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A Car-Centric City Makes a Bid for a Better Bus System

Indianapolis is set to unveil a potentially transformative all-electric bus rapid transit line, along with a host of major public transportation upgrades.
A BYD-built electric bus.
A BYD-built electric bus.Reed Saxon/AP

On September 1, Indianapolis is set to unveil its first bus rapid transit (BRT) route. The speedy express bus is just the first piece of a much bigger transit improvement program that will roll out over the next five years. It’s built entirely around better buses. And for other low-density cities that are looking to boost mobility without investing in costly rail-based systems, Indy’s capital-efficient approach should be a model worth studying.

Indianapolis, famous for its car race, is an extremely automobile-oriented city. Less than 1 percent of commuters in the metro area use transit to get to work, and it ranks sixth lowest among major U.S. metros in transit commuting. As local advocates for better transit like to point out, Indianapolis is the 17th largest municipality in the U.S., but it has the 99th largest bus system. This is a bit unfair—its size is inflated by a city-county consolidation, so the city contains large areas that would elsewhere be counted as suburban. But Indianapolis, by its own admission, definitely has low transit ridership.