Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

January 21, 2013

Mass transit supporters get chance to make case

Bart Doan

INDIANAPOLIS — Supporters of increased mass transit opportunities in central Indiana will have a chance to make their case to legislators at the Statehouse on Feb. 13.

The briefing portion of the day will take place at 10 a.m. at the Indiana History Center before a rally at the North Atrium of the Statehouse, followed by a lunch and then an opportunity to meet with legislators at 1 p.m.

“Whatever your motivation for supporting transit — access to jobs, freedom, lifestyle, the environment, health, social justice, or something else — this is the day to show up and let those who represent you know how you feel,” said Kim Irwin, Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit (ICAT) coordinator.

Jen Schmits Thomas is helping to get ICAT’s word out and says one motivation of Hoosiers seems to stand tall when it comes to wanting increased mass transit options.

“The number one most important reason is access to jobs,” she said. “We know that there are jobs that are going unfilled, in particular out in Plainfield in the industrial parks. There are jobs available and people who would like those jobs don’t have the transportation to get to them.”

She added that businesses in the Metropolis mall center in Plainfield also say they have jobs available.

“We have all kinds of national studies that show that when people use transit, they are typically healthier,” Schmits Thomas added.

But any potential legislation needs to be placed on a ballot for people to vote on, she said.

“So the next time voters vote, by county they can decide if they want to add budget for transit,” Schmits Thomas said. “The big question is, will legislators allow the voters to decide?”

Schmits Thomas said future plans can be found online at Indyconnect.com, which include a multi-phase idea that could culminate with the use of what are called “bus rapid transit” vehicles.

She noted that a transit line to the airport is one of the most sought after desires of mass transit-using Hoosiers.

“What we’re looking for is the funding to make this plan happen,” she said of the Indy Connect project. “It could mean by rail or by rapid transit bus, which is a type of vehicle. The planners and engineers are doing a study now that will determine what is the best technology to use.

“One thing that’s getting more and more use around the country is bus rapid transit because you don’t have to put a rail in the pavement, so it’s more flexible,” she explained. “With the new rapid transit vehicles, they look a lot like rail and act a lot like rail. You could be downtown and get on a bus and when it gets close to a stop light, it has a trigger in it to activate the stop light to be green. It’s faster than a real bus.”

She said that the vehicles have their own lanes in other cities.

Schmits Thomas said the city is doing the most it can under the current budget, but the allotted budget falls short of what’s needed.

“The Indy Go system is run about as efficiently as possible. I don’t know that they could be much more efficient. But the budget is inadequate,” she said, noting that Columbus, Ohio, has a budget that is nearly double that of Indianapolis.

“I think it’s important for people to realize not only are we talking about expanding the system, but more than doubling the service Indy Go would cover,” she said. “Say you want to go downtown, to the event at the Statehouse, for example. If you take a bus downtown, you’d probably have to wait around awhile to catch a bus back, which prevents you from doing it. Whereas this plan would more than double the service.”

There is no cost to attend Transit Day at the Statehouse, however lunch is on a first-come, first-served basis and registration is required for everything but the rally. Anyone interested in attending or learning more about ICAT, may visit the website at indianacat.org/transit-day/.