There is a woman who gets on the bus, at the stop just past mine, every day without any money. It seriously never fails. She tries to convince the driver to let her ride for free and, nine times out of ten, the driver refuses. The bus will sit there at the stop and wait for her to pay as she stands just behind the driver, crosses her arms and refuses to move even when the driver is angrily telling her to get off.
All of the regular riders know her well and just shake their heads, make comments and yell at her to get off the bus. She is very feisty and will often yell back at the other riders in her usual huffy voice. This exchange will typically go on about two or three minutes, but I've been witness to a few times that lasted even longer than that.
If there is a reason that the bus 17 is late, it is probably pretty safe to blame this woman. She almost always makes me uncomfortably close to missing my connection, but luckily never has thanks to some sucker on the bus always giving her the money for the fare.
If bus fares were a reason for you to not ride IndyGo, have comfort in knowing that there is usually a pushover onboard who will give you that $1.75 just so they can be on time to their destination.
As much fighting as I did when crash-landing here, I must admit, I love this place. I never once, in my life, envisioned living in Indianapolis, putting down roots, learning to love. In fact, had you offered to pay me to be here even three years ago, I would've turned you down and laughed in your face. I was made for bigger and better, for flashier and more progressive. Or so I thought.
I had a friend tell me once, just a month after coming to the realization that I was going to be in Indy longer than expected, that this city is a place where you can be a part of the change, that you can be the catalyst for it and that you can have big ideas and see them to fruition. "Why go to a city like Denver, where all of the work has been done for you, when you can root yourself here and transform the city the way you envision?"
I immediately began contemplating what those things were that I loved so much about all of these other cities I lived in over the years.
And this is why I chose to get rid of my car.
When I first started writing about transit in Indy, I thought I would write mostly comedic stories that poked fun at the city. I thought that it would put me in a place to mock the daily interactions and the incapability of the city's only public transit system. I thought that I was somehow better than these people and this place and being able to voice that publically would keep me an outsider who never really had to claim this city as her own.
What I didn't think was that I would grow to care so much about the issue. That these comedic interactions would become a part of my being, that I would fall in love with the capability of the city's transportation system and that I would devote a large part of my free time to fight for the cause.
I find myself deep in the discussion purely by chance, and I have learned a lot along the way.
In this time, I have come to realize how critical improvements are for our community. The more involved I'm becoming in the discussion, the more I'm falling in love and devoting myself to it. All of a sudden I am seeing a whole side of it that I didn't know existed and appreciating it in different ways. The same is true about my feelings for Indianapolis.
However, I have learned enough to know that if we do not make investments in this city, like public transit, the city will become stagnate. A decision to say no to improvements like public transit, is saying that we are OK with failing, with hitting our plateau and being OK with status quo. I don't believe Indianapolis is that kind of city. I don't think that the people I meet every day, the ones fighting for their own causes, think that status quo is a good place to be.
If the transit bill doesn't eventually pass, it's not the end of the world, but it is a huge blow to the future of our city. Thirty years ago, community leaders began investing in Downtown, to revitalize and bring life back to the core. Had these decisions not been made, we wouldn't have Lucas Oil Stadium, the Cultural Trail, your favorite bar or restaurant. It would be the forgotten "Naptown" still, and the city would've died. I hear that even back then people fought against the investments because they didn't want to pay for something they wouldn't use. You have to see the humor in that, right?
It's often said that Indianapolis is full of people who want to help people, true Midwestern hospitality. It's clear that people want to invest in things that allow people to improve their standard of living, improve their situation, improve jobs, improve education and make this city a better and more self-sufficient one. Isn't the best public investment the one with the highest return that benefits Indianapolis at large?
So transit has unintentionally become my cause. Whatever your cause, whatever you believe makes this city better — more innovative, progressive, world-class — do it. Because you can. Because it's 2013 in Indianapolis, a city with proud citizens who clearly have things to fight for and are fortunate enough to have a platform to do so. I don't want to see Indianapolis plateau or stuck in the status quo. If we are going to improve this city for future generations and development, the time is now.
I'm sure you've heard by now that the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee chose to send HB1011 to a summer study committee. I'm probably not the first person to say how ridiculous this is, and for a litany of reasons.
