Warehouse employers in Plainfield and Whitestown hope two new reverse-commute bus routes launching this fall will help them attract workers from Indianapolis.
Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority will run shuttles from the far reaches of the IndyGo network to deliver people to the north side of Plainfield and the Anson development in Whitestown. The new service, which doesn’t have a firm start date, would be funded by federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants, plus local matches.
Whitestown Town Manager Dax Norton said he hopes enough people use the new bus service to demonstrate demand for permanent regional mass transit. The future of the wider-ranging Indy Connect plan is uncertain, as it requires voters in Marion and surrounding counties to adopt local income-tax increases.
“’Why would we pay to bus people from other areas to come work at jobs that don’t have a living wage?’ We hear that a lot,” Norton said. “What you hope is that busing would eventually go the other direction as well. A lot of our issues from a congestion perspective … would be solved.”
So-called "reverse-commutes" take riders from a metropolitan area to a suburban one in the morning, and then back in the evening.
In the case of the new Whitestown Connector, an anonymous private-sector entity provided $180,000 to match the $720,000 federal grant. The shuttle will pick up commuters at Trader’s Point and deliver them to Anson and employers including Amazon, Express Scripts, GNC and Weaver Popcorn, which is relocating from Noblesville.
In addition, CIRTA is working on non-stop service from IndyGo stops in downtown Indianapolis to Whitestown.
Plainfield provided $90,000 to match a $360,000 CMAQ grant. The Plainfield North Connector will pick up commuters at the IndyGo Route 8 stop on Bridgeport Road and make a loop on the north side of Plainfield to deliver workers to the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, Prime Distribution, Ingram Micro and Tempur Sealy. CIRTA already operates a Plainfield Connector that makes a 9 1/2-mile loop through industrial parks and Metropolis mall. The federal grant for that service runs through Dec. 31, 2015.
CIRTA developed the new routes, which will be funded for three years, after grants that had supported service to Carmel expired. CIRTA President Christine Altman said ridership on the Carmel Connector and West Carmel Connector, which ended Sept. 30, wasn't strong enough to justify continuing the service.
CIRTA doesn’t have ridership projections for the new routes, but spokeswoman Jen Thomas of JTPR Inc. said, "Interest and engagement levels from the municipalities and employers indicate ridership should be much higher.”
Several companies are advertising the connector service in their employment ads, Thomas said.
The new service will launch as soon as signage, contracted buses and drivers are in place, Thomas said. Amazon is already ramping up toward its holiday-season peak, when it employs about 5,000 people in Whitestown, Norton said.