Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

February 15, 2013

Mass transit referendum moves closer to reality

Bart Doan

INDIANAPOLIS — Hundreds of Hoosiers turned out from all over the state, some driving multiple hours to get here, to support increased mass transit options at the Transit Day Rally, held at the Indiana Statehouse earlier this week.

As a result, cheers were loud when it was announced that the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee voted 20-2 in favor of House Bill 1011, which seeks public referendum for voters to decide on the future funding options of mass transit in central Indiana.

The bill was filed by Republican Rep. Jerry Torr, who said it’s crucial to the growth of central Indiana and beyond to increase mass transit options and let residents decide what the financial worth is to them to do so.

“I think it’s important for future growth in the greater Indianapolis area,” Torr said. “We look at our competitors and other cities of similar size and this is just one of the things that it is going to take for us to attract employers to our city.”

The counties where a voter referendum is needed are Marion and Hamilton. The Indy Connect plan is expected to be completed by 2025. Among the issues residents have are access to jobs in donut counties and the time between bus stops because the budget doesn’t allow for such.

“I ride IndyGo, and it’s great. I am just starting my career around here,” said Amber Collins, who testified at the rally. “I am taking on debt on student loans, so I take the buses because I need transportation. But there’s a half-hour between buses so that means if I miss it, my day is pushed back a half hour.”

Mayor Greg Ballard, a heavy advocate for increased mass transit funding, said attracting college talent is in part tied to mass transit.

“I’ve made no secret to the fact that this may be about talent attraction here,” he said. “We have to create the type of city that younger people want to live in, so businesses can hire them.”

Ballard also appealed to residents by noting “some working people have to take a day off to go to the doctor because of transportation. Think about that. We take an hour or two. They have to take a whole day off. That has to stop. I hear young people tell me all the time, ‘I want to move to the city, but I don’t want to have to have a car.’”

Ballard said increased mass transit funding would attract talent, businesses, and a better quality of life.

“I think that’s part of it,” added Torr about youth and mass transit. “I think it’s a generational thing here and younger people are looking at alternatives. If you can sit on a bus for 45 minutes and have WiFi access for your iPad rather than 45 minutes trapped in a car where all you can do is listen to a radio, this brings that different dynamic.”

“Having the support of the House Ways and Means Committee is crucial to this debate on the sustainability of expanded mass transit in central Indiana,” said Ron Gifford, executive director for Indy Connect Now. “Fiscal responsibility was one of our top priorities when developing the Indy Connect plan, and our financial model is built on conservative assumptions about revenues and expenses.”

Torr said that in spite of the overwhelming support of the committee and those at the rally, he has heard some blow-back from citizens saying that increasing mass transit is not a viable option due to cost.

“You know there are a lot of folks who don’t agree. You do have to pay for it, and there are a lot of folks who are part of the car culture that don’t see themselves particularly using (mass transit).”

The bill now moves to the House floor for final consideration. The bill would potentially let voters in Marion and Hamilton counties either support or shoot down what would reportedly be a .3 percent addition to their local income taxes.

According to Indy Connect, the average family in central Indiana making $50,000 a year would pay an extra $12.50 per month for the new system. Indy Connect says they are exploring both bus rapid transit options and rail transit to see which would be more feasible.

Additional information can be found online at indyconnect.org.