For at least a couple of decades, multiple studies have been done to decide just how beneficial transit would be for Indianapolis. Even former-Mayor Bill Hudnut came to town and said that he's been trying to study transit since 1980.
I'm just not getting why the Senate feels like further study needs to be done.
At what point do we stop studying and start doing?!
I mean, it's not like this plan was thrown together, last minute, by idiots who don't know what they're talking about. It's been created over decades, by local and regional professionals and experts, to be the best possible option for investment in funding. And it's just that: an investment. But that's a whole other post.
I'm (at least pretending to be) appalled that politicians are completely trying to take away the very basis of our democracy and deny the people the right to vote on where their own money gets spent. It's a local decision to be made and the control should be in the hands of the locals. People are arguing against transit by proclaiming, "Keep the government out of our pockets!" but, dammit, keep the government from denying me my right to vote! This bill is simply a referendum allowing the vote to be on the ballots in November of 2014... over a year from now... .and we can't even get that through the General Assembly. What is really going on here?
This isn't about the government dipping into our pockets. This is about us having the right to vote on where our money gets spent. Taxes pay for everything that we all love about our city, including the roads Indianapolis so desperately clings to. The same roads that I am paying for so that people in Fishers and Plainfield can use them to get to work and hightail it back out to the suburbs when five o'clock hits. I don't want to pay for that. If I had a chance, I would vote a big fat no on spending for road expansions and happily pay that 0.3 percent tax increase to take those roads and turn them into Bus Rapid Transit lines. That's where I want MY money spent.
This detour is no good. I'm going to remain positive in this, however. There is still a slim chance that the House and Senate can work out an agreement by the April 29 session deadline.
I am thankful for that and I am thankful that at least the bill is still alive and moving.
What I am not thankful for is that my elected officials are trying to take away my right to decide the future of my own city. I really cannot understand why we voters are not being trusted to make our own choices and why we aren't revolting against this.
We should all be telling our Senators that this issue is urgent and that we don't need to keep studying it. They also need to know that we citizens highly value our rights to vote and make decisions.
Find who represents you in the Senate as well as their contact information. And then take that next step and contact them.
As NUVO's "Girl, in Transit" blogger for the past 15 months, I've experienced Indianapolis in ways that you wouldn't believe — mostly through a bus window. After giving up my car over a year ago and committing to public transit, I've learned things about this city from a ground level.
I love almost everything about this city, but we have a lot of progress to make and, in my opinion, these things need to be talked about. As a new columnist for NUVO, I plan to do just that. And I'd like to start with my favorite topic: transit.
Transit is a polarizing issue.
This is clear, based simply on the fact that so much attention is paid to the issue right now, and that everyone you talk to seems to have a pretty vocal opinion one way or another.
I've come to realize that a lot of the people who are against the transit referendum are not fully educated on the issue and give reasons without many facts to back their arguments. Believe me, I've asked around.
I've had varying levels of answers — some quite surprising — like my deeply conservative friend who is anxiously awaiting light rail from Fishers to Downtown. Or my extremely liberal friend who couldn't care less about riding the bus and would rather just have the freedom of his car even if we do have a sufficient system. However, I am appalled at the number of people who have formed some very strong opinions without ever having stepped foot on the bus themselves.
I talked with a guy who's verbose opinion dwindled down to the idea that no one really rides the bus now, so why should we expand something that already meets the needs of the few who ride it. I wish you could've seen his face when I told him I had ridden three buses that very day where I was forced to stand because there were no seats available.
I would be more apt to value what you think if you had any ground to stand on, but overall, my personal consensus is that most naysayers don't.
The actual transit plan briefing paper cites issues such as competiveness, regional core vitality, mobility, congestion and the environment as the top reasons a more extensive transit system is needed.
People can argue for or against the plan using all sorts of data, but experiencing the public transit system firsthand brings the issues into sharp focus.
If more people took the time to ride the bus, their opinions on the issue and the reasons for a better transit system might align more with mine.
How would they view the woman I met who had four young children along with a baby in her arms, standing in the rain, waiting for the bus early in the morning so she could take her kids to school and daycare and then go on to work?
Or the man in a wheelchair who was denied a ride because there was no room on the bus for him, which forced him to sit and wait for the next one?
Or the 15 Burmese refugees who packed the bus on the way to their first English lesson at Exodus Refugee?
