Locals asked to help fund commuter-bus service

Elected officials in Fishers and Carmel are being asked to help pay for existing commuter-bus service between the suburbs and downtown Indianapolis.

Fishers Town Council on Monday is expected to consider a subsidy of up to $22,500 to keep the Miller Transportation buses running for the rest of 2014. Carmel City Council, meanwhile, has a $30,000 grant request on the table.

Any public contributions would be in addition to the $5-per-trip fares riders pay.

As IBJ reported last month, Louisville-based Miller Transportation has been providing weekday Indy Express service between Indianapolis and park-and-ride lots in Fishers and Carmel for more than three years through a partnership with the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority. But fare revenue has fallen short of expenses.

A federal grant subsidized the service until August 2013, but ridership wasn’t high enough to justify continued funding, according to data prepared for the Fishers council.

So CIRTA and Miller asked local government to help.

Commuters took about 35,000 trips on the Fishers route last year, the ridership statistics show, and more than 28,500 trips to and from Carmel. Overall ridership has grown each year since 2011.

Still, Miller can’t afford to operate the routes at a loss. The private company plans to cut expenses by eliminating one of the two buses that provide three departures and return trips each day—reducing the schedule in the process—and is asking the municipalities to make up any shortfall.

The more trips riders take, the less subsidy the service would need.

Fishers already pays $1,250 per month for commuters to use the parking lot at Eastern Star Church, an arrangement the council approved earlier this year.

Town staff recommended the Fishers council approve the short-term subsidy and use the rest of the year to explore a more permanent solution.

The Carmel grant request likely will be assigned to the council’s finance committee for review and recommendation.

What’s your take on the situation? If fares aren’t enough to support the service, should government step in?

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