[Author’s note: Since this article was published, weekday and weekend service has been substantially better on the Red Line going both north and south. The last several experiences I’ve had involved a less than 7 minute waiting time from when I arrived at a station to a bus showing up. It appears that consistency is improving by the day as everyone gets acclimated to the intangibles of this new transit system. That being said, I do not think this article was unfair. Initially, there was day after day of lengthy delays which alienated many future and potential riders. The signal prioritization still seems to be lacking. Despite these qualms, the ethos of my article was a desire to hold Indianapolis to a higher standard, one that is as expected in other cities. I will never apologize for that. I truly believe this city is a remarkable one, one with a bright future. But that future will dim if citizens never hold it accountable for the potential future it can and should achieve. Thank you all for the dialogue and for reading.]
I waited. We waited.
This was the first time. A crisp, new-slate feeling, like the one autumn brings, permeated. Like that that of new romance. Of a fresh start.
It was a start. The start of something new.
As such, there was a kinetic, palpable energy. It was the first day and the stations were packed and packed is an understatement: we were sardines in a tin can fighting for space on a floating platform between yellow lines. It felt unreal. Years of waiting, over $90 million dollars, and a bitter public relations campaign had manifested in this!
Yeah, *this* would show them. You know, the businesses with those “no dedicated lane” signs. You know, the people saying transit would never work in Indy. These crowds, this rapid transit, this enthusiasm — this would show them all.
A new apogee for transit in Indy.
I could understand the 50-some minute wait, then. I understood it further when I witnessed the crowded buses passing and barely letting anyone off. I could understand the bikers who had left the station, disappointed there was no room. And I could understand letting a bus pass without stopping. It was the first day. Of course, these things were bound to happen! It was a holiday weekend and us Indianapolitan urbanites had waited years for this. Plus, it was free and that probably added to the mess.
It would be alright. It was only the first day, September 1st.
It would be okay.
MyStop showed no buses even nearby. The station kept showing bus arrival times as “NOW” despite none being present.
By the time our group got on the BRT headed toward downtown from the Broad Ripple Avenue station, we had waited for nearly an hour and the bus was filled to the brim, like a long, green Double Stuf Oreo. Armpits were in faces and the cloud of people surrounding us become close friends. We got the chance to become such great friends not just out of proximity, but due to the nearly 90 minute trip it took to get downtown.
Bear in mind, I have been advocating for the Red Line for years. As a long-term proponent of transit in transit-weak Indy, I could not have been more excited.
But — something seemed off.
The signal prioritization seemed to be nonexistent. Many times, through the peephole I could make through the conglomeration of faces, I saw that while we approached traffic lights, the bus signal seemed to simply adhere to previous timing. We were stopped at nearly every stop light between 54th and 18th. This…this was not how it was supposed to be.
Suburbanites on the trip noted how they would never ride again. A family of four, stroller in tow, remarked that this seemed a nice try, but would never work as a commuting device. A newscaster happened to be on. Let’s just say they were not as generous.
Stations between 38th and Downtown were not even stopped at.
This was a Saturday. September 14th — two weeks later.
Holy hell, I thought.
After a few more instances of riders not being picked up, signal prioritization not seeming to work, and lagging commute times, I thought, perhaps, I am simply projecting my bad experiences unto the system and that, despite my setbacks, the Red Line was actually doing quite well. That, despite my experiences with long-delays, lack of any semblance of “rapid-ness”, and general discouragement, others were feeling much better.
I mean, there is no way the city spent all this time to simply offer up a slower version of Route 17 with fancier stations.
However, a quick perusal of Twitter and Facebook revealed even more of the same. Suburbanites claiming, “I told you sos”, pundits offering speed trials. Screenshots of the MyKey app showing no buses for miles.
Most critically, fellow urbanists were even saying that this was simply an unreliable service as it stands. And I tended to agree.
The following Sunday, we went to Fountain Square. As we sat outside a pub, I counted the buses that went past. While we were there for 90 minutes, I saw one Red Line bus.
Aghast, I ordered another beer.
Firstly, let me just say I am angry. We spent years waiting for Indianapolis to make the leap and become a “real city” and offer actual transit options that were frequent. And reliable. The Red Line has been anything but.
I am frustrated and I am disappointed. Instead of acknowledging system lags and general lack of promised service, IndyGo has simply not said much at all. Instead of saying, “hey, we hear you” it has seemed that complaints continue to pile up while the system’s infrequent and unreliable service persists unabated. We were promised frequent, non-stop service that we could depend on. That people could commute with. That bikers could transport with. I could understand the first two weeks of horrid commute times. Of non-existent signal prioritization. Of hour-and-45 minute times between Fountain Square and Broad Ripple.
It’s now more than three weeks later.
IndyGo, you are running out of time to make this right before you lose even more riders. I know people worked really hard to make this thing happen. And I could not be more grateful. I have faith they will work this out. In the interim, I’ll keep riding. And I’ll keep trying to stay optimistic. But damn, Indy, I thought it was going to be better than this.
It should have been. So yeah, I’m frustrated. And angry.
But mostly, I’m just sad.