Felicia Savage

Public transit in Indianapolis gets you around—if you have the time

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and almost anybody who lives in the city uses public transit. It’s kind of the great equalizer. Everyone — whether you’re very wealthy or very poor — rides the bus or the train. Riding a train by yourself as a teenager is essentially a rite of passage in New York City, kind of like how driving a car is for a 16-year-old in Indiana. I rode my very first train (by myself) to get to my first day of high school in Manhattan when I was just 14 years old. I just turned 30 in July, and I’ve never had a driver’s license. Transit is what I grew up with. It’s what I know!

My husband and I left New York almost six years ago. He was originally from Elwood, IN, and he was just getting started in marketing after multiple freelance theater stage management jobs. I studied animation and although I was getting freelance jobs, there weren’t any major studios hiring, so I took what I could get (for full-time work) – and that happened to be working in a warehouse for $9 an hour in New York City; a place where the cost of an apartment can range anywhere from $1,400 to $4,000 a month. Needless to say, we were having difficulty making ends meet. So after doing a bit of research, we decided to move to Indianapolis for a fresh start.

We didn’t come here for the transit, by any means, but despite its issues, Indianapolis transit definitely has a lot of positives compared to New York. In New York City, the fares are constantly being raised (a one-way ticket is currently $2.75), and there’s always construction, which leads to consistent delays and track closures. I do miss the 24-hour service and the ability to get pretty much anywhere I need to go, but IndyGo, for the most part, is pretty clean and the drivers are friendly. There are bike racks on buses here—you don’t see that in New York—and although the buses here do get crowded, I’m almost always able to get a seat.

When we first moved, it took me a couple hours to get from where we lived in the Castleton area to work near Keystone at the Crossing. There aren’t a whole lot of direct routes, so you kind of have to hop from one bus to another. When IndyGo implemented the crosstown bus along 86th Street a few years ago, that saved me a significant amount of time. But when I was laid off from that job in 2014, I didn’t know where I was going to go. There were a ton of tech and marketing jobs in Carmel and Fishers, but there weren’t any trains or buses that went there. I was fortunate to land at PERQ in early 2014, which is on the #37 bus route.

Still, even with the crosstown route, it took me almost three hours to get from home at 75th and Shadeland to work at 71st Street and Georgetown Road. Although they aren’t that far apart, I still had to take three buses: one from my apartment to the crosstown bus, and another to my actual job.

Ultimately, that’s why we decided to move to downtown Indianapolis. Now it only takes me 30 or 40 minutes to get to work on one bus; and my husband can actually walk to work. It’s funny how moving has literally changed my life. Shortening my commute has changed my entire day and my energy level by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, I know not everyone who rides the bus can move downtown.

When we were determining where we were going to live, we had a couple prerequisites. The biggest one was access to a grocery store. Our apartment is about a three-minute walk, if that, to Marsh. There are bus stops right outside my door, which is nice, and it’s only about a 10-minute walk to catch the bus to work. It’s a little cumbersome when I get to work, since there are no sidewalks or crosswalks on Georgetown Road, but the benefits outweigh the hassle. We save a tremendous amount of money by not driving.

On my lunch break, I might take the bus to Walmart or Target in order to get some necessary appliances or toiletries. If I really need to be somewhere quickly, I’ll take an Uber. It’s pretty easy, but you have to have the money to do so. Many folks who ride the bus don’t have that $5 or $10, and there was a point in time when I never had it either.

I feel like we focus so much on trying to make transit better for the middle class and upper class that we lose sight of the majority of people who rely on transit. While it’s certainly nice to broaden the spectrum, the reality is that most of the folks who do ride the bus don’t have a car. It’s not a “nice to have” type of transportation, but rather, an actual need. Many people need transit. They need to get home to their families. They need to eat, to get to doctor’s appointments, to get to work, to get to school. I get frustrated about minor things, like the bus running late or the lack of sidewalks, but one late bus could possibly mean someone gets fired or doesn’t have a way to get home to their family.

We currently have a lot of issues with our transit system, and a lot of people who are trying extremely hard to make a better life for themselves and their families. We definitely need to continue with the progress we’ve been making. The more we continue to improve our public transit, the more likely people like myself will take notice. Maybe one day, Indianapolis public transit will be the great equalizer too!