“If you can’t get from point A to point B easily, affordably, and equitably—meaning in a way that’s available to all residents in the community—it really pulls the entire community down.” – Ron Gifford
In this episode of For Good, we convene local leaders and residents for a conversation about personal mobility and transportation in Central Indiana, and strategies underway to ensure everyone has equitable opportunities to access various modes of transportation and obtain housing, jobs and health services.
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Transcription of episode available below.
WHO YOU’RE LISTENING TO
- Ben Snyder, marketing and communications manager at CICF
- Wildstyle, community ambassador at CICF
- Ron Gifford, project manager for Personal Mobility Network
- Bryan Luellen, vice president of public affairs at IndyGo
- Current IndyGo projects, including rapid transit
- Ford Mobility City:One Challenge
- CICF’s Family Stabilization initiative, including the Personal Mobility Network
You’re listening to For Good, Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast highlighting stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana. At CICF, we believe in creating a community where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter their place, race or identity. This is our community and these are your stories.
Ben Snyder: Hello, and welcome to For Good. I’m Ben Snyder, marketing and communications manager at Central Indiana Community Foundation. Today on the show we’re talking about transportation and the Personal Mobility Network created and incubated by CICF. We’re recording from the Julia M. Carson Transit Center, which opened in 2016 and is home to IndyGo’s bus transit system, a fitting location for our conversation. And as you might guess, our three guests today are very involved in transportation and mobility here in Indianapolis. Can you each introduce yourselves?
Bryan Luellen: I’m Bryan Luellen, public affairs with IndyGo.
Wildstyle: I’m Wildstyle. I’m a Central Indiana Community Foundation ambassador.
Ron Gifford: I’m Ron Gifford. I’m the project manager for the Personal Mobility Network.
BEN: Awesome. Great. Thank you, guys, for coming and joining us for this conversation today. Starting off, we know that Indianapolis has the second highest transportation cost as a percent of income among the 30 largest metros. What do you think contributes to that high cost in our community, and how does that impact you personally? Let’s start with you Wildstyle.
WILDSTYLE: Well, actually, I didn’t know that before, but that’s not surprising. I spent 13 years as an auto mechanic, and I can tell you that just from that point of view seeing what customers went through, and then with my own cars of actually being able to fix them but having to make sure I had enough money in the bank account just to pay for the parts, was stressful. So maintenance, obviously our roads could be in better condition. And then I think there’s been a huge issue previously, not as much now but still quite a bit, with the police enforcement and basically them causing a lot of people to lose their licenses over stuff that really isn’t necessarily public safety.
BEN: And Ron?
RON: Well, one of the challenges we have is that Indianapolis has a really large geographic footprint. We’re the fourth largest city in America in terms of our size, physically our size. So even though there is good transit access in the center part of the city, if you live out in the townships, you really have to have a car. And as Wildstyle just pointed out, it’s expensive to own a car. And that’s the primary reason why our transportation costs are so high here. We don’t have a robust network or system of lower cost options for people to use.
BEN: And Bryan?
BRYAN: Yeah, I think playing off Ron’s point, the kind of combination factor of being a large geographic area and having historically very small investments in public transportation, that’s a recipe for underserving the community with fixed route, reliable, low cost transportation options. Add to that larger kind of macroeconomic factors like urban sprawl, looking at where jobs are locating outside of Marion County where IndyGo does not serve, and those areas don’t provide any public transportation.
BRYAN: For decades we’ve kind of created this system that has required people to have a car in order to be able to access opportunity. You even look at the way that the city has formed, you drive 15 minutes outside of Downtown, and there are strip malls and cul-de-sacs, and buildings that are set back way from the curb, and it’s much lower density. So we’ve kind of created a city that is predicated on the assumption that everyone will have a car.
BEN: All right. And what about transportation makes it so important and vital to a community and its residents? Wildstyle?
WILDSTYLE: I’m going to say particularly jobs. I think growing up in Indianapolis, I just thought it was normal and expected and it happened everywhere that you pretty much were going to lose your job and your apartment if your car went down and you couldn’t afford to fix it. And then as I traveled and met people and I realized that that’s more of an Indianapolis issue, that’s not necessarily the case everywhere in the country.
WILDSTYLE: And so I think the transportation situation for a long time, some people had access to it. Depending on where you were and depending on where your job was, you had okay access. But I saw a lot of people lose their jobs and have to move back in with their parents. I remember Amazon’s peak season, a lot of friends of mine would have friends that stayed on the Westside, and they would just go live with them for Amazon’s peak season and go to work with them.
