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Mayor should lead transit charge

May 14, 2016

It’s easy to misunderstand what Marion County voters could get for their money if they approve a higher tax rate to help fund the city’s bus system. There’s been so much talk about the Red Line—the rapid transit bus route planned between Broad Ripple and the University of Indianapolis—that voters could be forgiven for believing that’s what the proposed 0.25-percentage-point tax hike is all about. But the Red Line will be under construction soon whether voters approve the transit referendum or not.

Instead, the proposed tax increase would fund much-needed, overall IndyGo improvements, including new buses, advanced payment technologies and—most important—more frequent service throughout the system.

Consider that, today, only about 10 percent of Indianapolis residents has access to a high-frequency route, defined as a bus coming at least every 15 minutes. Under the changes that would be funded by the tax hike, 35 percent of residents would have access to a high-frequency route by 2021 (and most even sooner).

In addition, nearly half of jobs in Indianapolis would be along a high-frequency route, almost double the number today. Also, buses would run later into the evenings and far more often on weekends. In fact, every route would run daily.

Those changes matter. For riders, waiting no more than 15 minutes for a bus means far less planning. It means showing up at the bus stop and simply waiting, rather than checking a schedule with the hope that the next bus will get you where you need to be on time. And it means a bus will be available when you leave work later than expected.

Finally, the proposed tax increase would fund three more rapid transit routes—in addition to the Red Line—that would run every 10 minutes, make fewer stops, and offer faster travel times.

This is a no-brainer. This tax increase needs to pass. The impact—about $21 per month for a taxpayer with income of $100,000—is not insignificant. But the effect on our community could be huge. It would help low-income residents access jobs, boost inner-city economic activity along routes, and make Indianapolis more attractive to a younger generation more likely to eschew cars.

Still, persuading voters to support the plan will be a challenge. It’s just too easy for those with higher incomes and who can afford (and will continue) to drive a car to work to view the transit plan with indifference or even disdain. That’s why advocates for the tax increase—including the Indy Chamber and Central Indiana Community Foundation—are already planning a campaign to urge residents to vote yes.

But with races for president, governor and U.S. Senate commanding voters’ attention, the transit effort needs a high-profile leader. It needs Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, who just won election with 62 percent of the vote.

Hogsett supports the referendum. He said through a spokeswoman that mass transit is a “sound investment for the city.” But he stopped short of calling on residents to vote yes. Instead, spokeswoman Taylor Schaffer said the mayor “urges all voters to educate themselves on the Marion County Transit Plan over the next six months and let their voices be heard.”

That’s not good enough. This is one of Hogsett’s first big opportunities to lead, and IBJ calls on him to do so.•

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

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