.

From that disappointing place, Indianapolis has somehow found a way to go backward. Holmes announced in January that IndyGo faces a $4 million deficit. The only way to stave off bankruptcy, Holmes said, was to eliminate over a dozen bus routes, raise fares and lay off 70 people.

A refreshingly intense level of public outcry ensued, with overflow crowds at public meetings and to-your-door protests at the homes of all 29 City-County Council members.

“What I don’t understand is why we’ve been forgotten about,” said one protester at last week’s organizing meeting at North United Methodist Church. “Is it really more important to keep the Colts in the city? If they cut out busing routes I may not get to work.”

The protests have caused the route cuts and layoffs to be delayed, at least until IndyGo’s board meets next on Feb. 26. Lawmakers like state Rep. Ed Mahern and new City-County Council President Rozelle Boyd have said they would lead a struggle to keep IndyGo service intact, but no financial fix has been announced yet. More importantly, there has been no plan made for how the city’s transit system can escape from its minimalist ride-of-last-resort status.

Riders speak out

Victor Black

Lives: Southside

Riding to: Ivy Tech, where he is studying computers and business management

Bus rider by necessity or choice? Necessity

History: “I came from Buffalo, N.Y., and have lived here since ’95. Everywhere I’ve lived has a better bus system.”

Thoughts on IndyGo: “The service is erratic, the routes stop early. The drivers treat you the way you treat them. It takes an hour to get from the Pyramids to Castleton … that’s sad.”

On Indy’s transportation attitude: “You see everybody riding to work in cars alone. Other cities encourage ride sharing and park ’n’ ride. You can only widen a highway so far, and we can’t fall back on that forever. This city needs to plan for its growth.”

Bottom line: “If people can’t depend on IndyGo, people won’t ride.”

Sharon Darby


Lives: Meridian Street

Riding to: Lafayette Square, to her job at the Unique Thrift Store

Bus rider by necessity or choice? Necessity. “But I plan to buy a car in the spring.”

Thoughts on IndyGo: “I’ve had a very personal relationship with IndyGo for 20 years. This route is convenient for me, but the buses aren’t always clean, and there are too many places you can’t get to.”

Any upside? “It’s true you can make friends, and have time to read.”

Bottom line: “There’s a stigma to riding the bus. That has to be taken away.”

Thomas Newby


Lives: Near Glendale

Riding to: His downtown job. “Going anywhere else is a practical impossibility in this city.”

Bus rider by necessity or choice?: Choice. “I believe I am one of the very few people here who do so because I want to.”

History: 14-year IndyGo rider

Thoughts on IndyGo: “If you miss the bus you need to transfer to, you’re stranded for a very long time. Dangerously long, in this kind of weather. And, of course, the routes and schedules make it impossible to do things that people in real cities consider routine, like use the bus for a midday errand or stay downtown after sunset to have a meal or see a ball game.”

On Indy’s transportation attitude: “This city’s attitude toward transportation is backward if not inhumane. We are about to have serious economic and environmental sanctions imposed on us because we are not in compliance with air pollution standards, yet we are embarking on huge budget-busting highway construction and expansion programs so more people can burn more gas to drive bigger vehicles to more miles of urban sprawl. At the same time we are destroying the only transportation alternative some of our most vulnerable citizens depend on because it’s $4 million short and we just don’t think we can afford that.”

Any upside? “[Commuting by car] is at best a waste of time and at worst it’s stressful and dangerous. The bus ride can be relaxing, useful and rewarding time. For just a dollar I can have a professional driver take me to work. The bus stop is a lot closer to my job than my parking space is. I get a lot of reading done. You will not wreck your car, you will contribute far less pollution to our air and you can use your commuting time productively.”

Bottom line: “These backward transportation spending priorities are mean-spirited and ultimately mystifying.”

Louis Thomas


Lives: Westside

Riding to: his night job at a company on Southeastern Avenue

Bus rider by necessity or choice?: Necessity

Thoughts on IndyGo: “People depend on the bus. They fought so hard to get these jobs in places like Beech Grove or Mars Hill, and now they’ll have to quit because of these route cuts. Thousands of people will be stranded. A bad bus system hurts our economy. If I lived on the Southside I couldn’t take a bus to get to the hospital — no way to get there.”

On Indy’s transportation attitude: “Why are we not funding the bus system? Are other cities better than us? Columbus, Ohio’s system is great. So is Dayton’s, Louisville’s, Detroit’s. Indianapolis is supposed to be a world-class city.”

Any upside? “Sometimes it feels like a community when you ride the bus.”

Bottom line: “I plan to register people to vote so we can make our voices heard on this issue.”

—interviews compiled by Anne Laker

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