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Did Transit even have a chance?

Dear Indiana lawmakers,

I hope that you are enjoying a brief respite from the short session and taking in what our fine capital city has to offer. The Super Bowl is here this week and our city is displaying the fruits of 40 years of effort to revitalize the city’s core, and indeed primary economic engine of our entire state. Thousands of people from the region and in fact the entire country, have descended on our city to work, play and spend money. It represents a coming of age for a town that was pretty sleepy when most of you were growing through your impressionable years.

I suppose that makes a lot of sense now when I look back at the last month of legislation and how it was handled. By that, I mean that highways in Indiana will keep their funding status quo and transit, will again be pushed off until later. Meanwhile, legislation for right to work was crammed through so fast, it had people’s heads spinning. Additionally, creationism was approved in the Senate as a viable subject of research in our schools further blurring the line between church and state.

One of the potentially biggest regional game changers was allowed to die on the vine; without much of a logical reason why. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are to blame for this. Namely, Jeff Espich, the Republican who offered HB1073 (Public Mass Transit) admittedly as a watch dog. Mr. Espich, I feel you never intended for this to pass and merely want your record to show you voted in favor of transit so you can tell people like me to stuff it.

Equally to blame is Democrat Bill Crawford who piped up in the last minutes when HB1073 was still alive and said he supported transit but not the RTW language. Guess what, there were plenty of us who thought it was bunk too, but apparently you didn’t get the message about keeping the bus moving forward. Your testimony effectively killed decades of momentum built to pass this legislation.

My offer from a couple weeks ago is still open. If you two would like to come over to my home and have dinner,  my wife is an excellent cook. I can help mend fences and show you how city dwellers view transit and it’s need here in the capital city.

As it stands, locals are now waiting to see what happens. Some of us are holding out hope that there is still a chance to amend a bill this session authorizing a transit referendum. We haven’t given up and frankly, my advise is that you folks don’t either. As we argue over a local issue that has been planned locally, supported locally and would be funded locally, you stand back while billions are spent on road expansion. Highways that offer little to the low density populations they run through are being built. I speak of the I-69 extension, the Heartland Connector and the US31 expansion. What are they doing for the general Indiana taxpayer? Offering little to locals and their regions for a huge investment of money. That makes little financial sense to me and it should to you too.

Over the last few years I have spent a lot of time and money travelling to cities like Portland, Washington DC, Chicago and Charlotte attempting to educate myself on the issues. I have drug my family along and we have all grown richer in knowledge as we visit these places. The last census report showed that Portland, Seattle and Denver, cities have have embarked on massive rail investments, have enjoyed robust population growth. That means MONEY, JOBS, REGIONAL VITALITY, and INCREASED QUALITY OF LIFE for everyone. While we can agree transit wasn’t the primary motivator, it plays a large role; for those of us who understand quality mass transit, the link is clear.

In closing, I would ask that you all look in the mirror. For a group who has made their primary objective this session a piece of legislation that gives citizens a choice about their job, it sure seems pretty hypocritical to say that we do not get a choice about our mode of transportation. And don’t tell us to talk about it. That’s all we do here is talk about transit. It’s time to do something about it. The plan is sound, its economically feasible and people support it. Give us the opportunity to show you we can do it right here in the capital city without you holding our hands. Allow us to continue improving the capital city.

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15 Responses to “ “Did Transit even have a chance?”

  1. Tom says:

    Bravo! Thanks for articulating the frustration, disappointment and dismay that many feel regarding the General Assembly’s handling of Right to Decide About Transit legislation. I hope the groundswell of support is able to pull off a “Plan B” and attach transit referendum language to another piece of legislation. Might take a few dinners, tho!

    • Paul J. says:

      Can the legislation be rebranded as “Right to Vote” for the next legislative session? Succinctness is key for legislation branding.

  2. Mav says:

    Curt,

    I completely agree with your take. It is unfathomable that we don’t even get the right to vote on this ourselves. They have jammed this down our throats. Maybe it is time we jam their inboxes. I know that I have made my opinions known to these bottle necks. I only hope that every other tranist advocate is doing the same.

  3. Brandon says:

    I agree with you completely agree. Indianapolis is transit ready, it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming years.

  4. Eric says:

    You have to be against transit and for highways if you’re a Republican. That’s clearly the stance the GOP has chosen at all levels of government, so that’s what Hoosiers are going to get as long as they keep electing these guys. Move to Chicago, NYC, San Fransisco, soon Cincinnati, Houston, etc., if you want transit. That’s what these guys are saying by refusing Federal dollars so give them what they want.

