Qualified individuals can utilize the paratransit services, can ride the fixed-route system free of charge or can use a taxicab voucher. “We have put a call out for any taxi services that would like to accept our vouchers,” explains Terry. The individual buys the voucher for $3.50 and the agency puts in $10. The individual purchases the voucher and then makes their own arrangements. The cost covers any ride within the area’s range. If they need to go much further, then there’s an additional cost.
“That has blossomed,” says Terry. “We are trying to find more grant money to be able to use that.
With the paratransit service, instead of the $7 round-trip cost to the agency for fixed-route, it’s $60. With the taxicab voucher, the agency is spending $20 on a roundtrip, as opposed to the $60.
“In addition you’re giving that individual greater flexibility,” Terry explains. “They’ve increased their independence.”
An Aging Fleet
When I ask Terry where IndyGo’s funding comes from he responds with a smile, “Bake sales.” While they get the usual mix of federal, state, local and farebox, he says the issue for them has been the utilization of their federal dollars for operating expenses. “We’re allowed to use that but we need to get away from that for the sake of having a good replacement program.
“We’re trying to keep service on the street, we’re trying to stabilize and we have been and we’ve been trying to wean off the federal money.” He continues, “When you look at other transit systems you’ll see probably less federal money in their operating but here, it’s 23 percent of our budget.”
With some good financial savings that have occurred, especially with healthcare, they hope to wean away from it this year. And they’ve also leveraged grants. Early on they were using CMAQ grants to develop express bus service outside the traditional area. “That was kind of leap-frogging the long-range plans,” Terry says. “But it helped spur some of this suburban-urban connectivity.”
In the past vehicles were purchased with earmarks or special grants and vehicles were purchased in large quantities at one time when a big amount of cash came in. “We have an aging fleet,” explains Terry. “You have a bus that’s supposed to be 12 years, 500,000 miles; that’s the useful life. So the average age of your fleet should be six years; you should be replacing 1/12 of your fleet every year.
“Doen’t happen here.”
He continues, “Our strategy now is three-fold. We’re looking at back-building the gaps by buying used buses.”
In Columbus, Ohio, they had some 12-year-old buses they were going to get rid of and they were better than IndyGo’s ’97 and ’98 buses, so IndyGo bought them to back-fill its fleet. And also used artics to accommodate growth on some of the higher-capacity routes.
They are also doing mid-life rebuilds at Indygo, taking some of the State of Good Repair Grants and rebuilding just over 20 of their 2003 buses.
The third part of the strategy is that they’re also buying new. Terry says they just received an FTA grant for about $10 million to purchase replacement buses.
An increase in budget
The budget process normally consists of putting together a budget, going to city council to say how much is needed for the same level of service without having to raise fares, come together in agreement and as Terry describes it, “It’s just a patchwork.”
This year, with the way they’ve been driving down healthcare costs, have been changing their vehicle purchasing process, have been saving on fuel procurements, and have been controlling costs with absenteeism and overtime, they approached things a little differently.
“We told our board, we can live with our current revenue sources; we’re not going to ask anybody for any additional funding. We have been good stewards,” Terry explains. “But if you want to be bold and courageous, then we’re asking the board to adopt a budget that increases our funding by $6 million.
“It was unanimous council approval of our additional funding because they recognize that we’re doing the right things, we’re operating efficiently and we are worth investing in.”
The new funding is all going toward building and putting service on the street. Terry says, “We have plans. We always have plans, but now we’re able to start putting out our bus plan.”