EYE ON THE PIE: Airline and transit service linked

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“So, what do you think about our new governor?” State Rep. Roberta Righteous asked as we met for breakfast.

“No comment,” I said, studying the menu. “Until we have his financial program on the table and a chance to think about it, any judgments are premature.”

“But he’s already set a tone,” the longterm representative replied.

“Other than an injudicious inaugural reference to barn-building in an overwhelmingly urban state, there’s nothing to commend or condemn. The administrative changes he has initiated need to be allowed to work their way through.”

“So what are you going to write about this week?” Roberta inquired after indicating to the waiter that she wanted the “coronary conquest” breakfast (three eggs, sausage, biscuits and fried potatoes, all covered with heavy gravy).

“ATA and IndyGo, the local Indianapolis transit system,” I said, confirming my desire for pancakes topped with ham and eggs.

“What does ATA have to do with Indy-Go?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “But IndyGo has a lot to do with ATA. Look at what has just been announced. ATA now offers great service to Indianapolis from Fort Wayne, South Bend, Evansville and Gary. Let’s imagine you want to go to the Capital City on Feb. 16. The round-trip fare, if booked now, would be $98.

“You could leave Gary or Evansville just before 8 a.m. and be in Indianapolis at the airport just after 9:30. Then what? An expensive cab ride downtown or a less expensive, convenient IndyGo express bus? The local bus company, IndyGo, does not have a less expensive, convenient express service to downtown from the airport. Today, the service is every 30 minutes during the day with a scheduled time to downtown of 35 minutes over local streets instead of using Interstate 70.

“Yes, the new ATA service to four Indiana cities is a boon for those areas because it gives them connectivity via ATA to other destinations in the nation. However, without good transit within Indianapolis and those other cities, the intra-state traveler has less incentive to use the ATA services.”

“But we have become accustomed to inadequate public transportation everywhere in Indiana,” Roberta said between bites from her death-defying dish.

“Exactly,” I replied, happily plunging into my own breakfast. “But does anyone talk about local transit service as an economic-development instrument for the state? Indianapolis does endless studies for rail service while Denver and other cities make real progress. Meanwhile, Indianapolis sees only minimal improvements in bus service. In northwest Indiana, they want better rail service to Chicago, but doing something now about bus service within the region is on the back burner.

“Some Hoosiers are willing to support metropolitan taxation or expanded gambling to support the Colts, but where are the voices for better public transit within our major cities?”

“Come now,” Roberta said. “We’ve got other priorities in the General Assembly. There’s the budget deficit and, even without that, there is Medicaid.”

“Ah, yes, Medicaid,” I responded, wiping excess maple syrup from my lip. “How much would we reduce our Medicaid liability if we were a state with people of higher incomes and more transit for the disabled?”

“It’s always fun hearing your offbeat, unrealistic notions,” Roberta said, folding her napkin and leaving me with the check.

Marcus taught economics at Indiana University more than 30 years and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send email to mmarcus@ibj.com.

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