Vote ‘Yes’ on November 8 for Reliable, Effective Mass Transit

Photo courtesy Indy Chamber

by Greg Ballard

On November 8, Question 2 on the ballot will ask you to vote yes or no on a Marion County income tax increase of up to 0.25 percent (a quarter of 1 percent) to improve public transportation service. I encourage you to vote YES for the sake of your neighborhood and our city.

Indianapolis is a city with a world class reputation in many areas. We have so many accomplishments and amenities of which we can be proud. Yet we still have some significant needs to be addressed. One of these is reliable, effective mass transit.

Let’s be clear. Effective mass transit is about economic development, in a number of ways. First, the phenomenon of transit-oriented development is real. Many cities can verify this; the HealthLine, Cleveland’s first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, is a great example. It connects two of the largest regional employment areas, Downtown and University Circle, to residential areas along the Euclid corridor. It has spurred $6.3 billion in economic development. This results in a larger property tax base—new revenue that was not available before the introduction of effective mass transit—that pays for police, fire, schools, and other city services.

TOD infographic using data from from MPO report: Red Line Transit Oriented Development Strategic Plan. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Next, people naturally move to transit corridors, many of them from outside the city or county. This results in a larger income tax base. Again, much of that is new revenue because people today, particularly millennials and seniors, want a more urban lifestyle and will move to get it. Look at who is moving into our own Downtown to see this effect.

Also, it’s incredibly difficult for many people to move into the middle class without effective mass transit. It is well known that inadequate mass transit is an inhibitor to economic mobility. In other words, effective mass transit helps people get to work, which improves their lives and creates a more equitable city. Asking low-wage earners to buy cars they can’t afford just so they can get to work or run basic errands somehow doesn’t seem fair.

I could tell you story after story on this point, but one sticks out in my mind more than any other. While I was Mayor, a woman in Devington told me how she had to take off an entire day of work, as an hourly worker, and use three buses to get to a medical specialist on the west side of Indianapolis. She didn’t get paid that day. Those of us on salary would hop in the car, drive 15 minutes, see the doctor, and be back at work in two hours, losing not one penny of income. That doesn’t seem fair to me. The roads belong to everyone, not just those with cars. We can do better.

Finally, the talent attraction phenomenon is real. Many people want mobility options as a part of their quality of life. Many studies verify this. Effective mass transit is a vital component of the mobility options that people, especially young adults and seniors, look for when deciding where to live. City planners across the nation know that Millennials do not care nearly as much about owning a car as Baby Boomers used to. Millennials want mobility options. When we built the Cultural Trail, increased trails and bike lanes, and added BlueIndy, then the nation, and even the world, noticed. The social media hits were enormous. We created a “buzz” about Indianapolis as an attractive place to live.

In the last two years, multiple surveys conducted by outside agencies verified that college graduates were moving into our city at a much faster rate than ever before. Building the type of city that people want to live in really works. It attracts talent. Businesses will tell you this also, and they want to hire that talent. Again, new residents increase the income tax base.

As tangible proof, look at Virginia Avenue. Six years ago, that was a dark, dreary corridor. Then the Cultural Trail was built, connecting Downtown to Fountain Square, and now the Virginia Avenue/Shelby Street corridor is flush with great restaurants and tremendous residential options, along with other amenities. Only one thing changed in that area: The Cultural Trail was built. The increase in assessed value along and around the Cultural Trail is estimated to be over a billion dollars. One company that wanted to greatly expand their presence in Indianapolis made it known they wanted to be near the Cultural Trail. It’s a talent attractor that increases both income and property tax revenues that support public services.

The Red Line will be developed first because of the potential along this historic transit corridor. There is plenty of room for increased residential density along that route, and it also connects people in neighborhoods to major work centers, universities, and Downtown.

Because the first all-electric Bus Rapid Transit Line is unique in this country, the federal Department of Transportation gave Indianapolis $2 million for design and engineering [PDF]. It is also willing to help with the capital costs of the initial leg to be built, which is unusual in today’s economic climate. That is a very strong signal of support.

Since 2009, the Indy Connect initiative has conducted one of the largest public outreach efforts in the history of Indianapolis. In public meetings, presentations, and group discussions, they gathered input, ideas, and feedback on plans for what made sense for Indianapolis residents. They studied data, population maps, density, and opportunities. This thorough, thoughtful, and inclusive public process included tens of thousands of people.

The result is a transit plan that addresses our most significant needs. Part of it is already completed or under way. The Julia M. Carson Transit Center is open and operational. Construction on Phase One of the Red Line could begin in 2017, serving our busiest corridor of jobs and residents from Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis.

This transit referendum is about economic mobility and talent attraction. It’s about a 70 percent increase in service throughout the system—longer hours and running every route, every day—so that riders can get where they need to go when they need to be there. And it’s about building Bus Rapid Transit, the Blue and Purple Lines, along the next two busiest corridors in our city.

In a divisive election year, more than 60 percent of Indianapolis residents support the Marion County Transit Plan, cutting across partisan lines. The time is now. We must pass this referendum so that we can provide opportunity for all of our city’s residents. Please join me in voting YES on Question 2 in support of the Marion County Transit Plan, and continue to move Indianapolis forward.

Greg Ballard is the former mayor of Indianapolis (2008-2015). Follow him on Twitter @MayorBallard