Public Encourages Council to Vote Yes on Fully Funded Transit Tax

by Thomas P. Healy

Transit supporters packed the City-County Council chambers on Monday, January 30, to encourage council members to fully fund the Marion County Transit Plan.

At issue was Proposal No. 3, 2017, [PDF] introduced January 9 by council president Maggie Lewis, which would impose an additional local income tax for transit. Fred Biesecker, the council’s attorney, explained that since the November referendum passed, the Council now has to decide whether to levy a dedicated tax to fund transit and at what level. The Council could opt not to enact the tax or it could enact a tax at a lower level than the maximum 0.25 percent specified by the referendum.

Biesecker noted that money generated by the tax would accrue to a dedicated public transit fund. The Council would control allocations from it and funds could be used for public transit only.

IndyGo president and CEO Mike Terry and Roscoe Brown Jr., IndyGo’s vice president of operations and chief operating officer, outlined the challenges IndyGo faces in serving a 400-square-mile territory. Brown noted that while IndyGo buses are safe, the useful life of a bus is 12 years and many of IndyGo’s buses are older than 13. “This increases maintenance costs and is inefficient,” he said.

Bryan Luellen, IndyGo’s director of marketing and customer information, made the longest presentation with a series of slides outlining the plan’s overhaul of service. “Currently we have a hub and spoke system. All routes lead downtown,” he said. Luellen said that with full funding the transit plan would provide better service through a grid network that allows for lateral movement.

Isochrone depicts expanded accessibility to rider living at 46th and Central Ave. if the Marion County Transit Plan receives full funding. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Additionally, Luellen said that the dedicated pool of funding would permit IndyGo to purchase new buses and expand passenger amenities such as covered shelters and sidewalks. IndyGo would also extend daily service hours and increase weekend service. To illustrate his point, he showed several slides comparing current service with projected future service.

For example, a resident at 46th Street and Central Avenue, in District 7, would have access to 37% more jobs within a one-hour commute. (See illustration.) One slide brought gasps and applause from the crowd. It depicted improved access in District 4, where a resident near 56th Street and Post Road would see a 2,665% percent increase in accessibility to jobs within a one-hour commute.

The maps, called isochrones, are a transit-analysis tool that illustrates the expanded reach the proposed network would have. While acknowledging that the plan doesn’t extend transit service to all residents in the county, Luellen said that the increased frequency would improve transit access for most residents who currently have access. “It’s a network, not any one line,” he said.

But one route was on everybody’s mind: the Red Line electric Bus Rapid Transit line. Luellen addressed the concern many feel over congressional inaction on the appropriations bill that contains authorization for the U.S. Department of Transportation Small Starts Grant that IndyGo was awarded in 2016 for the Red Line. “We can build the Red Line without the Small Starts grant,” he said. Additionally, if the Council fully funds Proposal 3, Luellen said IndyGo could build out the entire network without federal funds. “It will just take longer,” he said.

If the Council approves full funding, Luellen said IndyGo would create a new public transit foundation to seek additional funds and help ensure that 10% of revenue for the transit plan would come from nontax sources. He also confirmed that a modest 25-cent fare increase could be phased in over the course of eight years.

With full funding of the Marion County Transit Plan IndyGo will be able to install passenger amenities like this proposed Red Line station. Image courtesy of IndyGo. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Several councilors from Midtown districts spoke prior to public testimony. Duke Oliver said that since his District 9 constituents voted overwhelmingly in support of the tax increase, he would support the measure as well. District 7 representative Joe Simpson expressed concern about the impacts on low-income residents of the proposed new tax. Monroe Gray, District 8, asked many questions but his position remains unclear. Colleen Fanning reported that she had received lots of comments from her District 2 constituents and highlighted the economic benefits of enhancing the historic College Avenue transit corridor as grounds for her support. She also asked to be listed as a co-sponsor of Proposal 3.

Public testimony was lengthy and passionate. While some citizens opposed the tax increase on principle, the majority detailed how important improved service would be. One person said more transit riders would have attended to testify but were worried about lack of late-evening service for the trip home.

The ordinance will be sent to three committees for additional discussion and public comment: Municipal Corporations, Public Works, and Rules and Public Policy. Only the Rules and Public Policy committee will vote and send a recommendation to the full council. Its next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on February 21, in room 260 of the City-County Building. Proposal 3 is expected to be heard again by the full council for a vote on final adoption at its February 27 meeting. If adopted, revenues would begin to accrue to the dedicated transit fund in autumn.