Front-page story about the future of Indy's mass-transit system in the Daily Fishwrap this morning managed to actually flounder its way to the pertinent question: "Will the public get on board?"
In a word, probably not; Indianapolis had an outstanding public transit system back in the 1940s and it was running in the red even then. My Dad grew up in a house that was practically on the streetcar line...and in his teens, was happy to swap riding it for a push-start Cushman scooter, followed by a Model T with a cracked block after the two-wheeler threw a rod.*
The paper wonders if us benighted rubes would use mass-transit -- and does offer up IndyGo and an example of How Not To Run A Bus System. (Even "...President and CEO Mike Terry will be the first to admit [it] is barely scraping by...with limited local funding...." Aha! So, not turning a profit? The paper goes on to tell us us that's why the busses cannot attract folk who don't have to use the bus, a group they call "choice" riders. (Judging by the number of 50cc scooters and bicycles I see, they're not even doing that good a job attracting riders who don't have cars). --Look, if you have to subsidize the service to attract folks who can afford cars, there's something wrong; either you're overcharging, the buses aren't going when/where they're needed (IndyGo is chronically late) or the whole idea is flawed. Or some combination of those things. When customers are staying away in droves, that is a message, one so simple even Wal*Mart can work it out.
A couple of encouraging items: express buses, zipping from the 'burbs to in-town destinations, have proven popular (possibly 'cos they are on time?). They're hoping to add more, maybe even make a few bucks at it, who'da thunk? And light-rail plans have been scaled 'way back -- look, I like the idea of light rail; I like streetcars. But if you don't have riders, you're just building a 1:1 model train set at taxpayer expense...while 15-year-olds scooter past the empty coaches.
This doesn't mean the trolley circulating between downtown and the airport has been scrapped -- only that, for now, it'll have tires instead of flanged wheels. If it doesn't work, if the route needs adjusted, hey, no rails. And the city can find out if it works at all, instead of relying on "experts" like Joe Schwieterman, who assures us (or at least assures What Passes For A Newspaper), "Rail has a cachet that augments a city's cosmopolitan image." Cosmopolitan image? Can you eat it, Joe, have sex with it, or...Oh. Of course. You smoke it.
I'm still not seeing a whole lot about any actual study of what actual riders want, other than the express buses. You'd think the city'd ask those tired folks at bus stops, peering worriedly back up the road, hoping maybe that distant set of headlights is, finally, the bus. Or possibly Godot.
* Gee, and I used to wonder why he was so hardcore about doing proper maintenance on cars when he was all grown up....
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