You can search Indy's transit plan and find any and all the data, facts and numbers you've ever wanted and then some. But the best way to educate yourselves on our transit system is to actually ride the bus. You will see the faces of the people who are most affected by the issues, who will benefit most from expansion and improvements to the system. You'll see that the 0.3 percent tax increase affects our city as a whole, whether you plan to use the transit system or not.
The public referendum to authorize the new funding cannot occur until November 2014 at the earliest, but right now the battle is in the Senate where lawmakers will make plain just how much they believe in local control with their support or rejection of House Bill 1011, which asks them to give the citizens in Indy the opportunity to vote on the matter.
It is a critical time to get educated on an issue that will change Indianapolis forever, and my suggestion is to start by paying $1.75 for a bus pass, sitting down next to a stranger with a story and then quickly calling your legislators. Even if your vote is still against a referendum, at least you know you'll have some valid reasons to back it up.
Transit is a polarizing issue.
This is made clear simply by the fact that so much attention is on the issue right now, and that everyone you talk to seems to have a pretty vocal opinion one way or another.
I've come to realize that a lot of the people who are against the transit referendum are not fully educated and give reasons without many facts to back their arguments. Believe me, I've asked around.
I've had varying levels of answers... some quite surprising... like my deeply conservative friend who is anxiously awaiting light rail from Fishers to downtown... .or my extremely liberal friend who couldn't care less about riding the bus and would rather just have the freedom of his car even if we do have a sufficient system. However, I am appalled at the number of people who I talked to who have formed some very strong opinions without ever having stepped foot on the bus themselves.
I talked with a guy who's verbose opinion dwindled down to the idea that no one really rides the bus now, so why should we expand something that already meets the needs of the few who ride it? I wish you all could've seen his face when I told him that I had ridden three buses that very day where I was forced to stand because there were no seats available for me to sit.
I would be more apt to value an opinion from someone who has ground to stand on, but overall, my personal consensus is that most naysayers don't.
The actual transit plan briefing paper cites things like competiveness, regional core vitality, mobility, congestion and the environment as the top reasons for a more robust transit system. All of these things can be argued, for or against, using some sort of data, facts or numbers.
While I agree with all of those, the real picture conjures up more personal reasons and things that I have to believe most people would have a hard time arguing. If more people took the time to ride the bus, their opinions on the issue, and the reasons for a more robust transit system, might align more with mine. I'd personally cite the woman I met once who had four young children and a baby in her arms, standing in the rain, waiting to get the bus early in the morning to take her kids to school and daycare so she could get to work. Or the man in a wheelchair who was denied a ride because there was no room on the bus for him, which forced him to sit and wait for the next one to come. Or the fifteen Burmese refugees who pack the bus on their way to their first English lessons at Exodus Refugee.
You can do a quick search for Indy transit plan and find any and all the data, facts and numbers you've ever wanted, and then some. But the best way to educate yourself on our transit system is to actually step foot on the bus. You will see the faces of the people who are most affected by the issues, who will benefit most from expansion and improvements to the system. You'll see that the .3 percent tax increase affects our city as a whole, whether you plan to use the transit system or not.
The public referendum to authorize the new funding cannot occur until November 2014 at the earliest, but right now the battle - and I use that term quite literally - is in the Senate and is expected to go to hearing on Wednesday. It's a critical time to get educated on an issue that will change Indianapolis forever, and my suggestion is to start by paying $1.75 for a bus pass, sitting down next to a stranger with a story and then quickly calling your legislators. Even if your vote is still against a referendum, at least you know you'll have some valid reasons to back up that opinion.
Blame the perfect song coming through the headphones in my ears, the sunshine or the three cups of coffee I had consumed, but last week, as I got off the bus, Indianapolis felt new. It felt brighter. It felt possible. It felt hopeful. It felt modern. It felt, well, like a different city.
Thanks to the Ways and Means Committee for the renewed vision of Indianapolis - and it stayed with me throughout my week. I was riding the bus with a new attitude, one of hope and progress.
I smiled and bounced my way through the rest of the week and into this past Monday...
... Until I got a text: "Going to be a close vote. I think we will barely squeak by."
Talk about a buzz kill.
That first bit of news came while I was riding the bus on my way to work. I had just received the text that the hearing was about to start when my bus driver announced that we were early and proceeded to park the bus on the side of College Avenue and get out. I watched as she crossed the street to the Kountry Kitchen and went inside to order food.
