My latest piece is online at CityLab. It’s a look at the transit improvement plans in Indianapolis as the city’s first Bus Rapid Transit line on September 1st. Indy’s system is a model for how lower density cities with auto-centric cultures can start making major improvements in their transit offerings in a capital efficient way. (Transport guru Yonah Freemark likewise holds the Indy system in high regard, writing in Streetsblog back in 2017 that it is going to be “like launching a brand new transit system.”).
Indy is upgrading its system in several ways:
- Three BRT spines totaling 62 miles and 97 stations. (Features: level boarding, exclusive lanes for a majority of the route, transit signal priority, offboard fare collection, all electric buses, 10 minute all day service, etc).
- A new, grid based bus network with several high frequency routes – a game changer vs. the current hub and spoke system with buses mostly coming every 30 or 60 minutes.
- Significantly greater spans of service, with all routes running every day.
- A new fare collection system with mobile device integration, fare capping, etc.
The whole thing is set to be delivered by 2025 (about five years). And the price tag is reasonable. The BRT system at full buildout in Marion County is only $500 million. The first line was 80% federally funded, and if future lines achieve the targeted 50% federal funding, the total local cost will only be $220 million. And that will include massive street improvements the city desperately needs – drainage, pavement, sidewalks, signals, and many miles of new sidewalks where none currently exist.
This is a much, much better approach to getting in the transit game than trying to just straight to a multi-billion dollar light rail system.
Here’s an excerpt from my piece.
The BRT buses themselves—all-electric articulated coaches from BYD—are a major upgrade over the standard models. Riders will get amenities like Wi-Fi, USB ports, and automated announcements; a series of attractive new bus stations will feature arrival time information and an integrated snow melt system. But while the Red Line will be America’s first all-electric BRT line and only the third system with fare capping, the features alone are not groundbreaking. What stands to be transformative is the overall impact the improvements could have on Indianapolis, which is currently saddled with a little-used bus system featuring lines running every 30 or 60 minutes.
The BRT line is just one part of an improved overall bus network redesigned by Jarrett Walker & Associates, the firm led by transit consultant (and occasional CityLab contributor) Jarrett Walker. This future high frequency grid will be rolled out incrementally once the Red Line goes live. Walker senior associate Michelle Poyourow, who worked on the Indy network, says, “Indy is about to demonstrate that when you invest in the whole network rather than just a handful of rapid transit lines, you can spread the benefits of rapid transit far across the whole city.”
Horne promises that this new network will have “a better span of service, with every route running every day of the week.” Currently, many bus routes take weekends off. Buses will also run more frequently on many core routes, with more non-radial lines providing additional transfer opportunities. That should be a game-changer for riders, Horne says. “Having that frequent, fast, reliable bus service is really essential.”
Click through to read the whole thing.
If you didn’t already listen, please check out my podcast on transit improvements with Jerome Horne of Indy’s transit agency IndyGo.
P Burgos says
That is quite a federal haul for the local politicians to bring, if I am understanding correctly. Is it correct that the project costs $500 million, and the feds are paying $280 million for it? It is almost as if the federal government is paying them to build this, and then they “merely” need to pay for operating costs and upkeep.
Does anyone have a good link to the history of this project and the politics behind it? I am curious, because culture often is discussed in the comments to this blog, and it would interesting to understand the culture and politics that can produce such an outcome.
I have no idea if knowing about the kind of culture and politics of one city will actually yield any actionable insight in other cities, but it is still interesting to think about.
Also, how is the Jarrett Walker & Co. bus system redesign faring in Houston at the moment? Any lessons for Indy in that implementation of an improved and rationalized bus network?
Aaron M. Renn says
There are various federal programs that provide money for launching new transit service. One of them is called Small Starts, which is what Indy got for the Red Line. I’m assuming they will be applying for the same program for future lines. They got 80% federal funding on the Red Line but are hoping for 50% on future lines. The feds do have programs that help replace old buses, but they don’t pay for capital maintenance on stations.
The transit plan was developed by a bi-partisan, business led group called the Central Indiana Transit Task Force. One smart political move they made was naming as co-chair Al Hubbard, who used to chair the RNC and was very tight with Mitch Daniels and the state GOP establishment. Indiana is totally Republican dominated at present. It also helped that the mayor of Indy at the time the plan was developed was also a Republican.
The other notable political aspect is that when that Republican mayor didn’t run again and was replaced by a Democrat, there was no change to the transit plan. The public vote actually took place under the new Democrat mayor. He did not support the plan but didn’t oppose it either. It’s rare for a plan to survive a party changeover like that without any change.
I’m not sure what’s happening in Houston.