New York City-based transportation startup OurBus plans to test a daily Indianapolis-to-Chicago round-trip bus service that will begin July 1 and run through Labor Day.
The company will decide whether to continue the service near the end of the pilot run.
The service is launching as a potential replacement for Amtrak’s Hoosier State service from Indianapolis and Chicago, which has its last run on June 30.
“We thought it would be a good opportunity, with the train going away,” said OurBus co-founder Axel Hellman.
The Hoosier State runs to and from Chicago four days a week. For the past two years, its operation has been supported with $3 million in annual subsidies from the state of Indiana, plus a combined $500,000 annually from five communities on the route. Legislators did not include Hoosier State funding in the 2019-2021 state budget, prompting Amtrak to discontinue the service after the current fiscal year ends on June 30.
Amtrak will still provide service between Indianapolis and Chicago via the Cardinal line, which runs through Indianapolis three days a week on its way from New York City to Chicago.
The OurBus will leave Indianapolis each morning and return later that day. The company is still working to determine exactly where passengers will board the bus. Fares will begin with a $10 introductory rate before rising to $25 to $35, Hellman said.
By mid-August, Hellman said, OurBus should know whether it will expand, reduce or discontinue its Indianapolis-to-Chicago route.
“We’ll just watch the ticket sales, see how interested the customers are,” he said.
If at least 100 people request a stop between Indianapolis and Chicago and if the location is feasible, OurBus will add the stop to the route, Hellman said. Customers can make requests online at ourbus.com.
“Some of the smaller towns, college towns and suburban markets are what we’re going for,” Hellman said.
In launching the route, OurBus will be vying with established competitors. MegaBus, Greyhound and Miller Transportation also offer service between Indianapolis and Chicago. Some of those are express routes with no stops and others make stops along the way.
But OurBus isn’t a traditional transportation company and doesn’t own a fleet of buses. The company, which considers itself a tech company, handles routes and scheduling, ticket sales and customer service. It contracts with local providers who supply the buses and drivers.
For the Indianapolis-to-Chicago route, OurBus will contract with Gold Shield Transportation in Indianapolis.
This arrangement gives OurBus the flexibility—particularly the ability to quickly respond to customer demand—that distinguishes it from its competitors, Hellman said. For instance, the company might offer stops in college towns only at the beginning and end of the school year. OurBus can also add buses to a route—or scale back to smaller buses—depending on demand.
OurBus launched in 2016 as a service for commuters in New York City. It added its first inter-city route, from New York City to Washington, D.C., in 2017.
The company now has 10 to 20 routes in the northeast, two in Texas (Dallas to Houston and Dallas to Austin) and one in Florida from Tampa to Miami.