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HUBER and SULLIVAN: Transit tax increase a worthy investment in city's future

July 9, 2016

DEBATE QShould residents support transit improvements, including more frequent service and the Red Line?

 

Michael Huber and Steve Sullivan
AIn May, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed Proposition 145, finally giving Marion County voters the chance to say yes to improved transit service with a referendum on our Nov. 8 ballot.

Since the council acted, new Census data showed Marion County gaining 4,000 residents in 2015, the largest increase in Indiana. The MIBOR Realtor Association 2015 housing data analysis also described the hottest Indy home-buying market in nearly a decade. Indianapolis is growing—but we can’t neglect transit as a quality of life and economic development priority and expect these trends to continue.

The Indy Chamber and MIBOR have listened to thousands of local employers and homeowners and learned from other cities as we compete for jobs and investment.

Our lack of transit options comes up repeatedly as an urgent issue: Indianapolis is the nation’s 14th-largest city, yet our bus fleet ranks 84th. We have to close this gap.

A yes vote for mass transit is a vote for growth and for giving local workers and families a better opportunity to reach the middle class through education and employment. It’s a vote to bring new investment to struggling neighborhoods, and to make our city even more appealing to new talent and business.

Let’s start with the basics: Most transit trips are to and from work, but today’s inconvenient, inaccessible bus service makes it harder to find and reach jobs in Indianapolis. According to the Brookings Institution, Indy ranks 64th out of the 100 largest metros in transit coverage for workers and employment, and 79th in jobs within a 20-minute commute of the typical adult. The distance between people and paychecks is growing here.

The routine is even more daunting for transit riders who don’t have a typical 9-to-5 commute. Limited bus hours take a daily toll on health care and hospitality workers who commonly have evening and weekend hours. FedEx, as an example, has hundreds of open jobs, but executives share stories of employees who spend 2-1/2 hours waiting, riding and walking to make an eight-mile trip from home to their third-shift position.

The proposed Marion County Transit Plan expands high-frequency, all-day bus service to better connect people, employers and neighborhoods. The expanded system would put three times more residents and double the jobs within a five-minute walk of a frequent bus route, with weekend and crosstown service that creates shorter trips for the average rider.

Better service connects people and jobs, and creates self-sufficiency. By putting more options for employment, education, health care, groceries and other basic needs within reach, transit creates upward mobility and independence for those who rely on it most. The Marion County Transit Plan increases frequent service to low-income households, senior citizens and people with disabilities more than 200 percent (based on potential riders within a half-mile).

A growing demographic, especially younger professionals, wants to live in walkable areas convenient to transit. Employers also value proximity to their workforce and customers; a recent study by Smart Growth America tracked more than 500 business expansions and relocations since 2010—from Fortune 500 to startups, in more than a hundred industries—and identified public transportation as a priority.

That is why the neighborhoods in and around downtown are driving our population and housing gains; just drive around the areas north of downtown or Fountain Square—you’ll see new residential and commercial projects rising out of vacant lots and taking over idle properties. The Marion County Transit Plan includes new rapid-transit lines that will bring the same kind of walkable development to larger areas of Indianapolis—including many urban neighborhoods where poverty is most concentrated and opportunities are scarce.

Expanded transit with more frequent service can empower people, give companies a competitive edge, even transform neighborhoods—but these benefits come with a budget. The referendum authorized by the City-County Council creates a dedicated revenue stream for transit, asking taxpayers for an additional 25 cents for every $100 of income, less than $10 a month for the average household.

Now it’s up to us to vote yes to improved transit service. We believe this choice is clear: A modest cost for a major payoff, a transit system that will help us grow into a more convenient, connected city.•

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Huber is CEO of the Indy Chamber. Sullivan is CEO of MIBOR Realtor Association. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.
 

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