UPDATE: IndyGo escapes financial hit from Legislature, but fight is not over

Keywords IndyGo / Legislature
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The IndyGo transit system will not have to pay millions of dollars for companies to relocate utility services to make way for new rapid bus lines. That’s because the state senator who proposed the measure dropped it. 

“The support was not there in the House, said Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis. 

 He said it’s hard to get lawmakers from other parts of the state to understand issues in Marion County, but he isn’t giving up on this issue or other changes he feels are necessary at IndyGo. 

 The IndyGo provision, after failing to pass in another bill, was amended into House Bill 1191 dealing with other energy-related matters. Under Freeman’s amendment, IndyGo would have had to pay public utility companies for moving utility services to make way for new transit lines and for relocation costs associated with the existing Red Line. 

Ultimately, Freeman said he realized the IndyGo provision was not going to win the House’s final approval. He decided to go along with the provision’s withdrawal to keep his promise to the bill’s author not to endanger its other contents, including preventing local governments from banning certain energy sources. 

Without the IndyGo language, the House passed the bill Wednesday night by a 61-29 vote and the Senate voted 41-7 Thursday to approve it. The bill now goes to Gov. Eric Holcomb for consideration. 

During earlier debate in the Senate, Democratic senators spoke against the IndyGo measure because they said it would hurt the transit system financially and its efforts to expand rapid transit services. 

But Freeman and other supporters argued it’s unfair for public utilities to pay the costs of relocating utility lines that could result in higher costs to ratepayers. 

Senate Democrats also contended it was another example of the Republican-controlled Senate trying to impose its will on the Democrat-led city of Indianapolis. Also, IndyGo supporters have said other governmental bodies are not required to pay utility companies if they have to relocate lines in public right-of-ways.  

 The provision would have required IndyGo to reimburse all utility companies for relocating utility lines beginning retroactively with the work done by Citizens Energy, AES Indiana and any others for the Red Line, which has been in operation for 18 months, and in the future for the planned Purple and Blue Lines. The estimated utility costs for the Red Line alone was $7.94 million for Citizens Energy and $500,000 for AES. 

 Freeman said Thursday that the provision was also in response to his concerns over IndyGo’s plan to reduce the regular traffic to one lane each way on W. Washington Street to make way for the proposed Blue Line rapid bus lanes. He said that was unacceptable on a busy street like Washington.  

 He also reiterated his concerns that IndyGo is not living up to stipulations in a 2014 law calling for certain percentages of IndyGo’s funds to come from private sources and from fares. He said he’s tried to negotiate with IndyGo officials about those percentages, but he contended IndyGo officials are not negotiating in good faith with him. 

 IndyGo has disagreed with his contentions and said it is complying with the provisions.  

 Freeman recognized the 2014 law has a loophole because no repercussions or penalties exist if IndyGo does not meet those standards.  

“We have to address this issue sometime,” Freeman contended. “I’m not going away.” 

 The final version of the bill, minus the IndyGo provision, also didn’t please everyone.  

 In the House, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said provisions prohibit local governments from taking some steps to help control climate change. 

 “I don’t think we should tie the hands of local government,” he said. 

 The Hoosier Environmental Council opposed the entire bill because its “underlying purpose is to seriously weaken local government control over energy-related matters,” a news release said. 

HEC objects to several parts of the bill and also opposed the IndyGo provision. The release said the bill strips the rights of cities and counties to ban energy resources that emit high levels of carbon/greenhouse gas or pose health risks. 

 HEC also disapproves of language that strips the rights of local government to require sustainable energy design features in privately owned buildings in their jurisdictions. 

 The bill, according to HEC, sends a “discouraging signal to several cities that want to translate their climate-related goals and plans into local-level legislation—legislation that could be pre-empted by the Indiana General Assembly in a future legislative session.” 

 Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, criticized the bill earlier this week before being removed as one of the bill’s conferees and replaced by a Republican.  

 “This bill is another attempt by Republicans in the state Legislature to dictate to local elected officials about how best to run their city, town or county government,” she said in an emailed statement. “The bill is undemocratic and undermines the will of the people by superseding the folks they voted into office. 

 She said more than 15 cities in Indiana, represented by both Republican and Democratic mayors, are actively planning to address climate change, but this bill eliminates their ability to take action. 