RON: Physical mobility is the key to economic mobility and social mobility. If you can’t get there, you can’t get there, right? Meaning to a job or to healthcare appointments. So if you’re dealing with some sort of illness or health-related issue and you have trouble getting that taken care of, that obviously impacts your quality of life. Not being able to get to a good job means you have fewer resources and you can’t do the things you need to do. If you can’t get to school easily, it’s hard to pursue more education. And all of those things go into creating an individual’s quality of life. And so if you can’t get from point A to point B easily, affordably, and equitably, meaning in a way that’s available to all residents in the community, it really pulls the entire community down.
BRYAN: Yeah, I think there’s also a social and emotional and a kind of physical health aspect that we shouldn’t forget about. Isolation is something that is real and has impacts on your health and has impacts on your mental health. And so being able to get out and be self-sufficient and independent and interact with other people, even if it’s just as simple as going to the grocery store or going to church on a Sunday, being able to have that freedom of physical mobility can impact your health aside from the the access to opportunity.
BEN: All right. Ron, can you tell us a little bit more about the Personal Mobility Network and kind of the history and the basic goal of what that is?
RON: So a few years ago, Brian Payne started conversations with different stakeholders in the community about transportation and mobility, and specifically looking at the fact that we were about to make a significant investment in the community in terms of new transit options, this coming on the heels of the 2016 referendum. And so he began pulling people around the table, folks from IndyGo, from the city, from the private and public sectors, from the philanthropic community, obviously CICF leading the way there, and really asked the question, what would it look like if we could create a network where anyone could get anywhere they needed to go, again, in a way that was affordable, accessible to them, and in an equitable fashion?
RON: And those conversations began developing, and we’re really focused on a couple of ideas right now. One is how do we connect those different options in a way that uses technology or other means to help people go from different mobility modes, whether it’s a bike to transit to a car share or the like?
RON: But the other aspect of what we’re looking at now is how do we create more options that could be connected? When you get out to the more outlying areas of Marion County, transit service is less robust because of the lack of density. But there are still hundreds of thousands of people who live in that part of our community, many of whom have the same transportation needs. So one of the questions is how do we use other kinds of mobility options? Smaller vehicles, for example, maybe smaller routes.
RON: So this is what we’ve been working on for the last couple of years. Learning from what other cities are doing, launching some pilot projects ourselves, having some significant engagement in the community also to really understand what are the specific transportation needs. Because in different neighborhoods and in different parts of our community, they really are different. There are different needs depending on the needs of specific residents and specific locations. It’s been a process by which we’re trying to reach out and be broadly inclusive, make sure we have representative voices around the table to help create and understand these options.
BEN: Okay. And what are some examples of how this Personal Mobility Network will make our community more equitable?
RON: The first way is to really ensure that mobility options are widely available throughout the community. So the first way to make these mobility options equitable is to make sure that they’re available and accessible.
RON: The second way to do it is to make sure that they’re affordable. And there are a lot of options available to people who have means. Anyone in Marion County can call Uber or Lyft if you have a credit card and are able to pay the the charges, right? But if you are one of the many residents of our community who don’t have access to a credit card or a debit card, then those kinds of providers aren’t available to you. So we’re looking at the question, really in partnership with IndyGo, how do we create mobility cards, if you will, that people can use more widely?
RON: IndyGo has recently launched its MyKey fare payment system, and one of the really exciting aspects of that card and that payment structure is that it has the ability to be used by other providers. So a resident could get the MyKey card at no cost, create an account, add value to it. Our goal is to create a system where other providers will then accept that card — BlueIndy, bikeshare, scooters and others — which then really opens up those options to residents who don’t have access to banking instruments.
BEN: All right. And then in regards to the Personal Mobility Network, what are you most excited about right now as far as this development is continuing to move forward?
RON: One thing that’s really exciting is the extent of community engagement with the initiative, and particularly the ideas and the energy around those ideas that’s coming out of neighborhoods and neighborhood groups.
RON: We’re partnering with IndyGo on a project right now on the Near Eastside looking at the creation of mobility hubs around community centers and other places, which again brings these different kinds of transportation options together, whether it’s the transit system, BlueIndy, bikeshare, and others, in a way that’s really accessible to the residents in those communities. And we’re piloting those ideas to see what works, what needs to be tweaked with the goal of eventually rolling out this idea of mobility hubs throughout the community.
RON: Another thing that’s happening right now is the Ford City:One challenge. This is a partnership between the City, IndyGo, CICF, Ford Motor, Cummins, and other stakeholders to pilot ideas to actually get proposals and ideas from the community and more broadly and to choose two or three ideas to split a $100,000 pilot fund and pilot some new ideas to address some of the mobility needs we’ve identified.
RON: We had 120 proposals come in in the first part of the challenge. We’ve whittled that down to about a dozen ideas that focus on areas like improving access for persons with disabilities, making it easier for families to get around, creating more affordable options, circulator routes in neighborhoods that don’t have as robust a transit or transportation options, for example. And we’ll choose a handful to pilot in the beginning of 2020. The goal is to see what works and have some ideas that really take hold that we can then spread throughout the community.
