Indy's Mass Transit Poised For Future Technologies

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Mike Terry is president and CEO of IndyGo. Mike Terry is president and CEO of IndyGo.

It may seem surprising, but Indianapolis is becoming one of the most progressive cities in the nation in advanced transportation and smart technologies – the latest of which is an all-electric bus rapid transit line (eBRT), the Red Line. While many other cities are looking to past methods of mass transit, Indy is looking forward to using advanced technologies that can serve as a sustainable platform for future growth, addressing the whole system of our society rather than individual parts.

Indianapolis has taken major steps to advance its transportation options, including awarded recent ask and recommendation for a $75 million federal grant to support the implementation of the first phase of the Red Line – the first battery-electric bus rapid transit (eBRT) in the U.S., which will connect Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis through the center of downtown, and with no tailpipe emissions and practically no noise.

In the last several years, Indy has begun transitioning its city fleet to plug-in vehicles and also launched BlueIndy, the largest all-electric car sharing program in the country. Already there are 21 fully battery-electric buses in IndyGo’s fleet in operation today, making Indianapolis’ transit agency the second largest public operator of electric transit buses in the country. This project was funded by a competitive $10M federal TIGER grant.  

The Red Line project showcases Indy’s leading national role in advanced transportation technologies, and allows the city to quickly adjust to the future needs of the city, making significant improvements to transit without as much costly infrastructure found with subways and light rail alternatives. It will connect many Marion County workers to more than 137,000 jobs (and employers) in central Indiana.

But the Red Line eBRT provides more than that. It also provides a gateway to advanced technologies of the future – including active safety technology, advanced software and controls, intelligent traffic systems, autonomous operations and more – not to mention that electric vehicle (EV) technologies allow for a more sustainable, cleaner and quieter local environment for citizens and employees. In addition, all of these “smart city” technologies are being embraced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, collectively serving as a major focus for the agency over the next several years.

The Red Line eBRT and EVs can also be fueled by renewable energy, such as solar and wind resources, providing transformational efficiencies and cost reductions in the broader electrical system – these “well-to-wheels” or energy efficiency capabilities are simply not available on traditional diesel bus products. The eBRT is virtually a rolling electric power plant that can also strategically interface to the electrical grid for improved reliability and even system cost savings (i.e., each eBRT can store “free” solar energy up to 1/3 of a mega-watt hour).

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is also in the future of transportation – it’s already entering the commercial vehicle market with self-parking technology, sensors, cameras, and active safety features that prevent accidents. Adding such features to electric buses can increase safety and efficiency for passengers and pedestrians, and the ability to add the technology to an already electric-powered bus is far simpler and less expensive than doing so with an internal combustion vehicle.

Increasing autonomy and technology in mass transit also creates new educational and training opportunities for the current workforce, ultimately using the driver’s experience to inform, even program, the operation of the autonomous vehicle. Experienced drivers can become “programmers” of the automated system of electric buses, can still remain physically behind the wheel, and ensure safety for all citizens while gaining new and marketable work skills.

IndyGo is moving along an economic and common sense direction for the city to embrace these proven technologies, and is taking a forward-thinking view of our city’s mass transit system. As transit technologies become more available, efficient, and sustainable, our city’s transportation options will become cleaner, safer, and more affordable for all Indiana Hoosiers.

Mike Terry is president and CEO of IndyGo.

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