A new report published by Indiana Policy Review critiques the use of dedicated bus lanes and battery-powered buses in a proposed Indianapolis bus-rapid transit line (if this link is password-protected, the password is 3544). As described in the FTA’s annual New Starts/Small Starts report, the proposed Red Line would cost $96 million to start and $6 million per year to operate, but the report says nothing about how many riders the line would carry.
The critique of the plan points out that the county transit agency, IndyGo, plans to run buses on the dedicated bus lanes no more frequently than every five minutes, which means they would be empty more than 90 percent of the time. The auto and truck traffic they would displace would have carried far more people than the buses are projected to carry.
According to IndyGo, that projection is a little less than 11,000 riders per day, or about 4,200 more than currently take buses in the corridor. This large increase is projected due to the buses’ faster speeds, but those speeds will only average about 18 mph, compared with 13 mph with existing service. Since the Red Line buses won’t stop as frequently as ordinary buses, it is possible that they would average nearly 18 mph even without dedicated lanes, but IndyGo failed to consider that alternative.
To serve the Red Line, IndyGo also wants to buy 120-passenger, 60-foot, battery-powered buses (the same buses Spokane wanted to buy for its proposed bus-rapid transit line). Assuming the average Red Line trip is 5 miles long, these buses will carry an average of 15 people over the course of a day. While they may carry more during rush hour, they will be mostly empty most of the time. Since many bus systems manage to carry an average of 20 or more passengers in ordinary 40-foot buses, the proposed 120-passenger buses are overkill.
What is more, IndyGo’s proposal to be more “sustainable” by using battery-powered buses is actually worse for the environment, partly because the proposed buses weigh 65 percent more than an ordinary bus; partly because Indianapolis Power & Light gets at least 90 percent of its energy burning fossil fuels; and partly because two-thirds of fossil-fuel energy is lost in generating and transmitting electricity. The critique calculates that the Red Line will produce three as much greenhouse gases per passenger mile as the average SUV and more than four times as much as if IndyGo managed to fill ordinary Diesel-powered buses with an average of 15 passengers. (IndyGo’s existing buses carry an average of 5.7 passengers.)
The problem, the critique argues, is that IndyGo wrote the Red Line plan to get federal funding, not to truly improve Indianapolis mobility or provide more sustainable transportation. The FTA grant application didn’t even ask IndyGo how many riders the Red Line was projected to carry. Instead, it focused on Indianapolis’ plans for transit-oriented developments along the line.
This kind of social engineering is doubly manipulative. FTA manipulates cities and transit agencies to get them to subsidize transit-oriented developments, which in turn are designed to manipulate people to drive less and take transit more. The critique argues that the latter manipulation will fail, but it will cost Indianapolis taxpayers and travelers.