Why did mass transit fail in Carmel?



The IndyExpress bus ended its route to Carmel on Dec. 19. The options now for Carmel residents who want to use public transportation are limited to van pools and ride share programs.

People want to know: “Why did it fail?” and “Will we ever have mass transit in Carmel?”

Earlier this year, the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority came to the Carmel City Council to ask for $30,000 to help continue the service. The Council approved the funds, but with almost every councilor asking for a better marketing plan in the future.



“There was some insufficient marketing,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said. “You have to run it more like a business.”

CIRTA Executive Director Andrew Gast-Bray sat down with Current and explained that he felt there was such a negative response from Carmel’s leadership that when CIRTA saw that $30,000 come to an end – and more money was needed – that they decided to pull the plug on the service.

“I’m kind of frustrated that we didn’t have enough time to come to them with a new plan,” he said.

Indy Express ridership has declined from 69,000 riders during its inception in 2008 to 26,000 riders in 2013, according to CIRTA. Carmel had considerably low numbers, about half of what a similar route in Fishers would bring in, according to CIRTA.

Gast-Bray said Carmel had a small but loyal ridership, but budget cuts led to eliminating routes, and this lead to declines in ridership.

City Councilor Ron Carter was particularly critical of CIRTA’s marketing efforts. He said you can’t sell a product to people if you don’t know who the customers are. He said it could have been as simple as sending an unpaid intern – which they had – to ride the bus and ask riders to take a survey.

“They didn’t even have a rudimentary understanding of who was riding their busses,” he said. “They were waiting for the city government to throw money at this issue,”

But Gast-Bray doesn’t totally agree.

“To say there is no marketing plan is unfair, but certainly marketing could be better,” he said. “But marketing didn’t always lead to an increase in ridership. We could spend a significant amount on marketing and that it doesn’t help if you don’t have a plan and know what goals you want to accomplish.”

And that comes down to what Gast-Bray says is one of the major problems: No clear direction from government. He said he often hears the goal is “more ridership” but that’s too vague. He wants more specifics such as: How many stops do you want? How many times a day?

“What is it that you want?” he said. “We can come up with the service that you want, but you have to tell us.”

And of course, there are plenty of costs associated with mass transit. Gast-Bray points out one major cost for Carmel’s IndyExpress route: after you drop off the riders, you have to drive the empty bus all the way back.



Other costs include parking lots for busses and park-and-ride lots. And if mass transit were to really take off, a big cost would be adding new street lanes in some places.

City Councilor Rick Sharp said he understands that mass transit is a long-term investment and he’s not unwilling to make that investment if it’s done right. That’s why he wishes CIRTA would have discussed the end of the service with the Carmel City Council.

“I was really a little surprised that they pulled the plug early,” he said. “We cannot force a mass transit culture. We need to build it. That’s why I’m a little disappointed that they cancelled the line. We were hoping they would come back to us with a marketing plan to fix this instead of abandoning it.”



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