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The freedoms, benefits that come from riding the bus

IndyGo bus stops in front of Indiana Statehouse on Capitol Ave.

Two weeks ago, I purchased my first monthly bus pass from IndyGo.

Previously, my commutes regularly consisted of driving my pickup truck from Irvington to downtown Indianapolis, consisting of 13 miles roundtrip.  I had been a regular bus rider not that long ago.  But between changes in my job and personal activities, riding a bus didn’t seem convenient.  The freedom provided by my truck wasn’t just a desire; it seemed liked a necessity.

But then my truck broke down.  And the cost to fix it was more than it was worth.  While a second vehicle will be in our future, we’re trying to hold off on that purchase for as long as practicable.

So I said goodbye to solo commuting and hello to bus riding.

For those of you who don’t participate in this city’s mass transit, know this: it is very possible to have positive, successful experiences commuting by city bus.  And to be honest, for me, depending on mass transit instead of my pickup truck has improved the quality of my life.

Many will lament the notion of having to conform to a bus schedule.  And admittedly, it is a challenge if you are used to going places on a whim.  For me, it has provided some stability to my daily life.  For example, I know that I have to be at the bus stop by 7:30am to be at work on time; this means that I’m not hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock as often.  I am more disciplined than before.

When I have other events or activities to consider aside from going to work and coming home, I have to plan my day out in advance.  What stop will I take?  What route will I transfer to?  How long will it take?  Can I combine multiple activities?  Previously, having my pickup truck allowed me to be lazy and unorganized.  But now I have to think ahead.  I am more organized than before.

My morning commute does not consist of me fighting with other drivers, jockeying for position, and hunting for a parking spot.  Instead, I find my seat, pull out my smart phone, and enjoy my morning.  I check my email; catch up on Twitter and Facebook; read the Indianapolis Star, the NPR News, the Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and the daily comics.  I’ll listening to my music or watch videos.  All of this happens while somebody else is driving.  Now I arrive relaxed and prepared, ready to start my day.

Having purchased a monthly bus pass instead of paying for trips individually, I have found another nice perk: the freedom to go wherever I please.  I’m not hindered by the prospect of paying another $1.75 to take the bus.  And I have travelled.  To Broad Ripple and Fountain Square, to stores and restaurants, to attractions and friends.  All I have to do is look at the route map and the timetables.

Admittedly there are drawbacks.  If your trip requires one or more transfers, it can lead to a long trip.  And the majority of routes involve a loop around downtown.  So if time is of the essence, taking the bus may not be the best solution.

But I believe things will change for the better. We will see changes to Indianapolis’ public transit system and an increase in options.  I think IndyGo can be a strong backbone for future transportation planning in our city.  Improvements have been made.  New signage makes bus stop identification easier.  They now communicate what routes they serve.

Buses are outfitted with GPS that provides automated bus announcements (next stop: Washington and Sherman) for easier use by patrons.  It also provides drivers with a clock letting them know how far ahead or behind they are.  And because of this technology, IndyGo can communicate with users via Twitter (@IndyGobus) what routes are running behind.  I hope in the future we’ll be able to follow our buses on their website, so that we can pinpoint exactly when they will arrive at our stop.  And that some stops will have digital displays indicating when the next bus will arrive.

And I haven’t even begun to discuss the positive social and personal aspects that come from the communal experience of riding on the bus (learning to live peacefully with others; experiencing neighborhoods instead of trying to just get through them).  But that’s for another time.  For now, I’m planning on buying my monthly pass and enjoying the ride.

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13 Responses to “ “The freedoms, benefits that come from riding the bus”

  1. Richard says:

    Nice write up! Are you biking to and from the bus stops? If so, I’m curious about how well the bike racks on the buses work, how stable, safe, etc.

    • sean says:

      I use the bus racks alot and trust them to my $3k and $5k bikes. They are in fact more stable then the car racks that mount on trunks of cars. It only takes 10 sec to load a bike including pulling the rack down and indygo has a video telling you how to do it on there site.

  2. Marcha says:

    My brother single Dad of 3 boys used the bus system to take my nephews to daycare & then off to work downtown for a year & half. The bus system worked really well at carrying a stroller for three & a bike for my brother to continue his travels to work from the bus stop. My nephews became spoiled while riding the bus, one of the regulars always gave them lollipops for the ride home:) Although very dependable, they had to walk 3 blocks from home to the bus stop; rain, snow, or shine. I understand the routes are very strict & you just can’t drop everyone off at their door, it just would’ve been nice to break the strict route & do it once in a while. No complaints from my brother though, it’s been the most dependable ride he has ever had. The bus isn’t such a bad place to be. 2 yrs later my nephews still talk about that ride home:) Marcha

  3. Andrew says:

    I’ve noticed that my health has improved just from the little walking I do to get to the bus stop (a half mile or so). Every little bit helps, even if it’s very close!

