In the coming decades, you might notice something different about the buses carrying people through Indianapolis. Or you might not. After all, we often don’t notice the things that are no longer there.

What I’m talking about is the fact that the big black clouds of diesel exhaust we have come to associate with city buses will no longer be a part of Indy transit: starting in 2021, IndyGo has committed that all new bus deliveries will be zero-emission. We’ve already taken a major step toward that all-electric future with the launch of the Red Line, which is the nation’s first 100% battery-electric bus rapid transit route.

While we’re proud to talk about that first, we’re even prouder about what it means for our customers and our community: smoother, quieter rides, cleaner air and long-term fuel-cost savings. As with most technology and energy advances, being first is exciting, but delivering what customers want is what makes you successful. And that’s what IndyGo is constantly striving to do.

Progress toward an all-electric fleet started about a decade ago, when business and community leaders came together to plan for Central Indiana’s transit future. As they sought to sketch out a more efficient, reliable and sustainable transit system, the opportunities to embrace emerging and cleaner technologies logically factored into the conversation.

It took a major step toward realization with the help of the TIGER grant program, which in 2013 awarded $10 million to IndyGo to purchase 21 electric buses (at the time one of the largest electric bus fleets in the country), and again in 2014, with a $3 million planning and design award for the Red Line that was predicated on it being all-electric. When we issued our RFP for buses for the new route, we were able – thanks in part to Energy Systems Network modeling – to specify electric buses as our designated vehicle technology.

Now the community has seen how that all-electric option works, and the feedback we’re getting is great. People love the smoother, quieter ride they get on the Red Line. With this feedback in mind, we look forward to adding to our all-electric BRT service when we launch the Blue and Purple lines in coming years, and as we replace aging diesel buses in our local route fleet.

But it’s not just electrification where IndyGo is pushing the technological boundaries.  We’ve rolled out WiFi on our buses and real time bus tracking through the myStop app.  Soon we’ll bring that arrival information to the Red Line stations. Our MyKey ticketing system will allow riders to load their accounts with cash at one of dozens of ticket machines or hundreds of retail establishments.  That will allow us to be one of only a handful of agencies using fare capping, which allows riders to earn the benefits of a monthly pass incrementally, rather than paying $60 at one time. 

We are also implementing a Transit Signal Priority system that will allow the buses to interact with traffic signals and make slight timing adjustments to get the buses through – including a first-of-its-kind signal prediction service so our operators will know in advance when the traffic signal will be green.  Finally, we are working to install a vehicle assist system on the Red Line to ensure the gaps between the bus and the platform are consistently small.

With all this new technology, we’ve experienced some hiccups, so we ask for your patience. To achieve the length of charge required for buses on the Red Line, our electric-bus vendor, BYD, is installing charging stations at the ends of the route. Our real time signs are offline while we work to test and validate the information they present. We are committed to working through these speed bumps and are actively making progress.

Regardless of the challenges, we remain committed to technological advances that will ultimately benefit our customers and our city. Perhaps none more important than an all-electric fleet, in which we will have a cleaner, quieter and more efficient bus fleet, and a transit budget in which fossil-fuel costs have disappeared right along with diesel exhaust clouds.