Backers of a proposed $2.5 billion mass transit plan are looking for help from on high — or at least local churches — as they mobilize ahead of the 2012 General Assembly.
State lawmakers are likely to consider allowing a mass transit referendum that would go before the voters as early as November 2012; citizens would decide if a tax increase would be implemented to pay for the 25-year project, which would utilize light rail and buses.Newly reelected Mayor Greg Ballard has already identified mass transit as his No. 1 priority heading into his second term.
Kim Irwin of Indiana Citizens' Alliance for Transit and Ehren Bingaman, executive director of Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority,laid out their goals for the upcoming legislative session during ameeting Nov. 15 with a small group of Indianapolis Green Congregations members. Bingaman asked the congregations to pass resolutions supporting the referendum, as well as take a more active role.
"We're trying to build an action network," Bingaman said. "As it makes its way through the legislative process, we need people manning the phone and sending letters to committee members."
Both proponents framed mass transit mainly as a social justice issue, touching briefly on environmental and quality of life arguments.
"There's a real sense of urgency here," Bingaman said. "People need to get to work, seniors need to get to their doctor. More transportation options are a lifeline for the people you're trying to reach and support."
Out of the 50 groups that have already pledged support for the referendum, only one, Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, is a faith-based group. Although most of the church representatives attending the Nov. 15 meeting said they supported the plan, few, if any, pledged their entire congregation's support.
Joe Bowling of Englewood Christian Church knows of the need for greater transportation options firsthand; his church participated in efforts to enable the Near Eastside Orbiter bus service, which supported efforts to connect neighborhood residents to employment opportunities in other regions of the city. Due to lack of ridership the program ended in December 2010, according to Lovi King, who coordinated the orbiter for the John H. Boner Community Center.
Despite up to 20 percent of neighborhood residents lacking reliable transportation, he didn't believe Englewood would pass a support resolution, calling it a job left to other neighborhood groups.
Although they left the meeting with no firm commitments from any of the church representatives, Irwin wasn't discouraged.
"A lot of groups are hesitant to take that advocacy step," Irwin said, adding they would take their case to the individual churches' "decision makers."
Church support is one part of transit advocates' plan to build a diverse coalition of backers. Bingaman also plans to ask the Indiana Sheriffs' Association and other law enforcement groups to back a potential referendum, claiming mass transit will allow residents to work rather than turn to crime.