Mass Transit Plan Update

By: Scott P. Fisher

The Carmel Chamber of Commerce recently held a luncheon where the topic was the Mass Transit plan of the Central Indiana Mass Transit Authority, a group of various individuals and entities who developed the plan.  It was an interesting discussion and I would encourage anyone who is interested in the topic to try to attend one of these informational sessions.  As the plan moves through the General Assembly, I’m sure there will be more.

So what is the Mass Transit Plan?  The plan proposes a phased approach to implementation of the bus and rail portion – with Phase One beginning in Marion and Hamilton counties and primarily built out within 10-years (by 2021).  Additional contiguous counties could choose to join sometime during that time period and the system would be built out within that county as suggested in the plan.  Essentially, the plan calls for light rail from Noblesville to Union Station.  Other elements include dedicated Rapid Bus service from Carmel to downtown where the bus would have control of the lights at intersections and stops would only be every half mile rather than every block.  There is also expanded bus service in Marion County and newly created bus service in Hamilton County.  For more information on the details of the Pass Transit Plan, see the dedicated Indy Connect website.

So how do you pay for it?  First, the General Assembly this Spring would have to authorize a referendum in the counties which seek to be a part of the Transit program.  Representative Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, has proposed HB 1073, the bill which authorize the referendum. That referendum would take place in November, 2012.  The voters would then have to authorize a new income tax of .02%.  The Central Indiana Mass Transit Authority originally asked for .03% but Rep. Espich’s bill only authorizes a referendum for .02%.  This amounts to about $200 per $100,000 of income.  The Transit Authority would utilize this tax, the current property taxes dedicated to IndyGo, Federal and State Funds and rider fares to construct and operate the System.  Note that the System would not be self sustaining.  The nationwide average for operating expenses of transit systems is only about 25% rider fares.  The rest of the operating costs come from other sources including Federal and state taxes.  This System would likewise rely heavily on subsidies from Federal and state taxes and the .02% income tax.

So how likely is it to pass?  At this point, HB 1073 is awaiting a vote in the House Ways & Means Committee, a committee with 25 members.  Rep. Espich has stated only one lawmaker has expressed support, Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington.  Espich, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said he is hesitant to bring it to a vote in Ways & Means and see it soundly defeated.  The lack of support could be tied to the on-going rolling walk out by the Democrats in the House due to the Right to Work legislation, which is making it difficult to bring bills like HB 1073 for a vote, or possibly the fact that the Mass Transit Plan in its current form is viewed simply as a central-Indiana issue with the legislature, by and large, having other regional or state-wide priorities this session.  Regardless, despite the momentum gained by the new plan, a referendum on mass transit may have to wait.