Even with the smell of collard greens and fried chicken lingering in the air (and the man snoring loudly beside me), I admittedly got really frustrated with Indiana. I had a gross feeling that this bill wasn't going to pass the House and that we would be stuck in the 1950s (early 2000s?) forever.
Fast-forward through an entire day's work later and I am sitting in my house, in front of my computer, watching the House Chambers live.
Finally, at about 9:30pm, HB 1011 passed 56-39 in the House Chambers. (Insert huge sigh of relief.)
I swear I screamed out loud when I heard the news.
After spending the day getting texts, calls and tweets from friends and colleagues at the Statehouse, keeping me informed of the House voting this week, the final approval couldn't have been more relieving.
I thought I would wake up on Tuesday morning with that same sense of renewal and hope as last week.
Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to realize I was still in the Indianapolis I'd known before.
I stood in the rain for a bus that was ten minutes late, had to stand up (soaking wet) for the ride, caught my late transfer, sat next to a man that was cussing his girlfriend out LOUDLY on the phone, got to work twenty minutes late, caught a bus to my second job that was fifteen minutes late, sat next to a man who thought the world was his stage and seat-danced (wildly) for the whole ride and then I got off and immediately stepped in puke.
Talk about a reality check.
The Senate needs to hurry up and vote this through.
One of my friends recently became carless, as well. After her car broke down, she decided to say "screw it" and adopt the bus-riding lifestyle. This is good news for me. It means that another car is off the road, but, more importantly, it adds a whole new level of entertainment to my life.
We now play a game we like to call "Is This Odd?"
Is This Odd? is a game played via text messages and pictures where we share our daily oddities while riding the bus.
Sometimes she will send me messages describing situations reminiscent of my first few months of experiences on the bus... things that I used to think were odd, but have now become desensitized to... things like: "A guy just got on reeking of alcohol and fell on his face. Odd?" And my response: "Nope, once a week."
Or: "My bus driver just flew right by my stop even after I pulled the 'stop requested' signal. Odd?" And my response: "Get used to it and wear walking shoes."
Or: "A flood of teenagers just got on my bus and immediately started making out in the back. Odd?" And my response: "Yes, that's definitely a new one. Ten points." And then she will send me a picture.
Or I will text her: "A guy just belched in my ear and is now moaning at me. Odd?" And she says: "Never had that happen before. Five points."
You get the idea.
Last Monday, my phone vibrated five times in a row. I looked at it to see a story from her that went like this (and I quote):
"So, I'm heading west on the 8, which is a new route for me. It's going OK, though west seems so far! We just pulled over at a bus stop where no one is getting on or off. First of all, odd? Better yet, there are two drivers on this bus, one a trainer, who got out and began throwing snowballs at the windshield!!! I realized it was because you could BARELY SEE through the layers of grime on the windshield. Is there no line item for wiper fluid at IndyGo?!?!?! Is this ODD????"
So far, she is winning the game by a landslide.
More good news for Indianapolis, though! Public transit is moving along through the House. HB-1011 passed in Ways and Means 20-2!
Transit Day at the Statehouse brought hundreds of people together to advocate and testify for dedicated funding, that will not only increase routes, options and frequency, but will also (fingers crossed) provide a couple of spare dollars for wiper fluid so that our drivers can see where they are going. Before the 25th of February, the full House will vote on the bill, then on to the (Republican-led) Senate, where things get a bit trickier.
Which brings me to wonder: "People are still against this bill even though it allows us our democratic freedom to vote on where our tax money goes. Tell me, is this odd?!?!"
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.
I'm gonna be honest here. I am close to giving up.
I've generalized the "year" several times, but it has actually officially been a year since I first stepped foot on the bus and began writing about my experiences. In the beginning, people would always ask if I had an allotted amount of time for this "experiment"... if I had chosen to "try" life without a car for a month, six months, a year.
I never did.
My thought was that I would be here indefinitely, living this "lifestyle" for as long as I could stand it or until I knew that it was time to buy a car. I've had ups and downs and frustration mixed with motivation and been equally as proud as I have been humbled, but the last few weeks have been taxing.
