Commuter bus operator seeks extra funding for Fishers, Carmel service

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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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