Well, good news! House Bill 1011 passed 11-1 in the Roads and Transportation Committee this week. Next up is the Ways and Means Committee, and still a long road ahead after that. However, it has become quite clear that transit not only has some votes in the House, but a growing number of public supporters, too.
When I arrived at the Statehouse last Wednesday, I was blown away by how many people were waiting outside of the Chambers at 3 p.m... a half hour before the hearing even started. I saw a bunch of familiar faces, but several new faces, too, all there to show their support for increased public transit. I had no intention of going there to testify, as I am a writer for a reason and loathe public speaking, but when I heard that 40+ people had agreed to testify, I wanted to make sure I was one of them.
I had class that night at 6 p.m. I thought for sure I'd have time to do both, but I was way wrong. Five o'clock rolled around and I made the decision that I would catch a 5:30 bus to campus regardless of whether I had gotten my chance on the mic or not.
5:30 and it was time for me to go.
I got out to the bus stop only to be hit with the realization that I was probably one in only a few people in that room who depends on public transit daily, so I immediately emailed my professor and told him I was going to be late, that I was about to testify in front of the House.
I snuck back in the Chambers and waited. And waited. And waaaaiiiiited.
Then my name was called.
From that point, I have no idea what happened. I know I made my way to the podium, said some things that I can't remember, maybe blacked out, probably fell on my face, for all I know cursed out everyone there and then shook my way back to a seat in the very back of the room past a sea of blurred faces.
Now, if I had it all to do over again, I would first of all be more prepared. And THIS is what I would have said (maybe I even did? Yeah, let's just pretend I did... ):
"Thank you Chairman and members of the Committee. My name is Ashley Kimmel. I am a 29-year-old resident of downtown Indianapolis, an employee of a local community development corporation, a student at IUPUI getting my MPA, a writer of a blog about transit and a woman who regularly questions my own sanity for getting rid of my car a year ago."
"I am the generation that Indianapolis should be retaining, the one that will change the face of this city for the better and the one Mayor Ballard regularly uses as an example of why we need transit - to draw people like me to WANT to be in this city. You see, I come from a long line of cities with very impressive public transit systems - cities like Salt Lake City, Denver and Sydney. I didn't even need a car living in Nairobi, Kenya."
"Now, I'm not saying I NEED a car in Indianapolis per se, but what I am saying is that even when I depended on the bass-bumping mutatus, I was not nearly as frustrated as I am with our system in Indy."
"I ride IndyGo every day. I ride IndyGo to work - a 3-mile trip that takes me thirty minutes and gets me to work 45 minutes prior to the time I have to be there. I ride IndyGo to school - a 3-mile trip that requires me to leave nearly an hour before class starts. I wish I could say I ride transit to see my family, but they live in Hamilton County, and we all know that the buses don't even run there."
"None of these things seem that weird to my friends in other cities, to people who haven't experienced the bus system in Indy firsthand or to people who are as numb to the system as I am. But our lack of public transit is just not right."
"We, as a city, boast about our 'world class-ness' and our innovative ideas, our collaboration and our inclusion, but these things can only propel a city so far forward before people get here and realize the first thing they have to do is buy a car."
(At this point, all of the people prior to me gave their usual, though legit, reasons - the economic value, the environmental value, the justice, jobs and convenience arguments.)
"I don't stand here before you with data, numbers or backing from an organization - the people before me have given several brilliant reasons to support this bill, with data that can't be ignored. I stand here before you as a citizen of Indianapolis, Indiana - a city I love, a city I do not want to leave, a city that has me face-first on the ground in awe of its inner-workings and family of supporters. I don't want to leave this city, but I also do not want to be forced into buying a car because we cannot get it together enough to approve funding for a transit system that we would ALL benefit from. It's frustrating, it's disheartening and I often feel like giving up. And I know I am not alone in this. Please consider voting this one right through the House. Thank you."
And then I would happily smile and recognize every face thanking me as I walked back to my seat and enjoyed the rest of the 5-hour hearing that day.
Lucky for all of us, the vote had little to nothing to do with my testimony and I am officially able to regain hope in Indy's future.