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Commentary: Putting rush hour on ICE

May 26, 2008

Last week, after spending $71.83 to fill up my car, I said to myself, "Tomorrow, I'm taking the bus."

So I did.

It wasn't my first time on the new IndyGo commuter bus from Carmel; it was my fourth in the last five weeks. On that particular day, I was fed up. It was the first time that gassing up cost me more than $70, and it made an impression.

I guess that's what it's going to take for all of us to realize that someday we're going to have to get out of our cars, at least some of the time, to get to and from work. We'll each have our moment.

This will be a huge paradigm shift for us Hoosiers (quick, call the cliché police). We are addicted to the convenience and freedom provided by our vehicles. To most of us, commuting other than by car feels like surrendering something.

But you know what? My experiences so far on public transportation tell me it's a lot easier than you may think.

The first time I read about the IndyGo Commuter Express service a couple of months ago, I told myself I was going to try it. Gas was around $3.75 a gallon then, and $4 for a round trip to and from downtown sounded pretty good.

But it took the suggestion of a friend to get me off the dime and onto the bus.

I road with my "bus buddy" the first three times I went. We ate doughnuts, drank coffee and talked the whole way, probably to the chagrin of most of our bus mates, who-at least during the morning ride-are content to sleep, read the paper, check their BlackBerries, or put on makeup.

On the way home, we talked again. After a hard day's work, most others spent the time talking on their cell phones, reading or staring blankly out the window. It seems commuting by bus is a solitary sport for the most part, at least at this stage of the game in central Indiana.

IndyGo currently offers the commuter service on two routes to and from downtown during the morning and evening rush hours: one from Fishers and one from Carmel. ICE is about to launch a route from Greenwood, probably in June.

The Carmel bus picks up at the Meijer store at 126th and Pennsylvania streets, and heads downtown, where it makes six stops, one of which happens to be right underneath my office window at Washington and Penn. (For details, check www.indygo.net.)

The morning ride is about 45 minutes; the evening's is closer to an hour. When I rode by myself last week, I read my Sports Illustrated in the morning and my New Yorker on the way home. Think how much work you could get done if that's what you wanted to do.

My desire to try the Carmel express was fueled as much by wanting to do something for the environment and to support IndyGo for providing the service as it was by high gas prices. And, of course, the idea of having some extra time to do something other than drive was a draw, too.

But the biggest benefit was one I hadn't expected. Not having to start my work day by concentrating on driving and fighting traffic left me much more relaxed when I sat down in my office. The ride home in the evening was equally therapeutic.

Obviously, everybody can't commute by bus every day. Take a salesperson, for example, who has appointments all over town every day of the week. Maybe not so practical, at least all the time.

But perhaps they and other busy businesspeople can do what I do and pick a day or two a week when they can take the bus because they've concentrated their out-ofoffice appointments on the other days. It's kind of a nobrainer in the warm months because there are so many places to walk downtown for lunch.

Someday, we in central Indiana are going to have to come to grips with urban sprawl, growing traffic congestion and air pollution, take the leap and make public transportation part of our mobility mix. A great place to start is already on ICE.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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