Commuter bus operator seeks extra funding for Fishers, Carmel service

July 8, 2014
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The $5 Hamilton County commuters pay to ride the Indy Express bus to or from downtown isn’t enough to sustain the route, the operator told Fishers Town Council during a Monday work session.

Louisville-based Miller Transportation has been providing weekday service between Indianapolis and parking lots in Fishers and Carmel for more than three years, collecting fares to offset expenses—and falling short despite efforts to line up outside funding.

Although ridership has been growing, scheduled-service manager Christy Campoll said fare revenue alone can’t support the two buses needed in each community for three departures and return trips every day.

Even a reduced schedule likely would need to be subsidized, she said.

So far, the private company has absorbed the losses. But Campoll said Miller can’t continue to operate the routes without additional revenue.

Miller set an Aug. 1 deadline in a notice filed this spring with program coordinator Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, but the commuter service will continue to operate for the time being while officials evaluate the options.

Selling bus advertising is one possibility, said Patricia Castaneda, CIRTA’s newly appointed mobility manager, an idea the Fishers leaders appeared to embrace.
They also expect to get a pitch for financial support, though the details are still hazy.

Campoll said Miller needs to bring in about $550 per day to run a one-bus, twice-daily route. That’s doable if ridership stays stable, but such changes typically result in a drop in usage.

How much is difficult to say. If the service lost a quarter of its 100-plus one-way Fishers trips, it would need an annual subsidy of $12,750, she said. The bigger the loss, the bigger the gap that needs to be filled.

A fare increase is not a viable option, Castaneda said, since raising prices even a nominal amount almost certainly would result in a drastic drop in usage. She said riders are more forgiving of a modest change in service.

CIRTA and Miller are putting together a pitch for support, planning to appeal to the companies and communities now benefitting from the commuter routes.

The Carmel-to-Indianapolis express bus also will be affected, said Councilor (and CIRTA board member) Mike Colby.

