Legislative Assembly, new transit center, purple line

After another crazy year defined by unpredictability, 2022 will be no different for IndyGo.

The public transport agency has big plans this year, despite uncertainty surrounding the influence of COVID-19 on materials and labor.

“I think this is the biggest bubble that causes the most concern and can have a ripple effect on all the projects that we have on our books,” President and CEO Inez said on Wednesday. Evans to IndyStar in an interview. “We have so many things on our plate.”

The potential legislative challenges that lie ahead are also of concern.

Evans became CEO in August 2019, just before the launch of the city’s first bus rapid transit line, the Red Line. This year, she will oversee the construction of the Purple Line.

Read: For many along 38th Street, the excitement of the Purple Line isn’t about the buses at all

She sat down virtually with IndyStar to discuss the trials and triumphs of 2021, as well as what lies ahead for IndyGo in 2022 – the good and the hunch.

Inez Evans, CEO of IndyGo, began his job shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic this year, Wednesday, September 9, 2020. The cast on his arm is from a recent stress fracture.

The legislator

2022 presents IndyGo’s third go-around with challenges to the Indiana General Assembly.

In the previous two legislative sessions, lawmakers introduced bills to restrict the expansion of rapid transit by bus until IndyGo collects a percentage of its revenue from private dollars and obliges IndyGo , rather than utility companies, to pay utility outsourcing for its projects. After a long debate, neither of these two projects came to fruition.

Read: Internal negotiations between IndyGo and lawmakers questioning rapid transit by bus

This year, Senators Jack Sandlin and Michael Young introduced a bill that would ban future dedicated bus lanes outside of Mile Square, canceling the Blue Line project, the city’s third bus rapid transit line. the town that would run along Washington Street between Cumberland and the Indianapolis International. Airport.

“It’s disappointing,” Evans said. “But, you know, we hope, as always, that the voice of the people” – the 59% of Marion County residents who voted in the 2016 referendum for a public transit tax – “will be heard.”

The Blue Line project would use $ 100 million in federal funds that require a dedicated public transit component. The $ 220 million project would include the bus line as well as 10 miles of new or improved sidewalks, 500 new or improved ADA ramps, nearly 20 miles of road surfacing, and 65 new or improved traffic lights.

“It’s not about IndyGo, it’s not about what IndyGo loses; it’s about the community,” Evans said.

In explaining his bill, Sandlin also referred to “community” – that while infrastructure improvements are needed, he considers the cost too high for the “traveling public” on the main east corridor. -west of town.

“What price do you put on the community? he once told IndyStar.

“I think everyone has their own version of ‘community’, but IndyGo’s community is all of Marion County,” Evans said. “I know how much the price of this project will cost the community, and it’s $ 100 million.”

It is unclear what could be done on the planned Blue Line corridor if the bill passes, but it could not be a bus rapid transit project or even a project. of “improved corridor”, both of which require an element of dedicated transit space to be eligible for federal funding.

The plan for 2022

This law does not, however, affect the red or purple lines.

One of Inez’s biggest wins in 2021 was securing $81 million in federal grants for the construction of the Purple Line and associated infrastructure improvements.

“It’s like the big cherry on the sundae,” she said.

The contracts have been awarded and the project will begin in 2022. Work is expected to begin on 38th Street in the spring and move east.

“For me, it’s our biggest thing,” Inez said. “We are so excited to start bringing our community to life.”

Details: Here is the latest construction schedule for the purple line

IndyGo also plans to build a new bus garage on its east campus on 33rd Street, along with a new workforce training facility that will include a bus driving simulator. When renovations to the East Campus Administration Building are complete, that building will become IndyGo’s main headquarters, although some staff will remain on the West Washington Street campus. The facility for mobility services on West Michigan Street will also be upgraded, including new vehicle storage space.

And there are hints of brand new projects.

By the end of 2022, there will be talks about building an incentive park, as well as a transit hub on the east side. IndyGo currently only has one transit center, the Julia Carson Transit Center in the city center.

“We have a number of routes that navigate on the east side, and we want to start to be more efficient in the way we run these services,” Inez said.

The agency also hopes to complete 90% of the Blue Line design by early 2023, absent any delays due to legislative challenges.

On the operations side, IndyGo continues to fill its shortage of bus drivers – a problem faced by transit agencies across the country.

Geneisha Berry drives an IndyGo electric bus on Monday, June 17, 2019.

In October, the shortage forced IndyGo to adjust some route schedules to maintain on-time service.

At the time, IndyGo said it needed to hire 10-15 drivers a month for the foreseeable future to get back to a comfortable place. The agency launched a “Why I Drive” promotional campaign, increased salaries and implemented a mentoring program to attract and retain operators.

As 2022 approaches, IndyGo is experiencing a steady graduation of 5 to 10 operators each month, Evans said. They were planning around 500 operators and currently have 425.

The buses

In 2020, Inez gave a failure rating to the electric buses she bought from manufacturer BYD.

In cold or hot weather, they performed well below the range of vehicles promised in their contract.

Read: A year later, here’s how the CEO of IndyGo scores the red line

But in 2021, BYD opened a service center in Indianapolis, spent its own money investigating bus problems, rehabilitating them, and installing inductive charging stations at the IndyGo charging station on North College Avenue.

“There were some obstacles in the road” to installing the North College recharge, she said – this did not happen as soon as IndyGo wanted it, due to chain constraints. ‘supply.

An IndyGo electric bus stops at a central platform during a ride to show off the new Red Line system, Monday, June 17, 2019.

There are still scope issues, and until they are resolved, IndyGo is withholding the promised payment to BYD of over $ 30 million. But a second charging station is planned for IndyGo’s South Madison Avenue charging station in 2022. BYD is funding a total of three charging stations along the Red and Purple lines.

“Because my latest charger is not yet installed, I will give them a B,” she said. “They really made progress. And I think we’re getting closer to that A rating, once that second charger is installed. It’s a phenomenal turnaround. “

At the end of 2021, IndyGo chose to stay with BYD by ordering 30 new electric buses for the Purple Line.

Traffic figures

At its lowest point in April 2020, IndyGo’s overall fixed-route ridership was less than 40% of what it was in April 2019, according to board reports. Since then, the numbers have been slowly climbing.

At the peak of 2021 in July, overall ridership was almost 60% of what it was in July 2019. In September, ridership fell to about 46%. Nationally, according to quarterly reports from the American Public Transportation Association, July bus ridership was 56% of what it was in July 2019, and September was 60%.

Although these are averages, the data can vary considerably from city to city. According to the APTA, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Agency saw ridership between 38% and 42% of 2019 levels during those months; Los Angeles County MTA, 1950s.

Public transport experts predict a three to five year upturn in public transport use, Inez said. In the meantime, IndyGo is trying to encourage this rebound by equipping its buses with ultraviolet air disinfection technology.

Read:IndyGo will equip the entire bus fleet with ultraviolet air disinfection technology

IndyGo’s contract with Lumin-Air will cost up to $ 1.6 million to outfit its entire fleet, 376 buses, with the devices and maintain them over the next five years. Installation is underway this month.

“What we’re looking at globally is traffic experience now, ”Inez said. “The BRT system, you know, which focuses on both the driver experience and the ridership because it seeks to make it faster, more frequent and more reliable. … I don’t want to hammer too much on the goodwill, the goodwill, the goodwill. But everything goes hand in hand.”

Contact Kayla Dwyer, IndyStar Transportation Reporter, at kdwyer@indystar.com or follow her on Twitter @ kayla_dwyer17.