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New headquarters, Purple Line and ‘micro-transit’ on IndyGo’s agenda for 2021

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IndyGo is stepping into a momentous year as the transportation corporation will begin construction on the new Purple Line and transition to new headquarters on the east side.

IndyGo officials will likely also find themselves in a battle at the Statehouse for the second straight year.

IndyGo staff, including President and CEO Inez Evans, met with the Recorder to talk about what to expect in 2021 and beyond.

New headquarters

IndyGo will expand its footprint in Indianapolis with a new headquarters at the former Celadon Group site on East 33rd Street.

The transit corporation purchased the site in December 2020, and Evans said it will become the new headquarters in about a year.

The east campus, as IndyGo officials refer to it, will serve as the base for the construction team working on the upcoming Purple Line. It will also help accommodate more buses and employees as part of the Marion County Transit Plan.

“Now you’ll have IndyGo as a major employer here on the east side,” Evans said.

IndyGo will still have its west campus on West Washington Street.

Readying for a fight at the Statehouse

IndyGo will likely face another challenge from Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, who in 2019 tried to punish the transit corporation for not meeting fundraising standards set in a 2014 law that authorized an increase in the city’s income tax to fund more buses and projects such as the Red Line.

Freeman authored an amendment that would have blocked the transit corporation from moving forward with the Purple and Blue lines.

IndyGo officials have maintained the law’s requirement is unrealistic. IndyGo, through the Indianapolis Public Transportation Foundation, which received nonprofit status in June 2019, is supposed to raise 10% of the revenue generated by the additional tax. That amounts to about $6 million per year.

So far, the foundation has raised $96,002.

The foundation ramped up fundraising efforts just as the pandemic hit, making it even more difficult to meet the requirement.

Freeman has indicated he will revisit this battle during the legislative session this year.

Evans said IndyGo’s interpretation of the law is that it can include money that comes from grants and advertising, while Freeman believes the law requires private donations.

“We are committed to complying with the regulations,” Evans said. “We’re making great strides.”

Cameron Radford, vice president of government affairs, said IndyGo enjoys the support of the vast majority of lawmakers from Marion County.

“The fact that just one or two people have been able to kind of distract from that message does not change the fact that there is strong support among the Marion County delegation and among the Indianapolis community,” he said.

Construction on the Purple Line starts this year

IndyGo is moving forward with the Purple Line, which will run from Indianapolis to Lawrence. The bus-rapid transit line will replace route 39.

The Purple Line will stretch 15.2 miles and include 31 stations, including 12 shared with the Red Line. The project will cost $162 million.

Faith Chadwick, public information officer for IndyGo, said much of the budget for the Purple Line will go toward infrastructure improvements on the east side, including sidewalk rebuilding and street drainage.

Like the Red Line, the new line will include dedicated lanes on the road, requiring fairly significant road construction. Unlike the Red Line — which was met with some pushback from the community due to construction when it was built in 2018 — IndyGo officials said they haven’t heard nearly as many complaints about the Purple Line plans.

IndyGo’s east campus will be a place people can go to ask questions about what’s happening with the Purple Line.

“We didn’t have that before with the Red Line,” Evans said, “and it was definitely a lesson learned for us.”

Construction for the Purple Line is set to begin this year, and IndyGo expects to start operation in 2023.

“We have not allowed the pandemic to slow us down,” Evans said.

The construction comes with partnerships. Two companies — Cook Medical and Goodwill Industry — will move their headquarters to the east side specifically, IndyGo said, because of the Purple Line.

Reevaluating transportation

IndyGo has been evaluating more efficient ways to provide transportation, which Evans said doesn’t always have to include the traditional 40-foot bus that runs on a fixed route.

Instead, Evans said, there are opportunities for an “on-demand, micro-transit, smaller-type vehicle” to be a better fit for some communities. That would help seniors, for example, who might need more personalization in transit.

IndyGo partnered with the MLK Center to reduce transportation barriers, but because of the pandemic, the company started using the program — called the Midtown-Get-Around — to also deliver groceries and prescriptions.

“We’re wanting to do more of those types of partnerships,” Evans said, “because IndyGo, we may be the big transit agency, but we’re not the ones who know everything.”

Recovering from COVID-19

IndyGo hopes it will recover the ridership it lost in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Depending on the month, IndyGo has experienced less than a 50% reduction in ridership, Evans said, and the Red Line has already started to recover some of what it lost, increasing by 20%.

IndyGo officials also said it’s been clear over the course of the pandemic that they provide an essential service — especially for other essential workers.

“We are still seeing riders on our buses, and that means they have somewhere that they need to be,” Chadwick said.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper. Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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