This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2016 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper.
Anyone who knows me knows about my longstanding love/hate relationship with our city’s public transit system. There are days when I get to the bus stop and it’s running on schedule, the bus driver is pleasant, and I make it to where I need to be on time with no issues. Then there are those days — days when the bus is embarrassingly late and I have to either cancel plans or dish out cash for an Uber. There are those days when I am passed by a driver who didn’t see me waiting, because my stop has no street lights. I could go on and on about those days, but the good news is that IndyGo is working to make sure those days become a thing of the past.
IndyGo has rolled out the 2021 Marion County Transit Plan, which will begin implementing the long-term regional Indy Connect plan. The Marion County Transit Plan seeks to provide an overall 70-percent increase in service, shorter wait times, more frequency and other improvements. Currently only 16 percent of Indianapolis households living in poverty have access to a frequent (15 minute wait or shorter) IndyGo route. The number of households with access to a frequent route is even lower among Indianapolis’ minority population, at just 14 percent. The plan proposes to increase by 2021 the number of households with access to frequent service to 47 percent and 39 percent, respectively. Currently, there are only 140,057 jobs within a half-mile of a frequent transit route; by 2021, that number will be more than 230,000.
The plan could be funded by a new tax, which could be on the ballot this November. In 2014, the state legislature authorized a new dedicated funding source for transit via referendum in some central Indiana counties, including Marion County. Implementation of the plan requires the passage of a 0.25 percent income tax by Marion County residents, which is 25 cents on $100 of income. The referendum process is underway. The City-County Council called the question and sent it to committee. If the committee approves the proposal, it will come back to the full council. If the council approves it, the referendum will show up on the ballot this November, where it must pass with majority support. If voters approve the new tax, it will come back to council for final enactment, as it is not a binding referendum — meaning even with the majority of voter support, it will still need to receive a final approval from the City-County Council.
If you would like to learn more about public transit, there are a number of ways to get up to speed. There will be an event held at the Avondale Meadows YMCA on March 30 and another on March 31 at the Urban League at 6 p.m. both days. I’d also encourage you to visit indygo.net/transitplan to read up on the plan for yourself.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend one of these informational events at the Hi-Fi in Fountain Square, where a panel made up of a group of young professionals discussed the future of transit. When the panel was asked how many of them had used IndyGo, most of them revealed they had only used the service once or not at all. I instantly chalked it up as an unfortunate gaffe on the part of the event organizers. It even seemed a bit counterproductive.
Jarrett Walker, a public transit consultant and author who has been very instrumental in the creation of IndyGo’s new transit plan, was on the panel as well. He shared that he understood why most of the people who were up there had never used the service. It is not very convenient and, frankly, not worth the trouble for people who have other options. He waxed poetic about what more efficient public transit means for those seeking better access to professional opportunities and social experiences. Then I understood why everyone — the apathetic, passionate, uninterested, etc. — needs to be discussing transit more. Better public transit means that one day, hopefully, Indianapolis will become a true metropolis.
Throughout my experience with the service, I have lodged my share of complaints in person and via social media. Most, if not all, of them have been addressed directly by a member of their staff. I do recognize my privilege as a member of the media, so I’m sure that had at least a little bit to do with it. I also recognize my financial privilege. I am by no means rich, but I could afford a vehicle if I chose to have one, and I can afford to use services like Uber, Lyft or Yellow Cab when I need to. A growing number of Indianapolis residents do not have these privileges.
It is quite obvious to me that improved public transit is more than just a good idea. It is something that we need to put collective energy and effort behind. Mobility should not be a luxury for the privileged among us. It should be available to all.