IndyGo Hits a Slam Dunk in Ridership During NBA All-Star Weekend


Indianapolis Artsgarden Signage. Image courtesy of Sport Graphics Inc.

As basketball fans from around the world converged on Indianapolis in mid-February for the NBA All-Star Weekend, IndyGo, the city’s public transit agency, hit a slam dunk with riders. IndyGo offered fare-free rides for the four-day weekend, Feb. 15-18, that culminated with the 73rd NBA All-Star Game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Downtown Indianapolis welcomed more than 190,000 fans for the event, the highest attended NBA All-Star in 14 years. IndyGo accommodated 10,000 more boardings than the same period a week earlier for a 20 percent increase in ridership. Add to that, the city experienced one of its biggest snowstorms of the season. But that didn’t stop enthusiasts and regular riders from taking advantage of the weekend and IndyGo’s fare-free service.

“Our team persevered through quite a few snowballs thrown our way during the weekend to keep service moving,” said IndyGo Interim President and CEO Jennifer Pyrz. “Traffic resembled a parking lot along some of the most critical thoroughfares during high participation events, but our team came prepared with innovative solutions on the spot to maneuver around the gridlock.”

IndyGo’s detour team could easily be named MVP. This team is credited with plotting multiple detour scenarios before the busy weekend started so dispatchers could pivot drivers on the spot when traffic locked up.

IndyGo bus driver with NBA All-Star scarf.

“The All-Star weekend prompted novel and adaptive route detours that allowed us to bridge the gaps that were created within our service, specifically between our bus rapid transit stations, that will be used in our operations toolkit down the road to improve service reliability,” said IndyGo Chief Operations Officer Aaron Vogel. “IndyGo was all hands on deck and staffed around the clock to provide the best experience possible for passengers, the public, and agency employees.”

But ensuring the weekend was properly staffed was an exercise in incentives and well-advanced planning, with the operations team beginning its process at the end of 2023. Collaborative discussions also took place between IndyGo leadership and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1070 officials to maximize staff participation.

“We knew we wanted to rally the troops and orchestrate our strategy sooner rather than later,” said Deputy Chief Transportation Officer Michael Roth. “Our employees fully supported this, and we had a great response from operators on the frontlines who wanted to be involved. We increased the number of supervisors working out in the field to guarantee our riders and those visiting Indianapolis received world-class service. Our additional administrative and operations staff behind the scenes also provided essential support to our operators, which only magnified the transit experience for this event.”

Further service preparation entailed preemptively leveraging the knowledge and experiences from other transit agencies across the country that previously hosted world-class events and collaborating heavily with local law enforcement in real time to navigate roadblocks, which resulted in an IndyGo “swish.”

IndyGo bus drivers with NBA All-Star hats.

Additionally, IndyGo opened the Julia M. Carson Transit Center, located downtown in the heart of the action, to pre-COVID hours to help enable the free movement of people through the various All-Star events by allowing an increase in pedestrian traffic and providing the best possible customer experience for keeping everyone warm during the cold and snowy weather. Increasing business hours also accommodated IndyGo’s extended service to riders as the agency offered late-night, outbound service from the downtown transit center.

“Between two top-tier sports venues, four days of free public transit, and one of the most walkable downtowns in America, NBA All-Star was never more accessible or fan-friendly,” said Vogel. “It’s no surprise. When it comes to hosting large events, Indianapolis does it like nobody else.”

For decades, city and state leaders have invested in downtown sports amenities that are both world-class and convenient for fans and visitors, and the proximity of Lucas Oil Stadium, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the Indiana Convention Center, and other key locations made the NBA All-Star 2024 experience as fan-friendly and community-centric as possible. The free-fare bus service was available thanks to support from IndyGo, the Indianapolis Foundation, and donors to the Indy Championship Fund.