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17 thoughts on “UPDATE: IndyGo escapes financial hit from Legislature, but fight is not over

  1. Does anyone know if it’s possible for IndyGo to fast track the Blue Line before the next legislative session? They should do that, if possible, so too much money has been spent and too much construction occurred to undo anything. The Statehouse needs to let Indianapolis manage its own affairs. It’s ridiculous that the State even had the right to ban Indianapolis from building light rail.

    1. Fast-tracking construction would not have saved IndyGo had the Freeman amendment passed because its reach was retro-active, which is very unusual for any legislation.

    2. I think IndyGo is in the very early phases of Blue Line planning – and planning stopped entirely during this legislative session. It would take an enormous amount of resources to get Blue Line construction started this year.

    3. Yes lets rush the Blue Line into operation so we can have two BRTs running that are used by very few.

    4. I think it’s ridiculous that anyone believes Indianapolis can support light rail.

  2. Ummm… is Sen. Freeman or any of his like-minded colleagues aware that utility companies are routinely obliged to move or relocate their facilities located in the public right-of-way for a wide variety of roadway, bridge, and other public infrastructure projects? It is a common and regular practice in every project in the public ROW. This misguided provision intended to punish IndyGo would end up punishing every town, municipality, and county in the state, including INDOT.

    1. Without wading through the text, I’d guess the bill was probably written to apply only in “counties with first class cities”. That’s how other Indianapolis-only laws are written, because Indiana has exactly one first class city.

      But even that would hurt Lawrence, Speedway, and Beech Grove, none of which are in Sen. Freeman’s district.

    2. Freeman’s just too much of a chicken to do what he wants – which is shut IndyGo down – because that would be very unpopular. So he keeps coming up with “concerns” and new hoops to make them jump through.

      If only INDOT or the Indy Eleven were held to the same scrutiny…

      These lines mean the federal government to help pay to fix our crumbling infrastructure and Freeman’s willing to throw that all away over bus lanes. I missed the bill where he proposed fixing Washington Street without federal funds coming from the Blue Line…

  3. I am grateful to IndyGo. As I age, I look for motivations to keep hanging on… I can add to my list the day when IndyGo, very quietly and with little fanfare, dismantle the red, blue, and/or purple BnsRT (Bus not so Rapid Transit) lines without acknowledging their failure to achieve their stated objectives, much less the monies wasted on them. Ahhh, to be employed in government without appropriate accountability.

    1. You don’t seem to have much of a life left if all you have to cling on to is waiting around to see the viability of a bus route. But, my prediction is IndyGo public transit will be moving people along long after you are gone.

  4. Lawrence, please review the criteria per Federal Transit Administration for building Bus Rapid Transit. Note that ridership projections are based on operating during normal conditions not during a pandemic when ridership at transit agencies across the nation have decreased by up to 65%. Please note that the Red Line in particular is still among the best performing IndyGo routes in terms of ridership, along with Rt 39 – East 38th St, Rt 8 – Washington St, and Rt 10 – 10th Street. Please also note that the key improvement element other than BRT, including systemwide frequency improvements and route realignments to a grid, have not yet been implemented.

    Also, review of the reams of documentation on transit planning will show a Small Starts project such as the Red Line is based on improving travel time and reliability based on current corridor ridership — in this case about 7,000 which the Red Line did meet; the projected 10,000 daily ridership which is a future number. If you research new systems that have opened nationwide, ridership on initial weeks is always high, then decreases, then rises over the next several months. And, if you research these topics and review actual data, it would show that ridership for Small Starts projects should reach projections at 18 to 24 months – not immediately.

    Please review other bus rapid transit (BRT) lines in other cities. Bus Rapid Transit is a mode between regular bus service with frequent stops and light rail which is more appropriate for corridor with ridership in excess of 10,000 daily. BRT ridership ranges between 3,000 to 12,000 daily, depending on the design. Orange Line BRT in LA is a high design, an exclusive busway in a previous rail corridor. BRT in most cities however is on street, with special lanes, with some commingling with traffic and with traffic signal coordination — and for that reason BRT is a compromise – faster bus service and stops every quarter to one-half mile (instead of every 330 or 660 feet) and fixed stations with shelter and information comparable to a rail system. It is not the fastest, but it is significantly less costly than other types of rapid transit. And, most important, it is appropriate for ridership levels in Indianapolis.

