Following a long, divisive political season, the best thing the Indianapolis City-County Council can do is put politics aside and vote to fully fund an improved public transportation system for a city that badly needs one.
The council now has the opportunity to do that—and should do so quickly—following a public referendum on transportation funding that passed easily on Nov. 8 with almost 60 percent approval.
Voters were asked to authorize the council to impose an income tax in Marion County of up to 0.25 percent, or 25 cents per $100 of income, for improvements to public transportation. The public has spoken. Now it’s time for the council to approve the additional tax, which would raise enough money to pay for $390 million in upgrades to IndyGo, a system that has long lagged near the bottom of public transportation systems nationwide.
Some of the extra cash would fund operation of the controversial Red Line, a bus rapid transit line to be built from Broad Ripple south to the University of Indianapolis using a $75 million federal grant. While the Red Line and other transit lines in the planning stages have gotten much of the attention, the extra funding promises a more immediate impact by upgrading service on existing bus routes.
The inadequacy of service on those routes gets at the heart of why IndyGo isn’t a viable transportation system for those who need it to get to jobs and why it fails employers who badly need those workers. Improved service would mean buses that pick up at a stop every 15 minutes versus—in some cases—an unacceptable hour or more. And it would mean more buses that run seven days a week, not just on weekdays.
These are the improvements that were promised and that the public voted for.
We have confidence the council will follow the will of the majority and vote to approve an additional tax. But will councilors have the courage to authorize the additional tax at its full amount?
There’s no doubt they should. Councilors should avoid the temptation to parse the vote looking for statistical reasons to reject or scale back the tax increase.
The amount sought by IndyGo and transit advocates was not a pie-in-the-sky request. After decades of study, limitations imposed by the Legislature, and a significant scaling back of what many transit advocates wanted, the money IndyGo asked for is what it truly needs to give Indianapolis a shot at making public transportation viable here.
This isn’t a lavish plan to boost the city into the public transit stratosphere. It’s a recipe for a functional, yet modest, system. Scaling it back by approving a smaller tax increase, or, worse, rejecting the increase altogether, will continue the decades-long pattern of underfunding public transportation here. And it will hand voters something less than what they were promised.•
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