The Road to Better Mass TransitJune 22nd, 2012 at 3:44 pm by Eric Halvorson under Eric Halvorson's Blog
Last winter, the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority hoped to win legislative approval for its mass transit plans. The proposal hit a road block. Ehren Bingaman, CIRTA’s Executive Director, says “the debate about transit never really got to occur” because other issues were inserted into the bill. And that “cost us the issue.”
The transit campaign isn’t over though. Like road construction, it never stops.
Bingaman is a passionate advocate of the dream to improve bus service and, maybe, add light rail to central Indiana. He’ll go wherever he’s invited to discuss the idea. To find new support for the plan. That’s why I sat down with him, recently, in a recording studio at My107.9 — to find out what he and CIRTA are doing now.
“We have to have a long-term vision. What we’re doing with transit requires marathon runners not sprinters,” Bingaman told me.
WHAT DOES CIRTA WANT?
Simply put, the transit plan would connect the counties of central Indiana. It would double the bus service as it exists today. It would increase the hours of operation and the frequency of service. The designers envision “bus rapid transit” — with buses operating like trains, using their own lane in the street, always getting a green light as they move back and forth between downtown and the suburbs.
There’s also the hope that we could see actual trains running from Noblesville into Indianapolis. “That can be done in the first ten years, if we’re successful in getting the revenue to invest in the plan,” Bingaman said.
That revenue matter proved to be part of the problem.
“The thing that we were asking the General Assembly for,” Bingaman told me, “wasn’t for them to increase any taxes and dedicate funding for transit.” Instead, it was to approve a referendum option so counties could make that decision on their own. That would mean voters in those counties would approve a new tax to pay for the tracks. It seems that was too close to a regular tax increase in the eyes of some legislators.
WHAT IS CIRTA DOING NOW?
Bingaman and his team are working with their partners now — and looking for more of them — in advance of the next legislative session. He says the current supporters have provided 99 resolutions declaring their desire to see more transit funding and to see that local residents have the chance to vote on a transit referendum. And, it would be an option, Bingaman said. Not a requirement. Marion and Hamilton Counties could vote first. The others could wait and watch — to see if the system would work for them.
Bingaman said it’s a matter of education.
You can hear the entire interview at 6 o’clock, Sunday morning, on My1079 and on WZPL. The program will also be broadcast at various times on WXNT 1430-AM.
WHAT CAN WE DO WITHOUT THE PLAN?
This is where we talk about the traditional alternatives to one person, one car. Walking. Biking. Carpooling. It’s a recognition that the current bus schedules don’t suit everyone. For me, for example, with a little creativity, I could ride a bus to WISH-TV. But, my work day ends too late to get a ride home. So I drive. It’s for such reasons they created “Commuter Connect“.
Patricia Castaneda of CIRTA works with businesses that want to find better ways for their employees to get to and from work. With over 400 companies in its system, Commuter Connect can match people who want to share a ride, once in awhile.
The planners even have a little built-in insurance, in case something comes up that keeps you and your carpool partner apart. It’s the option of a free cab ride home.
Those are things we can consider as we wait to see what legislators do with the proposal.
Until then, watch for CIRTA booths at local festivals and fairs. Transit planners have arranged to have their own day at the State Fair in August. Then, after the election in November, they may do some advertising for their message.
Bingaman said he’s “optimistic about where we stand with the General Assembly and what we hope to accomplish next year. We’re optimistic about people’s attitudes toward transit. We have a lot of indicators that make us think this is going to be successful.”