Indy Chamber prepares for transit referendum as City-County Council considers ballot question
The Indianapolis City-County Council brought the city another step closer to a modern mass transit system last week. At the March 21 meeting, a bipartisan group of sponsors (including Council President Maggie Lewis and Republican Minority Leader Mike McQuillen) introduced Proposal 145, authorizing a referendum to finally give voters a voice on expanded mass transit in Marion County.
“It’s been a long time coming,” noted Indy Chamber Vice-President of Governmental Relations and Policy Development Mark Fisher. “But we’re cautiously optimistic about getting a transit referendum on the ballot this fall – and that means more than a decade of planning, outreach and advocacy will come down to the next few months.”
After public hearings and committee action on Prop 145, the full Council is expected to vote on the measure on April 26. If approved, it will be up to pro-transit groups like the Indy Chamber to mount a “vote yes” campaign for Election Day, November 8. To jump-start the campaign, the Indy Chamber has launched a new website, www.TransitDrivesIndy.com, to make the case for the referendum.
The Plan, the Price Tag, and the Payoff
Specifically, the referendum would ask voters to approve a 0.25% income tax increase (25 cents for every $100 of taxable income) to fund the Marion County Transit Plan proposed by IndyGo last month.
This five-year Transit Plan extends all-day, high-frequency bus service across the city, reducing wait and travel times with an expanded, more convenient route map. It also adds three rapid transit routes – starting with the Red Line, already slated to begin construction next year thanks to a $75 million federal ‘Small Starts’ grant. In all, the planned system would triple the population and double the jobs connected by frequent or rapid transit service.
The modest tax increase – less than $10 a month for the average Indianapolis household – provides dedicated revenues for a modern mass transit system. In the short term, providing reliable transportation connecting the workforce and employers provides a strong economic payoff.
Looking further ahead, improved transit attracts younger workers who want walkable neighborhoods, and businesses that want to be close to employees and customers. So along with providing transportation options, transit creates demand for housing and commercial development in urban neighborhoods.
“No matter how you look at it, transit pays off for our economy – better access to jobs and educational opportunities, a stronger appeal to business and talent, and new investment in our neighborhoods,” noted Fisher.
Ready for Red
As City-County Council hearings get underway next week, one important project is already moving forward. The Red Line, the 35-mile bus rapid transit route that will ultimately run from Westfield and Carmel though downtown Indianapolis south to Greenwood, has funding for its first leg – Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis – thanks to the ‘Small Starts’ award.
“There’s been some confusion about how plans for the Red Line can be made before the referendum,” Fisher said. “Because of the route’s potential for ridership, access to employment and transit-oriented growth opportunities, the Red Line earned a very competitive federal grant to get started in 2017.
“But we still need a dedicated local revenue source to make the rest of the improvements called for in IndyGo’s Transit Plan,” he explained. “Rapid transit service works best as part of a comprehensive system.”
Something for Everyone
This “comprehensive system” offers widespread benefits: From older residents to Millennial workers, working class families to commuters looking for choices, the Transit Plan means frequent, accessible service and better connections to employment, education, healthcare and more.
But despite broad public support, opponents of the plan have fixated on minor traffic changes along the rapid transit routes and broader skepticism about demand for transit in ‘car-centric’ Indianapolis.
“Today’s underfunded system can barely meet the needs of people who truly depend on it,” Fisher noted. “With sustained investment and improved service, more people will see IndyGo as a convenient choice rather than a last resort – and ridership will grow.
“But even non-riders will see the benefits,” he continued. “Less traffic makes it easier for everyone to get around, and contributes to a cleaner, healthier city…we all want a stronger economy that gets more people working. And remember, even if you never use transit, someone you know – maybe someone you depend on – does.”
Transit Drives Indy
To reinforce this message and give supporters an opportunity to get engaged and informed, the Indy Chamber launched www.TransitDrivesIndy.com. The site will continue to grow in coming weeks, but includes the basics of the plan and a way to sign up for updates and volunteer for pro-transit grassroots efforts.
Stay tuned for more specifics on how Indy Chamber members can impact the City-County Council vote and start working towards November 8. In the meantime, please visit www.TransitDrivesIndy.com, encourage your employees, colleagues and contacts to do the same, and consider contacting your City-County Councillor to express your support for Proposition 145.