Indianapolis’s Transit Investment is Starting to Pay Off

A rendering of Indianapolis'  under-construction Red Line Bus Rapid Transit project. Image: Indygo
A rendering of Indianapolis' under-construction Red Line Bus Rapid Transit project. Image: Indygo

Run it, and they will come.

The city of Indianapolis is learning that beefed-up transit service quickly translates to more riders — with local transit agency IndyGo reporting this week that ridership was up 3.4 percent this August compared to the previous year.

The mini-surge comes after service was expanded in February and June by about 500 more weekly bus trips — a direct result of a 2016 county income tax hike of 0.25 percent that raised money for the system, Bryan Luellen, a spokesman, told Streetsblog.

Prior to the levy passing, Indianapolis operated a bare-bones system, with just 35,000 trips a day — near the bottom among peer cities. The tax provided funding that will eventually expand service by about 70 percent, including a 35-mile bus rapid transit line, the Red Line, in summer 2019.

At the same time, IndyGo says it will unveil a complete bus system redesign that will create a network of simple bus routes with frequent service in the densest urban corridors. The goal is to connect 65 percent of Marion County residents — and 85 percent of those living in poverty — to more frequent transit.

Eventually, Indianapolis hopes that ridership will increase at least in proportion with service increases — 70 percent. But Luellen says the fact that bus ridership has already ticked up in Indy is good news.

“We’re just now starting to see some behavior change from these frequency improvements,” he says.

  • TakeFive

    Good to hear.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    500 more weekly runs on a system of 35,000 runs per day seems negligible – only 0.2% increase. How did that manage to produce 3% ridership increase?!

  • Chris

    The 500 additional runs weren’t spread across the whole system, they were targeted on specific routes to increase frequency and reliability, both of which translate into increased ridership.

  • juliosnoop1717

    35,000 is the daily ridership, not the total number of runs. There’s no way they’re making 35,000 runs per day

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Ah, of course! With a population of 860,000, that would mean that nearly everyone was riding a bus, unless the vast majority of runs are nearly empty! 35,000 daily ridership sounds more plausible (and dismal).

  • mckillio

    Wait, cities and counties can have income taxes?

  • Alan

    Why couldnt they? Its a state matter usually.

  • ATK87

    Indianapolis-Marion County are allowed to collect income and property tax. They are not permitted to collect sales tax (all sales tax is collected by the state and the effective county sales tax rate for all of Indiana is 0%).

  • mamstone

    Marion County does actually have 2% in addition to the state on prepared food and beverage. That goes to the Capital Improvement Board. There are also a variety of hotel and rental car taxes that usually go to the CIB too. The CIB is in charge of running Lucas Oil Stadium, the Convention Center, and Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

    As to the income tax, essentially the state has to authorize it first and then the county can impose it. This specific transit tax had to pass the state legislature, signed by the Governor, voted on by the local council, pass a referendum, face another vote on the local council and then the mayor’s signature.

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