BEN: Great. Thank you. And Bryan, so IndyGo recently released the first rapid transit bus system and the Red Line. Can you talk about what that goal was and how it was bridging a gap in our public transit?
BRYAN: The Red Line is a really exciting project that we’re glad is off the ground and running. It’s been a great response from the community, and it really demonstrates that frequent reliable service is the backbone of any transportation network. With the Red Line, we’re operating at about every 10 minutes on weekdays, which is critical. The goal is really just about speeding the travel time and making it more competitive with driving so that people don’t feel that that is the only option.
BRYAN: With the Red Line, having the stations that are consolidated and spaced further apart, having the level boarding, so all the doors open at once, everybody walks on, doors close, and the vehicle moves on, that speeds up the service. We met for years with the community on the design, and it’s really great to go out in the communities now and hear people say, “I never thought this was going to work. I hated the idea, and I’ve been on it every week, and I love it.” I think for me that’s been the most personally rewarding and most surprising thing about launching the project.
BEN: Awesome. And how would IndyGo fit in with the Personal Mobility Network?
BRYAN: This gets back to a couple themes that we’ve touched on. One, the cost component is really critical for us. We are fiercely watching out for equitable access, and that is in two dimensions: one, geographically, and two, economically. So our fare is $1.75. It doesn’t matter how far you travel, and that’s a really important piece to leverage when you’re trying to serve a community that’s 400 square miles. An Uber trip from Downtown to the airport is probably upwards of $30 now, and that is not a sustainable way for most people to travel on a daily basis. So making sure that we are working with the community and focusing transit on high-capacity, high-density corridors, and then leveraging other mobility solutions to make those leaps beyond where it makes sense to run a 40-foot city bus.
BEN: And can you talk a little bit more about the expansion efforts, the other lines that are going on? There’s the Red Line, and there’s going to be the Purple Line and all the other different colors. Can you explain how those areas were chosen?
BRYAN: Yeah. Overall, the density of where people live and where people work. At the end of the day, those are the two most critical data points that we look at for planning the network. So the Red Line is just one line on what will become a frequent network of services. It’ll be the spine of the system with nearly every route touching the Red Line.
BRYAN: We’re trying to design the transit system and put our resources down in a way that creates this grid of services so that it is easy to understand, it’s frequent, and where you have to make a connection, it’s only going to be about a seven-minute wait because we’ve got two 15-minute routes crossing. So we’re trying to create as many of those types of opportunities as possible. The Purple will be up Meridian to 38th street and then out east and then connect into Fort Ben on Post Road. And then the Blue Line will go from the airport on the Westside all the way to Cumberland on the Eastside on Washington Street.
BEN: Okay, great. Wildstyle, how does the conversation about transportation, personal mobility, and rapid transit buses change when there is engagement with residents and people who actually use these systems?
WILDSTYLE: Well, I think as a user of the system and coming from a neighborhood where we are actually are transit rich, we have a lot of different lines that I can use to get here or anywhere else, but I think sometimes information is the technology that is a bit lacking. If anything, I know a lot of my neighbors don’t know … They found out that the Authority was going to run every day of the week by seeing it go by and realizing, “Oh, okay, I’m going to take that next time.” I think a lot of people don’t realize that maybe they qualify for half-fare or even a free fare on the buses.
WILDSTYLE: And then also with the … maybe better stops. The 34 runs through my neighborhood, but that’s mostly inaccessible to people on my end of the neighborhood that have mobility challenges. Like they can’t get across Martin Luther King, which is called a street, but it’s really a road past 30th Street.
WILDSTYLE: And so it’s a little bit different when they’re affected. I think people are a little bit less interested in apps and probably more interested in having better bus stops, making sure that all the connection points, there’s good bus stops and just reliable service and very reliable information.
BEN: What recommendations do you have on connecting that information from transportation providers to residents?
WILDSTYLE: I think sometimes we forget that technology is still the wheel, and you don’t always have to reinvent it. When IndyGo was free for the first two weeks of the Red Line opening, everybody pulled out their fare cards and money and tried to pay. And as soon as they put a sign up there on the fare boxes said “free,” that sped things up tremendously.
WILDSTYLE: So sometimes it’s really the simple solutions, the most simple communication. I think if people had known that maybe some of the bus stops on a 30 route, that if you’d put a sign out there and said, “Hey, it’s going to run every day now,” I think that would’ve been very effective. I think from at least the existing user standpoint, I think really shoring up the communication and having a better great rider experience for the people who are using it.
BEN: And what are some challenges about getting around without a car, and the flip side of that, what are some benefits of not having a car?
