Rising costs for IndyGo’s rapid-transit buses prompt GOP call to consider cuts

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(IBJ file photo)

Political tensions over IndyGo spilled into the transit agency’s budget hearing Thursday evening, as Republicans raised concerns over the rising costs associated with the bus rapid transit lines.

Republican Councilor Brian Mowery said he wanted the system to succeed but raised questions about why reconstruction was needed around some Red Line bus stops only three years after its launch and if such work would be needed for future lines.

“In the budgeting for the new line, are we budgeting for ripping up the streets and having to rebuild them after three years?” Mowery said.

IndyGo CEO Inez Evans said reconstruction was needed to increase the depth as hybrid buses approached charging rails to achieve better efficiency, and that the Purple Line would be built with this knowledge.

The $5.6 million in Red Line alterations came out of IndyGo’s capital budget, Evans said.

Republicans also expressed concerns about IndyGo’s recent revelations that the cost of the Blue Line is now projected to go $300 million over its initial price tag, mostly due to the cost of connecting to Citizens Energy Group’s sewer system on Washington Street.

Alternatives for the increased price tag are being explored, but one hasn’t been chosen, according to spokeswoman Carrie Black. Investments in the Blue Line wouldn’t be made until 2024, so the line won’t have a direct effect on the 2023 budget.

Regardless, it was a hot topic at the hearing. IndyGo’s proposed $130-million budget includes expected decreases in fare revenue through 2027, but funds from $83 million in local taxes, $29 million in federal assistance and $11 million in state funds and grants. 

The largest investments for 2023 will be the Purple Line, at $51 million, and the East Campus garage, at $19 million. Neither of the projects will be completed in 2023. The proposed budget has been approved by the IndyGo board and now awaits approvals from the Democratic -controlled City-County Council and the Department of Local Government Finance.

Republican Councilor Michael-Paul Hart compared IndyGo’s Blue Line situation to if he had hired a contractor for a project at his house and received a higher-than-expected estimate.

“I’d start looking at cutting things,” Hart said. “That’s my stance on the position that you’re in, but I recognize the situation and then I just encourage you to do your best to look at the lessons learned moving forward.”

When the price increase was announced, the IndyGo board discussed potential changes to the rapid transit line, like moving the western part of the route onto Interstate 70 or shifting to hybrid buses from all-electric ones. 

Democratic Councilors Ali Brown and Jared Evans expressed concerns about the issues caused by the price increase, with Jared Evans going as far as to say Citizens is “holding hostage” the city and IndyGo.

“I can’t speak negatively enough about CEG,” Jared Evans said. “My comments here are as toned as they will get, because what I’d really like to say isn’t good for TV. We’d have to be on HBO.”

Citizens told IBJ the stormwater work is needed to comply with a legal agreement that Citizens became a part of in 2011, which aims to prevent combined sewer overflow.

After collaboration on drainage for the first two rapid transit lines, a stormwater master plan was created, Laura O’Brien of Citizens told IBJ in an email.

“Conclusions presented in the final Stormwater Master Plan indicated that additional storm sewers would be needed to meet drainage requirements to accommodate street improvements proposed for the Blue Line,” O’Brien said.

After a lot of discussion about the costs of IndyGo, Democratic Councilor Keith Graves said it was important to keep in mind IndyGo’s purpose of connectivity.

“There’s so many people in our city who have transportation barriers and are unable to get to medical appointments, school, work and to visit their loved ones,” Graves said. “I don’t want us to get caught up and forget what this is about.”

Democratic Councilor Monroe Gray, chair of the Municipal Corporations Committee, joked that a political divide was apparent during councilors’ questioning of Evans, the IndyGo CEO.

“It’s not hard to tell which side of the aisle where all the bus routes are going,” Gray said.

Gray laughed and ended the budget hearing, but Mowery—still in front of a microphone—told Gray the statement was “sad.”

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13 thoughts on “Rising costs for IndyGo’s rapid-transit buses prompt GOP call to consider cuts

  1. These state people are terrible.

    Also, it’s ridiculous to blame Indygo for the poor state of the infrastructure on Washington St. It’s the city of Indianapolis that agreed to take over maintenance of it as part of a get money to spend now cash grab without a long term plan in place to pay for the maintenance of the road. If the Blue Line is cancelled, Washington St still needs to be built and drainage is still a problem.

  2. Washington Street needs to be rebuilt no-matter-what.

    Reducing combined sewer overflows is a goal that the city and state are both vested in and the sewers need to be redone anyway.

