When people’s daily budgets get compromised by our wonderfully fickle gasoline prices, it creates an opportunity for people to make a choice; that choice being whether to drive theÂ car or ride the bus to work. For some in Indianapolis, this is a viable option. Living close enough to a bus route in these days can beÂ the proverbial diamond in the rough. Compared to filling up and paying a parking fee, a bus fare seems like a great value; if you don’t mind bending your schedule to the bus’ schedule. As of the penning of this blog, numerous filling stations in the Indianapolis are in the $4.10 – $4.20Â range. I’ve seen higher and lower.
In light of the current gasoline prices, I thought it would be a good study to see how much those prices have affected transit ridership numbers in the Indianapolis area. For the purposes of this post, I got in touch with Ehren Bingaman of CIRTA and Samantha Cross & Sarah KnightÂ at IndyGoÂ all of whom were generous enough to share the ridership numbers of their respective servicesÂ over the past couple of months with me.
CIRTA in cooperation with Miller Trailways facilitate the Commuter Expressbuses which operate from Carmel & Fishers to downtown Indianapolis. IndyGo obviously, is the municipal provider of public transportation in Indianapolis offering over 30 fixed routes.
Looking at the data, it appears that demand has been relatively flat. There appears to be a slight uptick recently, but it may take longer to accurately track this trend. Observing the data, it appears that the commuter express service is good for 200-300 rides a day. Maximum boardings occurred early in the service’s life cycle and was nearly 350 boardings. It remains to be seen whether continued pressure on people’s wallets will affect the Carmel & Fishers residents desire to leave the car at home and save some money. The fact that this is a minimalist service may have something to do with the trend in which gasoline prices have seemed to not affect any ridership changes. The service in it’s current form is also in it’s infancy having transitioned from IndyGO and $3 fares to the current service and increased fare. The Carmel & Fishers services bothÂ offer 3 departures for downtown each morning and return trips in the evening.
Trending IndyGo’s numbers is a bit taxing. There are a couple of ways to track their data and they involve year over year changes and month to month changes. In summary, short term habit changes driven by an increase in gasoline prices did not seem to materialize from March to April.Indeed, a fall of nearly 29K boardings was observed not counting the Green Line (click attached tables to enlarge). However, overall ridership is up over the prior year which is a good sign.Â Next, 2008 was when IndyGo saw it’s highest boardings (measured over the year). 2008, if you all remember, was also the last time that $4 gasoline reared it’s ugly head. Then, people were not as prepared for this shock as they were this year. Additionally, employers had not yet shed the millions of jobs that were to come. The figures for March & April in 2008 respectively, were 749,846 & 816,243. March 2011 clearly exceeds 2008’s numbers but April fell woefully short. It should also be noted that there were additional buses on the 17 (15 minutes peak), 37 (20 minutes peak)Â & 55 (30 minutes peak)Â in 2008.
Why didn’t transit boardings increase from March to April? Was it because of record rainfall through the month that prevented choice riders from standing in the rain? HaveÂ choice ridersÂ made more room in their budget for gasoline? Do 30 minute head ways (sometimes more) combined with the bad weather and inadequate transit shelters cause choice riders to choose their car? Are there less employees relying upon public transit at this point and who have made enough room in their budgets for the additional cost of gasoline?Â Have suburban commuters kept up with the changes in the express routes and simply do not know that they are still an option?Â At this point, it would seem that theseÂ may be the biggest determining factors here in Indy and $4 a gallon gasoline does not trump those factors. Perhaps May will dry up a bit, and a more accurate barometer of ridership can be seen.