    • Matt Stone says:

      But those Republicans likely would counter your “federal dollars” argument with who knows how long those federal dollars will be there. A government shutdown, a decrease in spending, or an economic downturn could take these dollars away with little fanfare, leaving Hoosiers to pick up the whole tab.

      As to the question of transit, Indianapolis has a good chunk of a delegation. And even more if you expand that to all of central Indiana/donut counties.

      And if central Indiana wants something, the vessel for that needs to be Luke Kennley (Senator Appropriations Chair, Noblesville), Brian Bosma (House Speaker), or people who can get on their good side. And it probably needs Democratic support as well. And it needs to be in some sort of omnibus type bill that includes something for non-central Indiana so that those people will vote in favor of it.

      That all being said, if I was Dictator of the Entire World, I’d write out this referendum process. I really hate general voting referendums on these billion dollar, complicated projects that will require long term funding. Because frankly, most people are idiots.

      If I had it my way, I’d have the legislature empower the various central Indiana counties and towns on if they want to participate in this via their city or town councils and grant them the power to expand the COIT to include the funding for this. Those that do can include a provision on making a Central Indiana Transit Task Force or whatever so they can all work together. This allows the communities rather than the state to make the case for transit, and honestly, I think it’s easier to get a city-councilor to amend something on your behalf than it is for a state legislature.

  5. Chris Barnett says:

    ” honestly, I think it’s easier to get a city-councilor to amend something on your behalf than it is for a state legislature”

    Absolutely. Full home-rule regarding taxation and budgets is needed by Indianapolis-Marion County.

    But in today’s climate, the referendum is probably the only practical solution, because NO Republican legislator wants to get caught voting for a “tax increase” bill.

  6. Phil says:

    Lets fix Indy Go and put the light rail on the back burner. Light rail seems to benefit the wealthy in Hamilton (Luke Kennley comes to mind) County more then the Marion County residents. Throw in the cost over runs that would surely happen with light rail and I am sure our government would find a way to find a private concern to run the system that would once again screw the (see parking meter deal, Lucas Oil, Conseco Pacer deal and the Broad Ripple Parking Garage) the taxpayer in the rear end once again. Instead how about a tram from the airport to downtown. Bring in our visitors from out of town and keep them downtown (no need for a rental car) to spend all of their money downtown. The only need for light rail is for the 4 hours a day (6:30 AM 8:30 AM – 4 PM to 6 PM) rush hour. You can get anywhere in Indy with no problem the rest of the week. So your basically looking at a white elephant that could not support itself financially and would be a constant drain on the taxpayers.

    Now how about a bus system that run stops every 20 minutes instead of every hour as it stands now. This would be way more beneficial for the average city dweller that would like to use public transportation. YES I have been to Frisco, Philly, Chicago and if you talk to the people that live in the city they use the bus more then the rail systems. Lastly Indianapolis comes no where close to the traffic problems any of these cities experience. Yes light rail is cool but I would more inclined to see high speed rail built between Bloomington and Indy, Lafayette and Indy, Chicago and Indy with a stop in Lafayette. Makes a lot more economic sense.

    • Chris Barnett says:

      Rail is in the “out years” of the IndyConnect proposal. The program mainly calls for immediate and sustained regional bus service. The rail argument is a bit of a red herring, but unfortunately many have focused on it based on the 2010 version of the plan.

  7. Phil says:

    Lastly light rail has a limited load and unload area. Light rail will still leave the majority of people using it blocks away from their work place. The bus system will drop a person (especially downtown) a hop skip and a jump form their work place. A big selling point in the winter time.

    • Chris says:

      Phil, if you reviewed the transit proposal, you would know that it is first and foremost a bus plan. It would first very substantial improve IndyGo, and only in later years would the rail component be implemented.

      In any event, the transit modes outlined in the plan are not the issue. Even a bus-only plan needs substantial new tax revenue to become a reality. The issue in the Legislature was never whether buses or rail made more sense, but rather that representatives from outside Indianapolis and Central Indiana were dead-set against giving the local people of the area the rights to vote on whether or not they wished to raise income taxes to fund public transit.

      It could have been a plan for horse drawn buggies, and it still would not have passed the General Assembly because the current membership clings to dogma and takes the position that any increased funding for a government service is bad and that even giving people the right to vote on a tax increase is the equivalent of voting directly for a tax increase, which is the worse possible thing according to their political ideology.

