If you’ve taken a ride on an IndyGo bus any time in the last six months, there’s a possibility you sat next to the company’s CEO — but you didn’t know it. Since becoming CEO in August 2019, Inez Evans has worked to change the culture of the company and forge a better relationship with IndyGo riders.
She knows she has her work cut out for her on both fronts. The changes, she said, start by getting firsthand knowledge of the service IndyGo provides.
When Evans started riding the bus, neither the passengers nor the drivers knew she worked for IndyGo, let alone was CEO. Riding the bus gives Evans the opportunity to see how everyday operations run and hear valuable feedback from riders.
“It’s important, because I need to be able to relate to the experiences that our other paying customers have,” Evans said. “If the bus is late for me, then I know the bus is late for everyone else. I get the chance to hear complaints and comments on our system. If I don’t know about it, I can’t fix it.”
Getting this firsthand experience with her product is something the 55-year-old Navy veteran picked up from her former boss, Nuria Fernandez, the general manager of Valley Transportation Authority of Santa Clara County in San Jose, California, where Evans worked before coming to Indianapolis.
“She rode the train every day,” Evans said of Fernandez, “so I got that level of commitment from her. She used to tell me, ‘You’ve got to get your street cred, Nez.’ And you can only get that if you’re riding the bus.”
While riding the bus and walking around the transit station, the most common complaints Evans hears relate to the timeliness of the buses and the attitudes of the drivers. Evans takes the complaints seriously.
“I did what I call a listening session series from talking to operators and meeting them and getting their perspective,” Evans said. “There is always two sides to a story. Many of the operators said it’s just the pressure of the day, but they have to be reminded that without our customers, we don’t exist.”
It’s important for drivers and employees of IndyGo to feel valued, Evans added. Changing the culture includes listening to their concerns down to changing the way the company manages the holiday party.
“I was told that, before, they only did the holiday party during business hours, and not everyone got food,” Evans said. “Management only did things that were convenient for them.”
This relationship with employees is something that Evans believes is important to maintain the foundation of the company. She makes a point to help serve lunch and eat with her staff, a practice that didn’t happen before her tenure. Evans hopes these gestures will help her staff know where she’s coming from, and that she understands what they’re dealing with.
“I really try to let them know my story, that I just didn’t pop up and become a CEO,” Evans said. “I worked hard, I had to struggle. There was a point in my life when my ex-husband wasn’t paying child support, and I ended up losing my job. I was on welfare for six months. I hope they understand that I know what it’s like to work hard, to strive, and to struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over your head.”
After being laid off from a bank, Evans saw an advertisement for work at a transit agency. She heard it had great benefits and applied. She started working in transportation over 25 years ago as a customer service agent in Washington. Evans said working in transit began as a job but quickly became a passion.
She got her start in management after speaking with a supervisor about the lack of women and minority representation in the transportation industry. Throughout her career, Evans was always one of a few — one of a few African Americans, one of a few women and one of a few African American women.
“It’s very sad that even today you can pretty much count the number of African American women running a transportation agency,” she said.
From 2007 to 2011, Evans worked as director of Paratransit at Capital Metro in Austin, Texas. Paratransit is public transportation with fixed routes specifically for disabled individuals. As the mother of a disabled son, Evans knows firsthand the importance of reliable public transportation for those with physical disabilities.
Evans’ passion, dedication and empathy for IndyGo riders are an asset as CEO of the public transportation authority as she faced several challenges when she arrived.
One such challenge is IndyGo’s paratransit service, Open Door, is notorious for long wait times and ride times. In September 2019, WTHR reported Open Door, despite initiatives, had its worst performance in nine months, finding that buses arrived on schedule only 68% of the time that month. Troubles with route scheduling forced some riders to be stuck on the buses for up to six hours for a trip around town.
To address the problem, Evans consulted an expert on paratransit to do a comprehensive review of Open Door. Based on the study, IndyGo is making adjustments to its software system to make the routes more efficient. Evans is also working with disabled Indianapolis residents to get their input.
“We all deserve the best service possible,” Evans said. “We can provide more service for people with disabilities … We have a mobility and accessibility committee who meet at the IndyGo site so we can get input from our disabled community.”
Another challenge is the Red Line, a bus rapid transit line, opened just one month after Evans began as CEO. Spanning 13 miles, the Red Line has raised, lit platforms and lanes exclusively for buses. IndyGo faced problems with the Red Line system almost from the beginning. Riders complained of long wait and ride times, and the offer of free rides for the first month was extended to Nov. 30 because the ticketing kiosks didn’t work. Also, two problems arose in November: batteries in the electric buses failed to hold charges due to cold weather and poorly installed medians had to be replaced.
“I don’t want to Monday quarterback the project,” Evans said. “We would have liked to have had more time, but we made a commitment and a promise, and we did the best we could. We didn’t have enough operators, which was a mathematical mistake. Another month would have been great, and I think we would have done the bids a little differently.”
On Jan. 1, a crash involving an IndyGo bus resulted in the death of 54-year old Cindy Evans. Her passenger, a young child, and a passenger on the bus were taken to the hospital, where they were declared to be in stable condition. The cause of the crash is still under investigation by IMPD.
In a statement, Evans said: “IndyGo will continue to work with IMPD and follow internal protocol as this accident is investigated. Safety is taken very seriously here and embedded in our culture from day one of any employee’s employment. Our condolences are with the families of those involved and we encourage all drivers to be attentive while on the road.”
While drugs and alcohol were not believed to be a factor in the accident, all IndyGo drivers involved in a crash are given a blood screen and subject to further investigation.
Despite these setbacks, Evans is optimistic for the future of IndyGo.
“I think the system is really good. I would give us a B-, and we’re striving for an A,” Evans said. The next project on her radar is the Purple Line, which will span from Indianapolis to Lawrence.
“We have to get through all of the processes and community stakeholders, and find somewhere to put a drop-in facility where the community can get better information from our team and contractors,” Evans said. “We will also be building our training facility and get our apprenticeship program up and running. We want to stabilize our Open Door program to see what improvements we can continue to make. My lists are very long,” Evans said with a laugh. “We have a lot of work to do, but we have a dedicated group of professionals here.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.