    If anything, the new cost of The Blue Line reflects this extra work that should fall on DPW or The State. It’s not the buses or stations that cost so much, it’s fixing a road that’s been neglected for decades. That shouldn’t fall on IndyGo, but it does because they’re the only entity willing to fix the road. And of course, they’re getting blamed for it.

    1. Marion County Republicans wonder why they’re a dying breed.

      I’m waiting on Freeman and Sandlin and Young to stop being impotent and actually fight their party for Marion County’s fair share of road funding. Indianapolis is getting hosed and our roads are a disaster.

      Then, maybe, I’d take their IndyGo criticisms as valid. Because the most effective way to get our roads fixed nowadays is through mass transit programs due to the attached federal funding.

  3. “It’s not hard to tell which side of the aisle where all the bus routes are going,” Gray said.

    Is that the correct quote or is something missing? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

  4. “IndyGo CEO Inez Evans said reconstruction was needed to increase the depth as hybrid buses approached charging rails to achieve better efficiency, and that the Purple Line would be built with this knowledge.”

    What does this mean? Increase what depth? What are charging rails?

    1. The charging of the buses made now is done from the roof of it. There’s quick boost charging that can be done through special racks and rails on the roof as well.

      So IndyGo seems to be saying that they as well as designers/architects didn’t design it well enough or our contractor didn’t built it well enough to actually recharge the buses properly during stops. What happens is that the metal plates on the racks will make contact start charging the moment it gets to the station from the roof top, automatically. So if it leap frogs like that from stop to stop it won’t consistently drain the battery and will have enough for the longer trips between stops.

      I have a feeling this might be why they were complaining before that the buses weren’t holding up to the manufacture’s charging promises, distance requirements and specs in the contract. Unsure, but would make sense to me now given we didn’t have the proper continuous of flow of “boost charging” in the network to conserve battery.

    1. This is a story I’d like to see covered. We were promised that CEG could do it better, for cheaper, and that they would operate on a non-profit model. Now they’re trying to force taxpayers to pay for infrastructure they took on by forcing the transit agency to do it for them.

    1. It is generally a well-run agency, and “it’s end of the deal” was nonsense forced on it by meddlers in the General Assembly who just couldn’t let a city raise its own taxes to run its own transit agency without strings attached. And, they did this because they are grandstanding control freaks who are always looking for something to distract from how singularly terrible they are at their own jobs.

      These Statehouse goobers need to **take a seat,** stop wasting time interfering with a local bus agency, and do something useful, like never running again for elected office and slinking back to whatever hole they crawled out from.

  5. The responsible action that equates to sound management is recognizing cost issues and seeking alternatives to address them.

    It is not unreasonable to ask whether actions can be undertaken to minimize cost increases. The key action is to find measures that optimize project cost efficiency and assure project effectiveness for users.

    Given the state of supply line issue and rising costs for material and labor for all construction projects, it is critical that cost creep be monitored and managed. And Indygo is seeking to do so. Informing the council and public in a transparent manner is to be commended, not condemned.

    CEG seeks to gain betterments through the transit project. This happenstance is not unique to Indianapolis. Energy and utilities across the nation have sought to gain improvements to their systems by loading costs onto transit projects. And this often is named unfair and predatory. These actions have often been addressed by courts which decide how much the transit project (hence, Federal Transit Administration and local transit dollars) should pay [for aspects directly related to transit improvements and benefits] and how much should be borne by the utility as a betterment.

    Absent an agreed cost-sharing document, many transit agencies have had to expend a significant amount of funding for what should be a utility agency cost. Lengthly court battles may further increase project costs. The phrase ‘hostage holding’ may appear to be hyperbole but is some cases this term clearly approaches accuracy.

    Bus projects typically are expected to be significantly less costly than [light] rail; however, this is only true if cosmetic changes such as lane striping and shelter improvements are made. Should comprehensive utility and roadway improvements be undertaken, including line relocations and drainage infrastructure, construction cost may exhibit marked increases.

    Regarding modification and reconstruction along existing lines, Indygo is being responsible to recognize issues and to address them early. And this should be done now (within three years) to avoid longer term impacts directly related to deferred maintenance.

    What specifically are the [poor] management issues at Indygo. Material cost increases, supply lines, staffing shortages, ridership, deferred maintenance, and construction costs are national economic issues, or impacts therefrom, for which Indygo nor any transit agency has direct control.