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Bus ridership is up across the country

Marketplace Contributor Jul 10, 2012

Bus ridership is up across the country

Marketplace Contributor Jul 10, 2012

Jeff Horwich: The American Public Transportation Association says over the past year, more of us have been taking the bus. One big jump came in Indianapolis.

We gave reporter Sean Bueter a microphone and a bus pass, and sent him downtown to find out what the deal is.

Sean Bueter: Even though gas prices have been falling, their upward trend over the past few years was top of mind among bus riders recently in downtown Indianapolis.

Montage: Gas prices were outrageous. Gas prices were skyrocketing. Gas is, gas prices are just too high.

Duane Thompson, Jr., drives for a living. He delivers packages for FedEx. But after 11 years behind the wheel of his own car, he started riding IndyGo public transit.

Duane Thompson: I figured, well, I might as well let the car sit at home, and I can save all this money.

Bus ridership in Indianapolis has spiked more than 12 percent this year. IndyGo President Michael Terry says, a lot of that growth is coming from people like Duane Thompson ditching their cars.

Michael Terry: There’s a — I feel like a groundswell, if you will, of individuals who are seeking alternatives to driving. And keep in mind, this isn’t a competition. This isn’t about one or the other.

Terry says rather than replacing their cars, many IndyGo riders are complementing their car travel with public transit, choosing whatever option works best for them on a given day.

It’s a trend catching on across the country. In fact, public transit this year had its biggest first quarter jump since 1980.

There’s a problem, though: ridership is growing, but money for public transit is running short. Nationwide, more than half of public transit agencies have had to either cut services or raise fares to make ends meet.

Mike Melaniphy is president of the American Public Transportation Association. He says future funding is uncertain.

Mike Melaniphy: The federal fund which is often the capital money to replace and add more buses and trains to our systems has been a challenge.

In Indianapolis, rising costs and cuts in local government support have left the agency with a budget gap of more than $6 million.

IndyGo’s Michael Terry.

Terry: Our biggest concern right now is replacement of capital, and we have an aging bus fleet. And we’re using our federal money for operating and we should be able to use it for capital.

That means no new buses, at least for the time being. Even with lower gas prices, Indygo doesn’t expect significant falloff in ridership. June’s figures were nearly as high as January’s.

In Indianapolis, I’m Sean Bueter for Marketplace.

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