Maybe I can chalk this up to starting back at school and working too many different jobs, but I have come to realize how much easier my life would be with a car - how much healthier I would be, how much more sleep I could get and, most importantly, how much time I could have back in my day!
I spend far too many wasted hours in the City Market because a 3-hour break between work and class isn't enough time to go home and then back to school.
I spend far too much energy planning my days around the bus schedule, miss out on far too many things because I have to catch a bus, pay far too much money in (horrible and expensive - don't get me started) cab fare and make way too many sacrifices to justify.
I don't mean to be so negative, but the reality of life without a car means fewer trips to the grocery store, a whole day wasted to make it to one doctor appointment and the realization that I could probably have at least three or four hours of my day back if I had a car.
I don't like this.
Not one bit.
In my dream world, this "lifestyle" would be easy and convenient and actually make the most sense.
But not in Indianapolis.
Sometimes I get to this place. I don't often write about it, because I don't want to admit defeat. Most often, when I get ready to "drop the mic" so to speak, I meet a random person who recognizes me by my picture or I'll have a friend who comes through with questions about wanting to ride the bus and I get my motivation back. I'm still not giving up. Not yet. Especially not with as much excitement there is in this city about transit right now. But I'm close.
I've said it many times before, but transit is the topic (again) this week and this is enough motivation (for now) to hold off on car shopping. We have mayors from all over the state backing the Marion/Hamilton county transit system, we have "Transit Day at the Statehouse" coming up, it seems every day someone is posting on Facebook about their willingness to pay more taxes if it improved our transit system, we now have commercials on TV for the Indy Connect transit plan, our own Mayor (love him) recently held a transit rally and, the coolest of all, about five of my very own friends are now full-time bus riders. So cool.
I'm proud to live in Indy for many reasons, but, as it sits, I live in a city with one of the worst transit systems in the nation. Of this, I am not proud. I really, really, really do not get how people are still arguing over whether or not Indy needs public transit improvements. Please, take it from me, we NEED the bill to pass this year or we are gonna be left far, far behind.
Please consider, at the very least, being a part of the webinar, signing up for newsletters and joining us for Transit Day at the Statehouse and contacting your legislators to get the transit plans moving forward.
Somehow I thought that things would have progressed a lot further by now. Had I known that the last year would get us only this much closer to a legit transit system, I might have reconsidered selling my car. But I can see that people in Indy are ready for the bill to pass this year just by all the conversation and activity surrounding the subject in the last few months and especially the last few weeks and that gives me a confidence that will keep me off the car lots for a little while longer.
I have been out of town, in Myrtle Beach, for the last two weeks. I was sitting happily on the beach, with a cocktail in hand, while most of you were getting snow dumped on yourselves. I am definitely a beach girl, but I admittedly was a little jealous of the blizzard you were having over Christmas break and the excitement that being snowed in usually brings.
That is until I heard the treacherous travel stories.
Roads were closed, some plows were on the streets, cars were sliding all over the place, people were falling on the sidewalks, businesses were shut down and ice and snow covering everything in sight. At least that's what I hear.
What I also hear is that IndyGo was in full force and operating with few interruptions in service. I heard that 11,102 passenger trips were made on the 26th of December, IndyGo's full staff was working and when delays and detours were necessary, the dedicated staff at IndyGo was on top of real-time updates via Twitter and Facebook.
I'm impressed, IndyGo. Really, really impressed.
I even heard that a few friends of mine chose to ride the bus those couple of days because they didn't want to deal with driving. All of whom were thankful for the option and have expressed complete satisfaction with their experiences.
I got a message from one friend who wanted to know if riding IndyGo during the harsh winter weather was worse than riding normally, because he assumed that the buses wouldn't be running on normal schedule, that they'd be too late to mess with and that he would have to stand in the cold for too long. I immediately began the (uneducated) response that it was awful (!!) to ride the bus in the winter and that it wasn't something I would recommend doing if I didn't absolutely have to. As I was making my (uneducated) statement about the conditions and the horrible times I've had standing in the cold waiting and waiting and waiting, I began to hear the positive stories and read the press releases of how well IndyGo handled the "blizzard" and how appreciative riders are of their efforts.
I just wanted to take a few minutes to thank IndyGo for all they do and praise them for the hard work they continually display. Sometimes it's easier to critique and be negative about our transit system, but taking a step back and seeing the truth is often a very enlightening experience.