ANDERSON — Just about every morning Rachel Ellis rides the CATS bus to her job at Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino.
Ellis, the single mother of two small children, said if not for the City of Anderson Transit System (CATS) bus it would cost her $8 per day to get to work.
“Ride the bus between five and six days per week,” Ellis said as she walked to the bus terminal on Wednesday in a light rain. “I take the bus home two or three times a week, usually someone from work will give me a ride home.”
She said spending at least $8 per day to get to work would be hard on the family.
The adult fare to ride the CATS bus is $1 per ride or $2 for an all-day pass.
“The bus service is part of what kept me downtown,” Ellis said of the convenience of riding the bus. “I live close to the bus terminal and can walk straight there and go straight to work.”
Ellis said the buses run very close to their schedule.
She has considered purchasing a car but it’s not in her budget with rent, utilities and needs for her children.
“A car is not in my price range right now,” Ellis said.
The city of Anderson took over the bus service in 1973 from Hayden’s Bus Service, which ran it as a private business for many years.
The buses operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week and there are extended hours leading up to the Christmas holiday.
At one time there was a night bus service on demand through funding from the state. That service was terminated in 2005 during the administration of former Mayor Kevin Smith.
That same year the fares doubled from 50 cents per ride to $1.
Ridership on the CATS routes has been increasing in recent years. It had 183,247 riders in 2016 and 194,563 in 2018, according to CATS. Through Aug. 28 there have been 144,071 riders and is on a pace to surpass 220,000 riders this year.
“It really is a crucial service,” Anderson Mayor Thomas Broderick Jr. said of CATS. “A city our size needs a public transportation system.
“A lot of people take advantage of it,” he said. “It’s a good system. There are six prime routes and the Flagship Express to get people to work.”
Since 2016 the bus service has provided 36,209 free rides for students and the on-demand Nifty Lift service has provided 87,956 trips. These numbers are not included in the overall ridership numbers.
The federal government provides 80% of the funding for the operation of the system and 50% for new equipment purchases.
“It serves low and moderate income people,” Broderick said.
Broderick said his administration is not planning to change the current fixed routes but is considering tweaking the areas served based on demographics.
“There won’t be a complete overhaul of the system,” he said. “Any route changes would have to be approved by the Federal Transportation Administration. We would have to convince the FTA of the need to change routes.”
Carlene Westerfield-Gunter of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce said the service is important to the community.
“The businesses at the Flagship Enterprise Center understand their employees need transportation to get to work,” she said. “The people in need of a job don’t always have transportation,” Westerfield-Gunter said. “It’s a vital service to encourage economic growth.”
Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development, agreed the CATS system plays a vital role in the community.
“Public transportation has an important role in helping people to connect with employers,” he said. “It also provides a connection to retail and other services.”
Sparks said without the bus service it would leave almost 200,000 riders without a means of transportation.
Broderick said although more funds could be used by CATS there are no plans to increase the fares and the city has increased funding in the budget for the service.
The city is currently planning to take an inventory of the bus stop shelters, originally installed by a private company to sell advertising.
“We’re looking at the locations and the condition of the shelters,” Broderick said. “We are looking at making them ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, which would require sidewalk ramps for a two-block radius.”
The city is hoping to receive funding from the Indiana Department of Transportation to upgrade the shelters once the inventory is completed.