    Furthermore, for projects justified per Federal Transit Administration guidance for a horizon year of 2040 (yes, planning for transit and roadways are based on projections at least 20 years in the future and may include interim checkpoints), the ridership estimates are given for opening day and for the horizon years. This information is document in the project application to the Federal Transit Administration and the related required environmental documentation – a Document Categorical Exclusion, an Environmental Assessment, or and Environmental Impact Statement – per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which must be completed for transit and roadway projects. And, please note that light rail would have been more rapid, but more cost, and would be in a single corridor — and most importantly, is against the law in Indiana.

    The Red, Purple and Blue line are designated in the busiest transit corridors of the city base on current ridership and carry over 40% of IndyGo’s daily system ridership. These are not new corridors but an improvement of services which previously operated along College, Meridian, 38th, and Washington. If the pleasant stations were to disappear and bus stops returned to every 660 ft, this would not benefit transit users, nor would it improve traffic by any significant measure. IndyGo is a public agency and must provide information requested. Accountability is maintained in the required reporting monthly (to board) and annually (National Transit Database) as expressed through performance measures such as cost per passenger and per passenger-mile, cost per mile, cost per hour, operating ratio, miles between roadcalls, on time reliability and other factors related to vehicle maintenance, fuel costs, and staff performance.

    Transit is bound by rules and regulations, both local and national. To infer there is no accountability is incorrect. Projects receiving grants from the Federal Transit Administration are bound by rules and regulations for how and when the funds are spent and reporting throughout construction and reporting after the project is build and performance trends established. One reiterates, the pandemic creates reduced transit riders, reduced roadway volumes, and reduced trips nationwide. To expect transit to exhibit normal ridership or performance projections in a year that has faced a significant downturn in business activity, trips, circulations and all aspects of life is counterintuitive if not foolhardy. Comparison to projects nationwide will show that IndyGo improvement are indeed cost-effective and a great return of federal dollar to Indianapolis – monies well utilized.

    1. Come on, Derek, you can’t expect the naysayers to read more than 140 characters or to know some actual facts.

    2. Derek,
      I read every word and all I see are the continuation of IndyGo talking points.

    3. I agree Scott G, it’s nice to nice to see IndyGo’s facts from professional planners being spread, rather than baseless innuendo from lay people and loudmouth politicians about things like traffic counts on Washington.

  5. Not sure how many times the “build it and they will come” approach to mass transit has to be proven not to work. That’s what we’ve done in Indianapolis with the Red Line and it is clearly not working. The Blue Line is even worse of an idea. Eliminating three of five traffic lanes for a bus service that few people will utilize will devastate businesses on West Washington Street.

    Indianapolis is one of the least dense larger cities in the country. That’s why mass transit struggles here, and will continue to struggle here regardless of how much money is spent Plus, there is the fact that transportation options have been changing dramatically in the 21st Century and the pandemic has resulted in fewer people having to travel to work, especially in congested cities. That change is likely to survive post-pandemic. With the new bus system, taxpayers are spending a small fortune on a bus system that is an antiquated method of transportation. Sending heavy buses around to pick up a handful of people to transport them using a hub and spoke system is not efficient or wise.

    1. Well the Tax payers voted to fit the bill for the redline. I will be happy when they finely finish every part they said we would have. Like an app payment and so forth. Give me what we agreed to. Time for our city to take this step to move past cars only transit.

  6. Seems to me, Freeman has no concern for those who must use public transportation. He is one of the reasons Indianapolis has suffered with subpar public transportation for many years prior. I call it narrow minded thinking where everything is fine as it is, no need to change anything. Thank God mayor’s Lugar and Hudnut didn’t think that way, Indianapolis would still be Naptown.

    The price of SUV’s, trucks and cars getting more and more expensive each year. Who’s gonna be able to afford payments of 500 dollars and more a month for 84 months. Salaries aren’t rising with the cost of everything else.

    Public transportation will look great in the future with extra high car payments and gas prices over $3 a gallon. Large percentages of Millennials aren’t all that interested in SUV’s, trucks and cars as were previous generations.

    Think of the future, anything that lives grows and changes over time. Losing a couple of lanes will slow down the traffic and give you a chance to enjoy the sights.

    No I don’t work for IndyGo but I do think Freeman needs to think about more than just himself and his small corner of the world. If IndyGo owes monies for whatever reason, give them a chance to pay it back over time and continue to build the system.

    We Americans vote, pay taxes and listen to promises made, time and time again only to see nothing change. At least they (IndyGo) are trying to improve.