this week's NUVO, my colleague Anne Laker reported on Indy Connect, the public
process aimed at rallying support for a new, improved public transit system in
our greater metropolitan area.
series of public meetings are being held to introduce people to a transit plan,
including light rail connecting Washington St. to the airport, commuter service
from Fishers to Greenwood on existing tracks, additional and express bus
routes, upgrades on major roads and more trails for bikers and walkers.
plan has the support of a number of the city's corporate big wigs, as well as
the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. The business community likes the
idea of public transit because they've crunched the numbers: it appears that
for every dollar invested in public transit, four dollars are returned to the
a bus driver once told me, so far so good.
plan will be revised over the summer, incorporating input gathered during the
public meetings and through Indy Connect's web site. Then it will be time to go
to the State Legislature, where permission will be requested to hold a
referendum to create "a dedicated transit fund."
the sound of screeching brakes.
occasional readers of this column probably know that I am a big fan of public
transportation. It enables people to work, shop and have fun without having to
own a car (or two), which puts extra money in their pockets and less pollution
in the air. Public transit is democratic: it's a collective way of affirming
that all people should have a reasonable chance to get wherever they have to
go. Finally, it provides all parts of a community with the connectivity
necessary for basic economic sustainability and growth. Want to revitalize a
destitute neighborhood? Build a transit station there.
know that a lack of effective public transit is holding Indianapolis back. Our
bus fleet ranks last in the nation.
creating a great plan for public transit here will only set the stage for what
is bound to be an awful fight.
usual, the issue will be taxes. Indianapolis has a terrible public transit
system because no one wants to pay for it. We've tried, at various times, to
run transit as a for-profit business. It's never worked. So we've opted for a
car culture instead.
while folks in Indy may be waking up to the advantages of public transit, other
cities, with well-established systems are hurting. According to a survey done
by the American Transportation Association (the same organization, by the
way, that provided that $4 return on investment estimate cited above), 80
percent of American transit systems are suffering fare hikes and/or service
cuts this year. Last week rallies were held in 11 cities across the country to
protest transportation cuts and fare increases.
everywhere rave about the Washington, D.C. Metro system. But it's $176 million
in the hole. Great songs have been written about New York City's subways; the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority there is running a $1.2 billion deficit.
irony is that people all over the country are turning to public transit more
and more. We don't just want this, our wallets and the environment tell us we
need it. But the fact remains that ticket buyers account for only about
one-fifth of revenue for any given transit system.
a statistic you can bet will come up once Indy Connect's plan reaches the
Statehouse. It doesn't help matters that this will be happening in the wake of
a public referendum on whether we should write property tax caps into the state
constitution. Guess where IndyGo gets most of its funding? Yep, just like the
library system and waste disposal – it's the property tax.
odds are the funding will have to come from another form of tax. At this point,
at least two things, almost unprecedented in the annals of Indiana politics,
will have to happen. Lawmakers are going to have to be creative and somebody is
going to have to show some leadership.
Illinois, disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich proposed taxing canned computer
software. Republicans there have revived that idea, along with imposing sales
taxes on downloaded music and videos. Otherwise, that state could be looking at
increased income taxes in order to try and save its eroding public services.
to home, Mayor Ballard is going to find that public transit will make a hard
right turn, morphing from blue sky vision to hot potato. The mayor won his
office by running against taxes. In doing so, his constituents not only
defeated incumbent Bart Peterson, but the will of the Greater Indianapolis
Chamber of Commerce and the corporate CEOs who endorsed Peterson – the
same crew advocating for public transit today.
the Indy Connect plan to work, Mayor Ballard is going to have to champion it
with the people who elected him to stifle their taxes. That will take
a chorus to constantly remind him: We need this.
learn more about Indy Connect meetings and to participate in surveys, go to