WILDSTYLE: Well, I’ll go with the challenges first. I think sometimes if the bus is late, and you really have to get somewhere, you’re nervous, especially if you have a connection. You’re like, “Did I miss it? Did something happen? Is it coming?” And then being stuck outside without an umbrella, which happened to me the other day, and I actually ended up having to Lyft home because it was raining too hard and I wasn’t going to get out there on a bus stop and walk over there like that.
WILDSTYLE: But I think the benefits, at least for me, outweigh the drawbacks. Like I have no intention of fixing the car that I have, and I plan on using public transportation for as long as it makes sense. But it’s less stress in many cases just to wait for the bus. If it’s coming reliably, you wait for it, you get on and answer emails or play on Facebook or whatever it is that you want to do. Or sometimes I’ll take a short nap if the trip’s long enough. It’s relaxing, so I don’t worry about costly repairs is going to eat into my living expenses, money and stuff like that. I know that push come to shove, I have a way to get around.
BEN: And how have you seen transportation, or lack of, impact your neighbors?
WILDSTYLE: Particularly with my neighbors, I would say neighbors with mobility problems, it’s real tough. It makes them isolated. It makes it very, very expensive for them to get around if they’re in a wheelchair and they can’t drive. And I think, luckily, not all the stops in my neighborhood are accessible, but there’s at least two lines available to them that are.
WILDSTYLE: But also with the younger folks, they ended up with jobs outside of the IndyGo network. Like if something happened with their cars or something happened with them, maybe they do something stupid or maybe they just were driving, they didn’t pay a ticket and were driving on a suspended license and everything, and the car gets towed, or the car could get towed for any reason, and they’re out of a job and now in a very tough spot and potentially facing poverty or if they may already be in poverty. So it’s very difficult, lack of transportation, and that has a huge effect on quality of life I believe.
BEN: And then last question for each of you, what’s your big idea related to transportation? Dream world. A perfect solution to all of our transportation woes. Starting with you, Ron.
RON: When I grew up, George Jetson flew to work in his car, and I was convinced that by the time I was this age I would have a flying car. And I’m still a little bitter, I guess, about that.
RON: I think the big idea is really a series of small ideas that all come together because how any particular person needs to get around differs because our needs are different, our ability to just move physically where we need to go and the like are all different. And so we can’t simply identify one solution that’s going to work for everybody. We need to identify multiple solutions that connect together, and I think that’s really the work that we’re trying to do now.
RON: And what’s exciting about that is that creates the opportunity for a lot of innovation and creativity. It creates the opportunity to try out some ideas, see what works. Not everything’s going to work, and that’s okay. But those things that do work, then we should figure out how to take those into other parts of the community.
RON: And so if we’re talking about how do we help older residents get to and from the doctor where you really do need a vehicle picking them up at their home and taking them to an appointment and back, well, that obviously looks a lot different than how do we create more high-frequency transit lines in the denser parts of our community, which is absolutely the best way to move large numbers of people. Right? We need both, and we need both that work together and connect together.
RON: So I think the big idea that excites me most is the fact that we’re talking about all of these somewhat smaller ideas and how we can connect all of those together and in that process make sure that we’re not leaving out any particular neighborhoods or communities or populations of persons. We’ve spent a lot of time, for example, talking with advocates for persons with disabilities who face an entirely different set of challenges in getting around our community, so how do we make sure that there are robust options to serve their needs and desires as well? So to me that’s the exciting big idea right now, a lot of little ideas.
BEN: All right. And Bryan, your big idea?
BRYAN: I think that it’s not even a new idea or a big idea. I want people to think about transportation differently. Transportation isn’t a thing in its own right that should be celebrated. Transportation ultimately is a solution to a distance problem. And I would love it if we could start thinking about being closer together and building the places, building the city that we want and having the things that we need within a close reach so that we don’t even have to be talking about this transportation challenge in the first place.
BEN: And Wildstyle?
WILDSTYLE: I think I would kind of echo both of what they were saying. And I think something I’ve been reading about is called inclusive design, where the city is designed and always upgraded and planned to be a serving all people of various means and various transportations. And I think for too long in Indianapolis we got into the trap of only serving car owners or people that are driving cars. And now that the economy has changed, and I don’t think it’s going to shift to where everybody’s going to have a car in the garage again, we have to rethink that and realize that to the roads existed before the cars. And so that we plan for that to probably always exist, where the roads may need to be used by other people than just drivers or car drivers.
WILDSTYLE: And looking at better mobility for people with mobility issues. I think building better infrastructure for them. Them having better infrastructure, I think, would even speed up IndyGo in a lot of ways. So just being more thoughtful about our city planning that includes not just the right now but all people in the future.
BEN: Great. Thank you, Ron, Wildstyle, and Bryan, for joining us today. There is a lot happening right now and a lot of potential when it comes to transportation in Indianapolis. We are excited to keep the momentum going. As always, thank you for listening to For Good.
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