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  • Doesn't bode well.....
    So when I see something like this where it's a great program to do transit from the northern suburbs to downtown continue to struggle it makes me ponder the future of mass transit in central Indiana. This bus program has been going on for 3 years so it has had ample time to get its message out and grow to the level that it's likely to have of ridership. I remember it being jump started with some federal funds for the first year or so of the program and remember seeing lots of TV news coverage on the route during that time. And today its found it's natural level of maybe around 100 riders from the Fishers route. Then I see people pushing for 100's of millions or even billions of dollars of investment in building a mass transit system and focusing on the Fishers to Indy route and I just can't believe we would make that massive investment given what we see from a pilot project like this bus route. I hope voters take a LONG and considered look at any proposal if it ever comes to a vote in the next few years at what the likely ridership would be for a huge investment of tax dollars. And what amount each of us taxpayers would be forced to subsidize for each rider.
    • Fishers Bus
      Although I do not ride the bus on a regular basis I would be very sad to see it stop running from Fishers. This is my safe winter ride to work.
    • agree w/ Doesn't bode well
      couldn't agree more... how many thousands live in that community and 100 use the service after 3 years... as car become more fuel efficient and we upgrade and build more roads... mass transit is a poor option.
    • Truly Mass Transit?
      Certainly I understand the comments on whether or not mass transit is needed and I can assure you it is. My definition of mass transit is not a bus though. It's light rail. The purpose is to move people quickly to and from downtown and other locations. A bus still sits in the same traffic jam as a car. I work downtown and have seen 465 and I-69 both jam up worse this year than ever. Fact is, more lanes = more cars. Just look at the new flyover bridge that's now 2 lanes going north to HWY 37. It's as congested as it was prior to construction. I'm confident light rail would be successful as it could be used more frequently throughout the day and 7-days a week. Unfortunately our state is stuck in the mindset that widening roads and buses is the answer to mass transit.
      • Not mass transit
        This isn't mass transit. These are luxury motor coaches. They include free wifi, they stop at one location in Fishers and then a few downtown. They only make 3 trips in the morning rush hour and 3 in the evening rush hour. They run every 45 minutes in the morning and every 50 minutes in the evening. If you get off work at 5 o'clock, your only option is to wait for the 5:30 bus. So you get off work at 5 and still don't get home until 6:30 depending how far from the Fishers bus stop you live. That's not real mass transit and it's easy to see why a $5 fare doesn't pay for it and why it is a bit inconvenient for people. Bus rapid transit or light rail (which is banned) would run a lot more often and more than just 3 times during rush hour. It would include advertising at least inside and at stops, if not on the outside as well. There may or may not be free wifi. And it would make stops between Fishers and downtown and would including a stop in Noblesville as well. I think the fact that ridership is so high and seems to continue to grow is a good sign for mass transit.
        • Too Expensive
          When I lived in Castleton and worked downtown, I looked into taking this bus. The problem is times and location are not convenient. I would have to drive out of my way to meet the bus in Fishers, then pay $5 (one way) is far too expensive. For $10/day I can drive downtown and park in a garage and have the convenience of coming and leaving whenever I want without having to wait for the bus to arrive. In order for these systems to succeed, they need to provide a value to the customers. Currently, they do not.
        • Montly Costs
          Also to note, is they do provide a monthly pass for $150. Compare that to Chicago's monthly pass (which by far exceeds these 1 stop buses) for only $100.
        • IndyGo Route 19
          Hey PJ... I don't think the Fishers bus is intended to attract riders from Castleton in the first place. Driving north to go south doesn't make much sense anyway. You could have used IndyGo which already goes to Castleton. IndyGo's monthly pass - $60. May not be express service, but is certainly cheap.
        • We're paying?
          Seriously, if there's enough commuters, why would you need the assistance? They'll pay the increase for the convenience. What a crock.
        • Money (TIF) is no object!
          I have an extreme amount of faith that Mayor elect Scott Fadness is working on a plan to use a TIF to pay for indygo. As far as the light rail I am sure Scotg Fadness is working with a company to design and build the light rail system and of course give them millions of dollars in tax money to do so. Remember Fadness's motto giving away millions of dollars is good for down town Fishers. Just don't expect him to fix roads that have needed repair since this winter. So sit back relax I am sure Fadness has a plan to spend more money Fishers doesn't have err I mean make sure Fishers has a viable means of mass transit around the metro area.
        • Monumental loser
          Chris, great that you are convinced. But the facts are not so kind. A subsidized bus would be a modest loser. A fixed route light rail would lose be a monumental loser.

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        1. I am so impressed that the smoking ban FAILED in Kokomo! I might just move to your Awesome city!

        2. way to much breweries being built in indianapolis. its going to be saturated market, if not already. when is enough, enough??

        3. This house is a reminder of Hamilton County history. Its position near the interstate is significant to remember what Hamilton County was before the SUPERBROKERs, Navients, commercial parks, sprawling vinyl villages, and acres of concrete retail showed up. What's truly Wasteful is not reusing a structure that could still be useful. History isn't confined to parks and books.

        4. To compare Connor Prairie or the Zoo to a random old house is a big ridiculous. If it were any where near the level of significance there wouldn't be a major funding gap. Put a big billboard on I-69 funded by the tourism board for people to come visit this old house, and I doubt there would be any takers, since other than age there is no significance whatsoever. Clearly the tax payers of Fishers don't have a significant interest in this project, so PLEASE DON'T USE OUR VALUABLE MONEY. Government money is finite and needs to be utilized for the most efficient and productive purposes. This is far from that.

        5. I only tried it 2x and didn't think much of it both times. With the new apts plus a couple other of new developments on Guilford, I am surprised it didn't get more business. Plus you have a couple of subdivisions across the street from it. I hope Upland can keep it going. Good beer and food plus a neat environment and outdoor seating.

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