KOEHLER: Put mass transit to real-world test

March 1, 2014

KoehlerIt would be beneficial to consider an entrepreneurial perspective in the ongoing debate over enhancing public transportation options.

Proponents claim it is necessary to offer the public more and better means of accommodating individual schedules. The argument concludes that Indianapolis can only truly attain designation as a major city with such a new and all-encompassing network.

An entrepreneur, risking personal wealth, would approach the problem from a different angle.

Instead of raising taxes and fees totaling over $1 billion for building, or improving upon, an infrastructure and hoping passengers pay to ride, a market study would first be conducted. Not a report from a company or other entity that would benefit from construction and/or operation, but an objective, factual survey among potential customers and taxpayers.

If the responses are reasonably positive, the next step would be a beta test.

Fortunately, the means exist to test the concept. The Indiana State Fair Train runs from Noblesville to Fishers through Castleton with a terminus at the fairgrounds. Best of all, the tracks run parallel to Interstate 69—one of the most congested, frustrating and least-liked stretches of highway in central Indiana.

A beta test might involve the following scenario:

For a 60- or 90-day period, anyone can ride the train for a nominal fee, perhaps $5. The train will run back and forth from the fairgrounds to Noblesville with a stop at the Fishers train station.

viewpoint-fishers-boarding-train-15col.jpg The State Fair Train would determine rider sentiment. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Transportation Museum)

At the fairgrounds, buses will run a continuous loop to downtown with stops at major employers such as IUPUI, Eli Lilly and Co. and Anthem Inc. During the testing period, market researchers will ride the rails asking relevant questions of passengers such as what brought them to the train in the first place, improvements they would like to see, and a reasonable price to pay.

If after a few months the novelty wears off and ridership declines to an insignificant number, the argument for raising taxes evaporates.

If additional cars need to be added to the train, plans for an incremental implementation can be contemplated.

Either way, the risk to the taxpayer is mitigated and the decision to go or not go is substantiated by real data, not opinions, the potential for financial gain or wishful thinking. A complete and unbiased beta test must be undertaken before any taxes or fees are implemented.•


Koehler, a serial entrepreneur, is CEO of AlGalCo. His most recent book is “Divining the Future: Human Intellectual Evolution.” Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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