Red Line, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

[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.]

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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. 

10 Comments

  1. I acknowledge some of your issues here. Weekends in particular seem like a total breakdown. The limitations facing cyclists are a serious problem. That said, I have taken the Red Line from the 46th St. station to Fountain Square almost every weekday since it opened. After the Labor Day holiday, the service has been fantastic. Forty minutes total trip. Last Thursday a car hit our bus, taking it out of service. We walked the short distance to the next station and didn’t wait egregiously long for the next bus to come. It was crowded, sure, but to a certain extent, that’s mass transit. Again, weekends are a mess. They gotta fix whatever is nuking the system. But my weekday commute has been predictable, efficient, and overall a great experience.

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  2. Hearing that makes me thrilled! I still believe things will get worked out — however, these kinks must be addressed sooner rather than later, especially when riders are getting alienated. Thanks for your comment, James.

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  3. I must have impeccable timing for catching the Redline at it’s best, so I know that they are capable of operating as planned. Having used it a dozen times over the last few weeks I have had no issues. Most of my trips have been between Fountain Square and Downtown during business hours. The bus has arrived with 10 minutes of stepping onto the platform. The ride is quick and direct. One Friday evening I took a round trip from midtown to downtown, it was standing room only but I couldn’t complain about the speed as we blasted past traffic in our dedicated lane. I hope my experience has been more common than those that have had problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love reading this. I, too, hope this is more common. In my experience, weekdays have been pretty okay – it’s the weekend service I am concerned about. Thanks for the comment, Craig, and keep on riding!

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  4. It seems like the folks at IndyGo completely underestimated how all of the new riders to the system would be utilizing the Red Line. It seems obvious to me at least, but for the next few years, you’ll see more leisure trips from new users since they likely currently own a car, have a car lease, etc, so have no need for the service full-time and need to be convinced to dump a car bases on service reliability.

    After catching the last bus for what appeared to be 30-40 minutes in Broad Ripple over the weekend at noon to get downtown with a bunch of Colts fans, Children’s Museum visitors, and commuters, I realized a few things. First is that IndyGo likely has no ability to add capacity and change to 10 minute pickup windows for special events that are common on weekends and weeknights, a big draw for casual users. Secondly, there appears to be no spacing discipline. Like I said, we barely caught a bus up north, and the app showed the next one near the transit center, and that takes about 35 minutes to reach in the other direction. What should be happening is drivers sitting in-station if they are way ahead of schedule to preserve spacing and avoid gaps on the other end. What it does seem like is some drivers proceeding like they would on a normal route, and not one that’s touting a very fixed and reliable schedule.

    There is hope though, but IndyGo needs to not bungle this launch any more than they have. The new single fare 2-hour transfer ticket is essentially unlimited trips for 2 hours, but if buses aren’t running every 10-15 minutes, it will only anger people that use the bus to go a mile or two along the route for dinner and drinks instead of driving to parking-spot starved areas.

    I don’t know if signal prioritization was part of the planning, but would be more practical if drivers could selectively change lights like firetrucks can, since not every bus will be running behind schedule.

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  5. My experiences have been a mixed bag. My weekly mid-morning trip from downtown to 54th st. and back has had few problems. My Fri evening trip to BR near rush hour was quite slow. Only allowing two bikes makes me feel like it’s pretty unreliable that I can get my bike on.

    I’ve heard there are more buses coming. I’ve heard that there was a problem last weekend with multiple drivers calling in sick.

    I agree that the system needs to get more reliable. I probably agree that IndyGo could do more to be up front with messaging — saying clearly what they know has gone wrong and what they’re doing to address it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I look forward to service improving and hope that it does, sooner rather than later. I understand that the service is new and both the agency and the city are learning on-the-go, but if we want resident to take this seriously as a reliable form of transit then it has to be reliable. The last three weeks I’m sure have alienated many potential riders. I am sure that eventually the kinks will get worked out but will it be soon enough to assuage these concerns for others?

        Thanks for your comment and keep on riding!

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  6. My biggest issue has been the utter lack of communication from IndyGo since the Red Line launched, which is a completely unforced error on their part. People would be much more forgiving of the startup issues and problems if IndyGo would be open and communicate the issues to the public.

    Why does IndyGo keep advertising 15 minute headways on weekends when anyone that can count can clearly see on the MyStop app that they don’t have enough buses in service to even maintain 30 minute headways?

    Why did it take over 3 weeks for IndyGo to finally acknowledge that the real-time info screens aren’t working? How difficult would it have been to print off signs saying they aren’t yet working properly and send an intern around to put them up?

    Why can’t IndyGo be open about whether or not the TSP system if working properly or at all?

    By failing to proactively and public acknowledge the startup issues IndyGo leaves people to conclude that there aren’t any problems and that the poor and unreliable service that many have experienced so far is just the Red Line working the way it’s supposed to.

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    1. I agree with this 100%. The public relations has been a disaster. They need a “bear with us” campaign and their PR has done nothing to assuage concerns.

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