After 2 years, BlueIndy is still nowhere near breaking even

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — If you have been in and around Indianapolis, you’ve seen the BlueIndy cars and their charging stations. BlueIndy is the electric car service former Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard brought to town. After two years of the program, numbers show it is still nowhere near breaking even, and the program has cost even more than the original $6 million price tag.

People I-Team 8 spoke with say they rarely see the BlueIndy cars out on the road being driven.

“Once,” said Indianapolis native Charles Anthony when asked if he sees BlueIndy’s fleet being driven, “and that’s been maybe three or four months ago.”

Numbers tell the story

BlueIndy hit the streets two years ago, but the company’s own numbers indicate most people still have not warmed up to it. BlueIndy has sold nearly 6,000 memberships since 2015, but only 2,080 of those are active memberships, meaning the customer uses BlueIndy regularly. The company’s chairman told WISH-TV they need 15,000-20,000 active memberships just to make a profit.

I-Team 8 spoke with one of BlueIndy’s regular users — Peyton Berg.

“BlueIndy offers you the opportunity to just pay for a car when you need it and drop it off and don’t worry about fuel, don’t worry about insurance or maintenance,” said Berg. “I think it’s a really good alternative.”

Impact on business owners

But some business owners do not see the program in the same light.

“BlueIndy is something that is kind of annoying,” said Anatoly Petrov, owner of Petrov Frame Atelier. “It just takes space from our customers.”

The Broad Ripple small business owner says the parking spots BlueIndy takes up near his frame shop affect his bottom line.

“I feel like it kind of smells sort of fishy because there wasn’t any public opinion involved in the deal, so it doesn’t sound right to me,” said Petrov.

A new franchise agreement between the city and BlueIndy allows the city to have the company move up to five stations. The city submitted a list of stations they would like to have moved, but BlueIndy is only considering moving two of those five.

Other problems with the program

City-County Council Vice President Zach Adamson is outspoken about the way the deal was done.

“The very first rolling out of this program was sort of done outside of the public process and sort of under the cover of darkness,” said Adamson. “So a lot of the issues and problems that it’s been well-known for, I think could have been avoided had we gone through the public process.”

According to the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, BlueIndy got rid of 19 parking meters, which Adamson said cost the city $40,000 a meter, so that’s $760,000. DPW says the city makes about $3.4 million every year in parking meter revenue. They have 3,600 parking meters. We did some calculations that show those 19 meters mean almost $200,000 more in lost revenue. And Adamson says the city lost out on thousands more by not requiring BlueIndy to get any permits. All of that is on top of the $6 million initial price tag.

A year ago, the city and the new mayor tried to negotiate a deal that would make the contract better for them. The new franchise agreement requires BlueIndy to pay the city $45,000 a year — but at that rate it would take more than 133 years to pay back that initial $6 million. Furthermore, the city won’t see any part of the profits from the program until BlueIndy and Indianapolis Power & Light recover their initial investments. IPL’s initial investment was about $800,000. BlueIndy’s initial investment was $35 million.

The taxpayer funds Adamson says were spent on BlueIndy were originally earmarked for infrastructure — things like repairing and improving roads and sidewalks.

“For the city to have invested so much into a private venture like this that, one, the public hadn’t been asking for, using resources for, dollars that had been earmarked for projects that we desperately need, I think that was a real disservice to the public,” said Adamson.

So why doesn’t the regular user we spoke with think it’s catching on?

“I think that Indianapolis, or Indiana, is not the most progressive of communities,” said Berg. “People don’t really know too much about it, don’t understand it, the cars look a little unsual, they’re electric, they’re small. So I think that there are some things that just cause the grass roots movement to be slower than usual.”

What people in charge have to say

I-Team 8 called Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office to see what they’re doing to recoup some of your money spent on this program. Despite multiple calls, they refused to speak with us on camera, only offering a statement that said in part, “we hope for the continued success of this first-in-the-nation electric car-sharing service.”

We continue to work through City and neighborhood issues relating to new BlueIndy locations, as well as addressing some challenges of a few of the original locations installed under the previous administration. We hope for the continued success of this first-in-the-nation electric car-sharing service.”

We also asked Councilman Zach Adamson if he thinks Mayor Hogsett is doing enough about BlueIndy.

“I don’t always know what they’re doing behind the scenes, but I’ve been concerned that we’re not doing enough, that the city isn’t doing enough,” said Adamson in response.

The Hogsett administration was quick to remind us that it was Mayor Ballard who signed the deal.

We also reached out to Greg Ballard, and he stands by the deal saying in part, “we need more intiatives like BlueIndy, not fewer.”

My hope is to see more partnerships between the city of Indianapolis and forward-thinking entrepreneurs. We need more initiatives like BlueIndy, not fewer. To continue to grow as a city and attract young professionals who want to live here and make a difference here, we must embrace new technologies and new ideas. BlueIndy does all these things and is a tremendous benefit to Indianapolis.”