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IndyGo should be held accountable

IndyGo should be held accountable
By State Sen. Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis)

In 2014, IndyGo and many public entities asked the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow six counties to offer a referendum to raise taxes in order to create three new rapid transit lines. Of the six counties, only Marion County chose to proceed with the program. The bill, as originally introduced, required a 10% tax on downtown business. The bill was a non-starter and was not going to pass as introduced. The compromise was to allow the referendum to raise taxes if IndyGo agreed to raise 10% of their revenue from sources other than taxes and fares, and 25% from fares (revenue from those who actually ride the bus service). The bill passed the legislature and the City-County Council approved the referendum in 2016.

In December of 2019, as a member of the Indiana State Senate, I asked IndyGo how much money they had raised pursuant to the 10% requirement found in Indiana Code 8-25-3-6. The answer was zero dollars. For comparison, taxpayers in Marion County paid $54 million in 2018, $56.8 million in 2019, $59.9 million in 2020, and will pay an estimated $63.5 million in 2021 for a grand total, thus far, of $234 million to finance IndyGo since the referendum went into effect. Again, IndyGo had raised zero dollars through private donations as of December 2019. The Indiana Attorney General recently considered the provision in I.C. 8-25-3-6 and determined that IndyGo is required to raise that 10% of their funding through private donations.

IndyGo has also failed to meet their responsibility to raise 25% of their revenue from fares. According to their own numbers, IndyGo raised 16% of their revenue from fares – 10% in 2018, 8% in 2019, 10% in 2020 and an estimate of 5% in 2021.

IndyGo promised the citizens of Marion County there would be 11,000 riders per day on the Red Line, once opened. Before COVID-19, the Red Line opened in September of 2019 and the service was completely free to the public. That month, which was their peak month, 8,212 people rode the Red Line. Ridership only declined in the following months, with 6,685 riders in October, 5,992 in November and only 4,334 in December (the last month the service was offered for free). All of this was taking place before the pandemic of 2020. In addition, IndyGo has eliminated over 500 local bus stops, forcing people who do ride IndyGo to walk farther to get to a bus line.

IndyGo is simply not sustainable. Beginning in 2022, IndyGo will have a budget shortfall of $4.8 million. In 2023, IndyGo’s own numbers project a budget shortfall of $20.9 million. In 2024, they project a budget shortfall of $34.3 million. Finally, in 2025, IndyGo anticipates a $35.2 million shortfall. To help alleviate these bankrupting numbers, IndyGo is in search of any available federal grant dollars, and those federal grants come with huge strings. For example, IndyGo wants to make Washington Street, from the county line in Hancock County to the county line in Hendricks County, a dedicated bus lane in each direction, restricting vehicle traffic on Washington Street to one lane in each direction. Even more concerning, IndyGo plans to put bus stations in the middle of Washington Street, eliminating the turn lane and requiring IPS students to cross the extremely busy street every day to board the bus. This is incredibly dangerous and unnecessary.

For the second consecutive year in the General Assembly, I brought a bill to hold IndyGo accountable for not holding up their end of the deal they made with Marion County taxpayers. IndyGo has not yet bid the Purple Line, which would run northeast of Marion County from downtown. Nor have they bid the Blue Line, which would run the length of Washington Street. However, IndyGo refuses to pay any of the required 10% or honor the 25% requirement.

Federal dollars are available for IndyGo to either share lanes of travel with the commuting public or to have dedicated lanes, which would restrict lanes of travel from cars. If IndyGo would simply bid shared lanes, the commuting public would not experience the traffic congestion bound to come. However, IndyGo is in search of the most federal dollars available, meaning they will eliminate lanes of travel from cars in order to receive a higher grant amount.

Indianapolis residents did not know when they voted in November of 2016 that lanes of travel would be removed from them in order to accommodate dedicated bus lanes. For anyone who thinks the dedicated bus lanes for the Red Line are bad, I suggest to you that you have not seen anything yet. If you live northeast of downtown, east of downtown, or west of downtown, your commute is going to get much, much worse with the loss of two lanes of travel for cars.

Simply put, IndyGo is out of control, has no oversight, and will severely harm the residents of Marion County who commute to work by car. Taxpayers continue to hold up their end of the bargain, while IndyGo fails to meet theirs. By their own numbers, IndyGo is not sustainable, the ridership as promised has failed miserably, and the commuting public is about to experience major gridlock once lanes of travel are restricted to only bus service.

The citizens of Marion County deserve better. I, for one, will continue to do all I can to stand up for the taxpaying citizens of Marion County and the residents of the southeast part of Marion County that I represent. The citizens of Marion County need a robust bus service to help those who need it get to and from work or other appointments. However, I strongly disagree that bus rapid transit lines that will eliminate multiple lanes of travel are necessary.