INDIANAPOLIS - The long-awaited and much talked-about Red Line has launched in Indianapolis, and IndyGo’s new chief executive officer has an even bigger vision for mass transit in central Indiana.

After years of planning, gathering support and construction work, the Red Line launched over Labor Day weekend. The line runs for 13 miles, from the Broad Ripple neighborhood to the University of Indianapolis, and uses a 100% electric bus fleet. IndyGo, the city’s public transportation corporation, says ridership topped 64,000 in the first week.

Although the Red Line is free for the month of September, CEO Inez Evans says the total shows strong support for the effort.

“Statistics have shown if you build it, they will ride it,” said Evans on a recent edition of Inside INdiana Business With Gerry Dick.

In addition to the potential environmental benefits of taking cars off the road, Evans says the city will also reap workforce benefits. IndyGo says the line runs with a quarter mile of more than 50,000 residents and nearly 150,000 jobs. She says a bus rapid transit that is frequent and faster “breaks down the barriers” for those who have trouble getting to work.

With the launch of the Red Line’s first phase, Evans is looking ahead to the bigger picture: creating a regional connector. IndyGo says the project was the first step in an overall, $96 million effort to connect Westfield to Greenwood.

“We plan to work with our partners to see how we can better connect, because there are a lot of jobs that fall outside of our area,” said Evans. “We need to work with our regional partners to bridge those gaps and extend the reach of employment services within our community.”

"It's economical; it's good for the environment," IndyGo Chief Operating Officer Roscoe Brown told Inside INdiana Business Reporter Mary-Rachel Redman. “We have a lot of routes that will be intersecting the Red Line, so not only you're able to go up and down the corridor, but you're able to get throughout the community better. So as we get further along and as we get further down the road, we'll develop more BRT routes that will do the same thing throughout the city. This is a transformative change in the way people look at public transportation and riding."

The Red Line is the result of almost a decade of planning by IndyGo, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority. In a Perspectives piece published on in early September, IMPO Executive Director Anna Gremling said the years of work have resulted in a plan for ongoing improvement.

In the years ahead, she says in the piece, IndyGo will continue work on the Purple Line, connecting downtown Indianapolis to the city of Lawrence, and the Blue Line, running along Washington Street from Cumberland to Indianapolis International Airport. When all is said and done, she says Indianapolis will have seen its transit service increase by 70 percent.

Gremling says the growing footprint of mass transit routes will serve as important arteries for underserved Hoosiers. She cites American Community Survey data from 2013-2017 that shows 19% of the households in the Red Line corridor live below the poverty level, and at least 18% of the households include at least one person with a disability.

While she is happy with how operations have started for the Red Line, Evans has a vision for the city that goes beyond the buses. Mass transit, she says, is “the precursor for rail.”

Although critics remain, ardent supporters like Gremling say the Red Line has transformed Indianapolis into a city with a 21st century transit system, and believes more and more Hoosiers will get on board with the environmental, economic and quality-of-life benefits of mass transit.