Indianapolis may have figured out transit without it costing much at all

It’s no secret to anyone I don’t care for cars. I don’t think most people most of the time need a car to do most things. I think busses, bikes, and just plain walking are all better for everyone, at least in an urban environment. Rural communities are a different issue.

So I take great interest in IndyConnect and similar initiatives to bolster funding for IndyGo, add more busses, and connect the region. I’ll be the first person to vote in favor of commuter taxes or some sort of regional taxation so people in the suburbs whose livelihoods likely wouldn’t exist without the city still have some skin in the game, particularly when they all work in the city. Remember, “you can’t be a suburb of nowhere”.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is charging ahead (see what I did there) with Blue Indy, an electric car share program that’ll have stations at 200 locations across the city. This could be big, if done well. So far, I have some reservations.

Blue Indy is a private French-owned company and they’re getting ratepayers to Indianapolis Power and Light to foot most of the bill. After some haggling, it seems IPL customers will pay an additional 28 cents a month. Twenty. Eight. Cents.

Of course people are mad about that, but seriously? 28 cents? Here, make it 30 cents and just buy new cars when they run out of charge.

Regardless, we all pay 28 cents a month and we get these neat little electric cars. The goals here from the Mayor are two-fold:

1. Decrease Indy’s dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels and
2. Increase Indy’s use of multi-modal transportation options

It’s that second item that catches my eye. Indy’s a car-centric place, and if you can get people to give up their own cars or drive less in their lousy old cars, we can get people interested in alternative transit options without going whole hog, so to speak.

I spoke to some of the people at Blue Indy’s first station downtown at Washington and Meridian. They’re planning 25 initial stations. They include:

  1. Washington and Penn
  2. The Convention Center
  3. City Market
  4. Monument Circle
  5. Ohio and Penn
  6. IND Airport
  7.  IUPUI’s Student Center
  8. Mass Ave
  9. Broad Ripple
  10. Fountain Square
  11. City Way
  12. Illinois and Washington
  13. City-County Building
  14. White River State Park (the zoo, museums, etc.)
  15. Statehouse
  16. Ivy Tech’s Fall Creek campus
  17. South Broad Ripple (can we lose the “SoBro” now? Please?)
  18. Irvington
  19. Butler
  20. University of Indianapolis
  21. 86th and the Monon
  22. Fashion Mall
  23. Castleton Mall
  24. Glendale Mall
  25. Victory Field

Some interesting places there, but sadly, not a lot of residential places. Irvington strikes me as a great spot, IUPUI, 86th and Monon, and South Broad Ripple — all places IndyGo doesn’t reach with a ton of ease.

Prices are slated for $5 for 30 minutes, plus a modest membership fee each year. But so far, I have some problems with this.

The cars aren’t equipped with bike racks, and they’re so small you could never fit one inside. A Blue Indy rep says they’re considering outfitting 1 out of every 5 cars with bike racks. Without them, this means you’ll either have to bus to a station or walk to a station. Or, I guess, bike and leave your bike there?

What I wish, however, was an emphasis on more residential locations. I live along Michigan Road and the closest initial station will be in Broad Ripple, which is a 20 minute bike ride away. But without bike racks I’d have to bus and to move across town 10 miles is about a 90 minute bus ride. Not convenient at all.

But this is an excellent way of supplementing bus and bike infrastructure for people who need to bounce out to a suburban county for a few hours. Or, once the Downtown transit center is done, realize the bus is running late,, you’re in a hurry, and there’s a car.

It’d be useless if you worked all day every day, but sometimes I have to zip over to Avon or a few weeks ago I had to get up to Noblesville. To get to Noblesville I could bike up Michigan Road, take the 86th street bus east to the Fashion Mall, pick up a car and go for a few hours and come back and do it all in the inverse — so long as the bike racks are there or there’s a very safe place to park my bike. You’re only charged for the cars so long as it’s unplugged. The meter stops the second it’s plugged back in somewhere.

Most people will look at it as a useless thing that takes up extra parking spaces, but if placed strategically it could be a savior for the “Oh crap, my car won’t start”, or, “I can bus to dinner, but how do I get back home after 11?” or, “I need to get to Greenfield, but there’s nothing to get me there except a car from the county line where the bus stops.” It supplements the existing limitations of Indy’s transit system, connects the region at an affordable price, and since they’re electric, it’s cleaner than gas. Once IPL stops burning coal in favor of natural gas at their Harding Street plant, it’ll be even cleaner.

It’s a uniquely Indianapolis approach: public and private partnerships, making use of what we already have technically and culturally, and without costing much money at all.