  4. Richard… I have used the bick racks on the buses several times. Very stable and safe. It takes a little bit of investigation to figure out how to operate it the first time you use it, but it is really simple. There is a lever that releases the rack to fold down. There are two slots for bikes. The two bikes are meant to face opposite directions. The bike’s tires fit into slots. And there is an arm that folds up and comes down on top of the front tire to hold it down. When you are done, you remove the bike and, if empty, fold the rack back up. Takes no more than a minute to do. Bus drivers are usually very patient.

    Marcha… the nice thing about taking kids on the bus is that they become comfortable with the bus and know how to use the bus system. The chances of them being bus riders in the future is that much greater.

    Andrew… I suspect that I walk an additional 1/2 mile to a mile a day, depending on the circumstances.

  5. Chris Barnett says:

    Jason, you point out the big issues with IndyGo that keep some possible riders (like me) off the bus: transfers and route frequency. I assume you ride straight into downtown on either #3 or #8 from the east side; those are two of the flagship lines. That kind of ride is not significantly different time-wise than driving.

    But when transfers and less-frequent routes come into play, trip time tends to head into the 40-45 minutes (and up) range, which is an extra 25-30 minutes for me on a commute shorter than yours, all within Center Township. That’s an hour a day I’m not ready to give up.

  6. Curt Ailes says:

    It would be nice to see route frequency increased which, if we get some more funding for transportation, will become a reality. Those transfers wont eat up so much of a trip and make it much nicer to take the bus

  7. John M says:

    As another of the relatively small “IndyGo by choice” crowd, I agree with much of what you say but also recognize that it’s a practical choice for only a slim minority. I’m fortunate to live within a block of both the #8 and #3, which provide me with about 5 buses an hour during peak periods, which nearly approximates living in a city with a viable transit system (of course, it’s not as simple as showing up–on the way to work, I have to decide whether to go north or south). If I drive and park in the garage a block and a half from my office, my door-to-desk commute is 20 minutes. If I take the bus, it’s 30-35 minutes. Riding the bus is cheaper, allows me a bit more exercise, is better for the environment, and is lower stress than driving. My schedule is unpredictable enough that I have to drive sometimes, but most days it works well.

    But again, I recognize that I’m a unique case. I live close enough that the time differential doesn’t matter that much. I generally am giving up no more than half an hour a day. But, if the choice were between a 40 minute car commute and a 70 minute bus commute, it would be different. I’m an early riser and I have no set start time at my job, so even if I’m a half-hour late I’m not really “late.”

    I think that the single biggest and relatively inexpensive thing Indygo could do, something that would make it easier for others to ride by choice, is to allow GPS tracking of the buses by the public. I know it wouldn’t be cost-free, but the buses already are tracked by GPS, so I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be exorbitant to find a way to get that information on the web. Ideally, the buses would run on 10 minute intervals. Absent some dramatic shift in funding, that’s not going to happen soon. The GPS would allow people to pay attention to where their bus is and avoid screwing their day because a new driver doesn’t grasp that 2 minutes early is equivalent to 30 minutes late.

  8. I’m so lucky that I live 2 blocks from one bus line, and about a 10 minute walk from 2 other bus lines (Castleton and Nora). Choosing a house near a bus line isn’t really something that I thought about when I first moved in, as I was still conditioned to driving to work. That all changed when I had a car break down, and I had to borrow my boss’s spare car. I didn’t want to put too many miles on it, so I started taking the bus to work.

    At first, the ride to work was more fun for me than the ride home, due to the fact that I always had an empty seat waiting for me in the morning. Then, I slowly began to notice that my habit of driving home from work made me anxious. When I rode the bus home, I arrived a bit later, but more rested and relaxed. Finally, a few months after purchasing a car, I decided to take the bus on one of the coldest days of the year. I figured if I could survive that, I wouldn’t have many other excuses for driving in. And I was right. Sometimes I slack off and drive if there is a heavy rainstorm in the morning, but that is quite rare.

    The bus rocks. Sometimes it rattles and bounces around the poorly paved surfaces of the city, but it still rocks.

  9. Christina says:

    I got *my* first bus pass 2 weeks ago and I was driving a pickup truck from Irvington to downtown, too! (I get either a monthly pass or a garage permit from my job at no cost to me.) Like Kevin, one of the major benefits of choosing the bus is the absense of the tension caused by driving during rush hour. Leaving the office and simply having to go sit down on a bus is like a breath of fresh air.

  10. jdb says:

    I’m taking a new job downtown, one that will allow me to take the bus to work (just the 10th street line, so thankfully no transfers). But on Thursdays I need to drive somewhere afterwards and stay out kinda late. just the SW corner of downtown. But turns out that to get the latest time to leave where I’ll be and get home, I’d have to leave around 9pm, catch a bus to the airport, then take the bus ALL THE WAY BACK to the near east side. Not getting home until nearly 11 if I remember the route planner correctly. Or I could leave a little earlier and be forced to cut my night way short, while waiting for an hour for the next bus at a transfer

    Until service hours and bus frequency are workable for people who want to use IndyGo for more than just “Go here, then go home if you can leave in time”, it’s going to be a TOUGH sell to convert more every day commuters. What’s sad is I WANT to be converted, but it’s just not workable for me.

  11. Virginia says:

    nice writeup

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