Editorial: IndyGo stuck in pothole of its own making

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We’re on record as strong supporters of IndyGo and others leading our city’s mass transit movement, but the zinging they’re getting in the final days of the Legislature is wholly deserved.

When state lawmakers in 2014 authorized a 0.25-percentage-point increase in the city’s income tax rate to fund IndyGo operations and new services, they did so contingent on IndyGo’s providing a 10% match, raised from only private sources, such as employers whose workers were in desperate need of better transit. It was a compromise, replacing earlier language that would have imposed a tax on corporations to cover 10% of IndyGo’s operating costs.

You can debate how the bill was written: It’s a notable flaw that the 2014 measure included no punishment if IndyGo failed to raise those contributions.

Yet how events are now playing out suggests IndyGo’s board and other leaders of the mass-transit movement merely hoped the match would be forgotten—even though the dollars at play make that outcome highly unlikely. The take hike raises about $60 million a year, making the annual match about $6 million.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, an Indianapolis Republican, won Senate approval on March 3 for legislation that would put teeth in the 2014 law by requiring the state to withhold 10% of IndyGo’s local income tax revenue any year it failed to meet the private funding threshold.

It’s the sort of hardball tactic lawmakers would have been unlikely to pursue had IndyGo shown substantial progress—maybe any progress—in raising donations. But that’s not the case. A new foundation to collect gifts is only now getting rolling.

It’s a sad testament to the state of affairs that the new foundation didn’t announce its first major donation until March 2, and the amount of the gift, which was from the Central Indiana Community Foundation, was just $35,000.

Lawmakers also might have been willing to give IndyGo more leeway if its rapid-transit Red Line, which debuted Sept. 1, hadn’t been so plagued with problems—from an initial shortage of drivers to software glitches and battery-powered buses that run out of juice prematurely.

It’s clear that IndyGo’s problems and stumbles aren’t the fault of Inez Evans, IndyGo’s new CEO, who didn’t join the transit system until August.

But they underscore the gravity of the challenges she faces. If IndyGo is to move forward with the next phases of its rapid-transit system—which we believe is crucial to the economic vitality of a huge swath of the city’s workers—it must shore up the community’s confidence in its ability to operate effectively and avoid future political gaffes.

IndyGo might still extricate itself from this one (and we hope it does, since it’s IndyGo’s ridership that would bear the brunt of the penalties). Freeman attached the IndyGo language as an amendment to a bill addressing northwestern Indiana transit. It now returns to the House, which will decide whether to bless it.

Win or lose, IndyGo will need to repair the damage to its reputation. It must do better from here.•


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2 thoughts on “Editorial: IndyGo stuck in pothole of its own making

  1. Predictably, the whining, moaning and gnashing of teeth has begun. But the reality is exactly as the editorial details the situation. IndyGo had the obligation to raise 10% from private sources – and essentially blew off that obligation and have expansion plans to further fall behind the 10% mandate. Folks like to tout how important and universally supported IndyGo initiatives are – if true, then fundraising for the 10% should be an easy task. The only thing the proposed bill does is actually require IndyGo to perform against its previously established obligation. IndyGo was glad to get the financial support at the time the 10% bogey was established, now they are being asked/required to live up to their obligation as a condition of that support. Private sector organizations understand that concept; government – not so much.

  2. Why is the penalty that 10% of the referendum tax be withheld? And what happens to that money if it never goes to IndyGo? The bill doesn’t seem to say, which makes me think this legislation is worse than the original law with its imprecision.

    By signing into law a “requirement” with no teeth, there was effectively no requirement. Enacting a penalty on the tax payers now and claiming that this is all about keeping promises and “shoring up confidence” is ridiculous and hypocritical for editors who claim to be “strong supporters of IndyGo” and who “believe [rapid-transit] is crucial”.

    This is just plain bad law-making for the sake of scoring points, at the expense of tax-payers and those who would benefit from an improved bus system. There are better and more appropriate ways to help fix the issues that IndyGo has had bringing rapid-transit to Indy. Grow up.