For thousands of Johnson County workers, owning a car is the only way to get to and from work.
A new transit study was released this week by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which weighed the costs and benefits of various transit expansion projects in northern Johnson County. The study was completed in October and the 122-page document is publicly available for viewing online.
The study took place over a year and included feedback from community stakeholders, including Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers, and Access Johnson County Riders.
Riders preferred the addition of Saturday service for Access Johnson County, along with extended weekday hours and more service locations, according to the study.
Runners said work and shopping were the two most common reasons for traveling, followed by medical appointments.
About 44% of riders identified inter-county transportation as necessary, but said it is rarely available when they need it, according to the study. Passengers said their most common inter-county transportation needs centered on locations in Indianapolis, Edinburgh and Nashville. According to the study, the frequency of transportation needs to these destinations ranged from daily to once or twice a month.
Options for expanding services, including expanding the IndyGo Red Line, which currently runs from Broad Ripple to Greenwood Park Mall, south to Whiteland or even Franklin, have drawn mixed reactions. However, nearly everyone was in favor of expanding Access Johnson County services, said Sean Northup, deputy director of MPO.
“There are not enough east-west connections, everyone agreed on that,” Northrup said. “People were pretty happy with Access Johnson County and said it was a good department, but too small. With regard to the red line, some were very favorable to its extension, but some were not at all in favor of it. With Access Johnson County, there was a much higher percentage of people who wanted to expand it.
Riders were split on which type of planning method is best.
“Some people are fans of on-demand transit where you can call ahead and the bus route is calculated based on where you drop off and pick up,” Northrup said. “There are fans of fixed routes, where you go (to) the bus line and that carries more people. Others want things to be as profitable as possible.
Any increase in funding and services from Access Johnson County or the IndyGo Redline would require an income tax referendum hosted by an administrator from a township bordering Indianapolis, but it could take some time before to come to fruition, Northrup said. Something that could happen sooner is a commuter workforce connecting residents to warehouses near Interstate 65, which would instead require a business property tax hike voted by the majority of property owners in the area. company, Northup said.
Some of the largest employers near I-65 in Greenwood include Amazon, FedEx, Ulta Beauty, and Milwaukee Tool. Connecting residents to these job opportunities would pay immediate dividends, Myers said.
“I’ve been involved with the transit plan for several years, so I understand the need for transit in Johnson County,” Myers said. “There are different options available. We need an east-west connection. We need a better transit plan to get our employees to and from work, both east and west of the city. There are options for commercial landowners to pay for this fee so it doesn’t cost local ratepayers.
While some people may have reservations about increasing access to public transportation, citing crime and homelessness, Myers, who served with the Greenwood Police Department for 14 years, said this was not the case either.
“I don’t see criminals jumping on a bus to run away from a crime. The homeless do not take the buses themselves. I think these are myths and not proven facts. I think that would be a boon to our residents and our businesses,” Myers said. “The youngest are more accustomed to public transport and aware of the fact that they are less likely to have several vehicles in their family. It would make their checkbooks easier by not making two car payments and getting back and forth safely and efficiently.
The next step in trying to improve transit service will be to meet with business owners and gauge their interest in funding a labor connector, he said.
Such a shuttle has already been successful in Plainfield and recently opened in Whitestown, Northup said.
Although Franklin Township will not have expanded services unless a township to the north votes in favor of an income tax referendum, increased funding for public transit is key to a thriving community, Barnett said.
“Locally, it helps people get to doctor’s appointments and to grocery stores,” Barnett said. “I think we can do a better job with transportation to get people to work, but it comes down to funding.”
To read the plan, visit indympo.org/whats-completed/regional-plans/transit-plans.