A great bus plan was released to the citizens of Indianapolis on December 13th 2011. This plan proposes double the service over existing IndyGo bus service, identifies rapid transit corridors in the form of BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) and also spells out a future for a dependable bus service for the city of Indianapolis as well as Carmel.
However, if you were only a casual Indianapolis area resident, you may not know this. Since the release of the final Transit Task Force plan on the 13th, the local media has spent the better part of their share reporting on the NE Corridor commuter rail line; a service that would operate between Noblesville on the far NE side and Union Station in downtown Indy. Regular readers are more than familiar with the terms. However, selling a regional transit plan that is largely a bus plan to the public has become a tough debate. Media outlet have highlighted the narrow focus of rail service and associated affected citizens. A few conservative state lawmakers have put out press releases stating that their constituents shouldn’t have to pay for an unproven system that some would not use. Clouded in the rhetoric are the benefits of what is over-arching, a FANTASTIC bus plan.
Existing bus services would be upgraded to reasonable service headways. Additional local routes would be added. BRT corridors would see peak service headways in the 7.5 minute range. Along most routes, one wouldn’t have to pick up a schedule and watch the clock to plan on the next bus. Existing users of the system are familiar with this reality and the proposed changes would create a tremendous amount of value in time savings alone for riders. Choice riders would have many more reasons to leave the car at home and hop on a bus to work instead.
Kevin explored the IndyGo Comprehensive Operational Analysis a while back with a focus on the short term bus plan. For those of you willing to brave the many pages of transit planning, a recognizable trend might emerge. The Indyconnect Bus Plan is very similar to the “Mid-Term” COA plan. There are some obvious differences of course. The new Marion/Hamilton Regional focus of the latest Indyconnect plan have trumped what the COA aimed to advise. However, a look at headway changes on all routes gives us an idea of what to expect. Current routes with 1 hour midday overheads would be reduced to 30 minutes. Key arterial service, where the bulk of existing boardings occur, would see a drastic reduction in overheads; many would be 10-15 minutes through the day. Additionally, the BRT routes that have been proposed would create an environment where there could conceivably be a bus no more than 5 minutes away whether its BRT or arterial service.
As far as BRT goes, design of such a route is still in question. Will Indy have dedicated lanes for buses like Cleveland? How far apart and where will stations be located? Some specifics we already know. The BRT routes will be “limited stop” service meaning, there would be real stations with digital readouts overhead giving accurate arrival times of the next bus. The buses would not stop between stations at sign posts like existing service does. This rapid service coupled with limited stops near employment and activity centers could provide, for those who live near these stations, a reliable means of quickly getting around the region without using a car. Living and doing business in Indy without a car, could become a reality with this bus system. Indeed, the fact that transit planners have identified these rapid transit corridors is an indictment of existing ridership trends on existing service.
We have debated the merits of the NE Corridor quite often here so it’s not worth spending more lip service arguing over whether or not it should be first, or built at all. That is not what this story is about. In closing, debating the merits of the proposed system based upon a single rail route to the NE suburbs misses the bigger picture of what is a great bus plan. In the coming months, detractors should focus on what the plan does for the region as a whole versus what it doesn’t do. Remember, we all pay taxes to build roads we don’t use and that it serves a much larger transportation network that benefits everyone, even non-users.