Wednesday, March 16, 2016 1:13 pm
Buses could benefit Fort Wayne if we invest in them
By Kara Hackett The Journal Gazette
When I moved to New York City in February 2013, the first few days of walking outside and waiting at the bus stop were brutal.
My commute was inconvenient. But I was surprised to find that I was actually looking forward to it after a few weeks.
I brought headphones and started making playlists for the ride. I liked watching people of all kinds get on the bus and get off at their routine stops. Besides, I didn’t have to work out as often because I walked a few blocks to the office every day after I got off the bus.
But when you’re someone in Fort Wayne who wants to walk instead of drive everywhere, you find yourself in an interesting predicament.
There are no subways to ship you from one side of the city to other, and the bus systems aren’t used very much. According to a 2013 estimate from the census bureau's American Community Survey, only 1,804 people in the Fort Wayne metropolitan area ride a bus to work. Nearly 182,000 drive a car, and 167,000 of them are driving alone, it estimated.
Despite the limited number of people using our local public transportation system, The Journal Gazette published an editorial a few weeks ago about the need for more public transit funding in Indiana.
Our Public Mass Transportation Fund has been flat for seven years, and now the governor’s budget is suggesting a 3 percent cut.
The editorial argued in favor of legislation to increase funding instead, or rather, to restore some of the money lost in state sales tax revenues.
It said public transportation was important because a Ball State University survey found more than 60 percent of Indiana’s public transit users depend on the service for work or school. The typical rider is a 19- to 34-year-old woman earning less than $15,000 a year, with no other transportation options.
But reinvesting in our state’s public transportation system could benefit all of Indiana’s social strata, and the mainstream population making more than $15,000 a year in areas like Fort Wayne might not realize what we’re missing out on if we don’t give buses a chance.
Fort Wayne’s largest bus line, Citilink, has made some innovative changes recently that could build on downtown development and boost city goals that are already underway.
Within the next month, it’s launching a new website and an app called RouteShout that allows anyone to see where the buses are in real-time as they move around the routes pac-man style on your screen.
“I think that’s going to be huge, especially for people wanting to move downtown,” said Betsy Kachmar, assistant general manager for Fort Wayne Citilink. “It will help reduce one of the most significant barriers for people who are not comfortable riding the bus because it reduces the fear factor that they might miss it.”
And with most bus routes weaving in and around downtown, Fort Wayne’s bus system could really revolutionize our city’s walkablity.
Kachmar said that before the bus line had to scale back in 2008, some buses were running every 30 minutes, but it had to reduce the frequency to once an hour and cut a bus line that extended to IPFW and Ivy Tech.
Fortunately, it's been able to restore mobility to students and faculty on campuses through a federal grant for a program called campusLink that shuttles anyone around Ivy Tech, Indiana Tech or IPFW and the surrounding areas for free.
Sara Garcia, director of housing at IPFW, said she’s seen many students, faculty and even members of the general public taking advantage of campusLink’s free services that link them to businesses at the North Anthony Corridor and the Marketplace of Canterbury.
“It has been a big benefit to the surrounding campus community,” Garcia said. “Instead of getting in their car for lunch, anyone can take campusLink for free.”
But Kachmar said they’re likely to run out of funds for the service at the end of this year, and there’s no telling what could happen next.
“You can only have decreasing revenue and increasing services for so long before you have an issue,” she said.
So Citilink is looking for a stable source of revenue to fund campusLink and other programs that benefit Fort Wayne’s limited public transit system, and even though it has a steady stream of riders, bus fares only account for about 12 percent of revenue, Kachmar said.
Of course, some of its funding is based on ridership, so if it gets a huge influx of more riders, it could translate to more money, indirectly. But what really makes the difference is the money it gets from the state and local governments, and even if it gets the $60 million it's asking for in this recent bill, it will only cover a portion of the expenses for what it has the potential to do.
With the University of Saint Francis moving some of its programs downtown, we could get more young adults into the city center if programs such as campusLink continue.
Public transit is a good investment for Indiana because it’s the way of the future.
Buses might not seem immediately necessary for everyone in suburban cities like ours. But with downtown on the rise and with all of the changes toward making Fort Wayne more walkable, imagine how things might change if more people near bus stops started taking the bus sometimes instead of driving.
We could reduce carbon emissions, break down socio-economic barriers and meet fitness goals by getting more people to walk on a regular basis.
And even if we think it’s inconvenient at first, we might be pleasantly surprised.
Citilink active map: http://188.8.131.52:8080/portal/fr2/index.jsf
Cost of an unlimited 31-day Citilink pass: $45
Local colleges using Citilink services
From 2009-2015, students at local colleges have purchased discount Citilink 31-day unlimited ride passes ranging from 80%-10% off depending on the year, Kachmar said. The data below is the total number of passes sold at a discount rate to university students, faculty and staff by the listed pass sales locations. This is not an accounting of the total number of people who have used a Citilink/campusLink bus.
Note: Indiana Tech just started selling passes last semester. The discount has ranged from 80% -10% off. Ivy Tech is currently a 20% discount & IPFW & Indiana Tech is 10% discount.