  8. JP says:

    IndyGo doesn’t need fixing. It needs proper funding.
    *
    Streetcar/tram systems are not as expensive to build or maintain (as more regional light rail system). Also, you would not build a streetcar line from Carmel to Indy. You would only build it in more dense areas (e.g. Cincinnati Streetcar project).
    *
    Lastly, you need both – buses and rail – to have a public transit that would spur development. People always argue that highways bring about business development. So, we should ignore the astronomical cost of building and maintaining them. But when considering public transportation, rail specifically, they only look at the operating cost.

  9. Otis B says:

    “The last census report showed that Portland, Seattle and Denver, cities have have embarked on massive rail investments, have enjoyed robust population growth. That means MONEY, JOBS, REGIONAL VITALITY, and INCREASED QUALITY OF LIFE for everyone. While we can agree transit wasn’t the primary motivator, it plays a large role; for those of us who understand quality mass transit, the link is clear.”

    For those who want mass transit, the link is clear. If we can use Wiki census data:
    Indy 1990-2000: 6.9% gain in population; 2000-2010: 6.1%
    Denver 1990-2000: 18.6%; 2000-2010: 8.2%
    Seattle 1990-2000: 9.1%; 2000-2010: 8.0%
    Portland 1990-2000: 21%; 2000-2010: 10.3%

    Without a more in-depth survey of the people, no one can saw for sure transit was even a top 10 draw. While it appears that Indy is a loser, I also should point out that I don’t know if any of the above municipalities annexed any land between census counts. I think a bigger part of the picture would also be to look at the suburbs of these cities. If transit is a big draw, then it would make sense that over two decades, many suburban folks would have made the move back to the city, especially with higher commute prices. What are the suburbs of Denver, Seattle, and Portland? If they grew, was there a reason (population, airport expansion, transit expansion)?

    When you factor in Carmel, you get these numbers:
    1990-2000: 48.7%; 2000-2010: 109.9% (My guess is that at least part of this huge spike is due to the annexation of the western portion of Clay township?)

    Look at Fishers:
    1990-2000: 403.9%; 2000-2010: 103%

    Greenwood:
    1990-2000: 37.2%; 2000-2010: 38.2%

    My guess is that these numbers can’t be explained by shear births from current residents, or just annexations. Clearly people have moved to the metro area. However, I would think most people, especially those who can afford to move to more costly suburban areas, likely did their homework. I would say that for those who moved to this area, transit clearly didn’t rank as a very important asset. This should be studied, because I would bet our low cost of living likely was given a higher consideration than transit for most everyone who moved to this area. To keep that low cost of living, people are going to demand that if they have to spend an extra $100/month in taxes for mass transit, they had best break-in in terms of somehow saving $100/month due to the mass transit.

    I don’t think people see that much savings with mass transit. We are a spread out metro area, and most metro residents will still be driving to get to a station. Denver and Seattle are landlocked by water and mountains. Portland is roughly 90% white and has historically had a very high white population, thus they never suffered in decades past from “White flight.”

    The problem with the Indy Connect plan is the rail. To act like the rail is not a big deal because it is 10 years out is silly. The rail is half the estimated cost, and we all know what happens with those estimates (they are usually off, on the low end, meaning the final tab is usually much higher). There is a reason the guy pushing the bill wanted the full funding restored. Funny, because transit types seem to claim ‘If we build it, they will use it!’ Well, if that is true, Fishers, Carmel, etc. need to take money from their highway and road fund and put it towards mass transit.

    I also personally like referendums, and it is laughable to say people are too stupid to vote on billion dollar projects. So it is OK to let these “idiots” vote to people who will turn around and make decisions for us? What I would ask for are clear cut referendum questions: Would you be willing to pay x% more in taxes for mass transit that would include expanded bus service and a fixed rail line? Below would be a chart will yearly wages (rounded to multiples of $10,000) and how much a person would be paying out yearly. Make it clear.

  10. Maryanne says:

    Matt – you are spot on! This decision should be at the local rather than the state level. We need a Plan B today – we’ve alreading been waiting years. I agree, Thanks Curt for continung to push and for your efforts to keep the discussion alive. If our legislators do not see that this city is transit “ready and willing” they are blind. It’s frustrating “politics as usual”.

    I agree, IndyGo does not need fixing – it needs a funding mechanism and support. Mike Terry and his team are “Professional Public Servants”& patient “Miracle Workers” – trying to deliver a quality service with limited resources for years. An expanded bus service is an immediate must for this city – without that, the notion of “World Class City” is laughable!

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