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EDITORIAL: Transit victory hard fought but now real work begins

March 4, 2017

After more than a decade of study and debate, the city of Indianapolis finally has more than just a plan to improve public transportation. It has funding, too, thanks to the City-County Council’s decision to join Marion County voters in supporting an income tax increase to pay for better service.

IndyGo is finally poised to become a functional bus system that can get people to jobs and other appointments with reasonable commute times seven days a week.

What will make it functional? Enough buses and drivers to reduce wait times to 10 to 15 minutes on the most popular routes, longer hours of service, and seven-day service on all routes. A $75 million federal grant that would fund the first of three bus rapid-transit lines that are part of the plan is in limbo. If it doesn’t come through, the plan will take longer to implement than the 2022 target, but most of the improvements will happen regardless.

Those who continue to oppose the IndyGo upgrades should remember this isn’t a Cadillac plan. There’s no light rail, for example, as transit advocates long hoped for. In the end, the plan is a compromise that will leave the city with a still-modest system compared to many of its peers.

That’s not to minimize the importance of what’s about to happen. The role reliable transportation plays in getting people to work is often taken for granted by the majority, who have easy access to cars. For those who don’t, the bus can be the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency.

For others, public transportation isn’t essential, but it’s the mode of choice. Offering it here at a level of service that can be relied upon doesn’t give the city an advantage in the competition for talent, but it eliminates a strike against us.

Of course, the city’s quest to catch up with other cities isn’t over. Now IndyGo must deliver on its promise. The annual $54 million-plus a year the income tax increase will generate beginning in 2018 is a significant investment. Ultimately, the IndyGo expansion will be judged not just on delivering the planned improvements but on whether locals begin using the system as more than transportation of last resort.

The argument, often used by opponents of expansion, that the investment will be wasted because not enough people here ride the bus is ludicrous. Residents haven’t used IndyGo in great numbers because it’s been inadequate for decades. But improving the system won’t change habits on a dime. It will be up to IndyGo to roll out its upgrades in a way that attracts sufficient numbers of new riders.

That might be the biggest challenge yet, but we’re glad the opportunity is at hand. Congratulations to all those who’ve worked so hard to make transit improvements possible. Now the hard work begins.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
 

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