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The City Beat


Posted 2:50 PM by


Last year’s idea of having a referendum to see whether votes in Marion and Hamilton Counties want to be taxed to pay for an improved public transportation system in the two counties is once again before the Indiana legislature.  The biggest problem, at least for me, is that the real debate in the legislature seems to be over whether Marion and Hamilton County voters ought to be able to vote on a proposal.  You might think that our legislature assumes voters are idiots, or, perhaps just that voters, on the whole, actually think a lot differently about individual issues than  about the stuff that these legislatures came up with for campaign issues.  I suppose you do have to worry, if you, as a local legislator, voted against letting your constituents decide something for themselves, and it turned out that you were wrong.    It’s a lot safer to let folks vote, and if the vote goes against you, there will be plenty of time, before your next election, to criticize their choice. 


The idea certainly has more local support than it did last year, but it still has some detractors, mostly among more conservative Republicans and more than a few Libertarian commentators.  Mostly, the detractors believe that government shouldn’t do much that the private sector could do, and even if it does some things that private companies don’t do, that stuff ought to somehow pay for itself.  The military is pretty much exempt from this argument, though it would be nice if we’d turn some of the places we’re fighting in, into profitable colonies.  Anyway, since public transportation isn’t turning a profit, anywhere, the idea of expanding it, and paying to expand it, isn’t ever going to be a popular idea for folks who feel that way.


So, if you’re starting from the idea that public transportation is a bad idea, it’s reasonable to look for reasons why improving what you already have  doesn’t make sense, other than just being fundamentally opposed to anything that doesn’t make a profit.   In this case, that turns the argument to the fact that not many people use the current system, or that there are plenty of alternatives out there (like using cars) that work just as well, or, the newest one, that central Indiana has too many places people want to go (and too many places they’re starting from) so improving public transportation isn’t ever going to work.


Now it’s true that unless the Superbowl is held here, not many people use public transportation.   Well, given the “it ought to pay for itself” mentality that applies funding for the current system, it’s a wonder anyone uses it at all.  Almost all routes currently take you to and from downtown (only) and even the most travelled routes don’t run very often.  As long as the wait for a bus is longer than the ride you’re waiting t take, the alternatives are going to be a lot more popular, and it’s going to limit ridership to those who don’t have access to alternatives.  and you’ll still lose those folks who simply can’t get to where they need to be in the timeframe that they’re required to operate under.  If you’ve found a job in a place where transportation either doesn’t go, or doesn’t go during the times you need to be there and leave there, you’re not going to use it, and you’re probably not going to take that job unless you own a car.  So, if we can just make the current public transportation system bad enough that no one uses it, maybe it will be cheaper to buy the remaining fools who do try to ride it, cab rides, and actually save some money.  The ones who’ve given up trying to use it can just stay home.


Yup, with just a little less effort, we could have an even worse transit system that absolutely no one used, and we’d have the perfect argument to eliminate it altogether.  Those people we’re trying to attract to Indianapolis, the young, bright college graduates who are the job creators of tomorrow and don’t particularly want to own a car, are by definition, young.  They can walk or bike, since it hardly ever snows here, and it certainly never gets cold.  And, they’ll stay in great shape hiking from where they live to wherever they want to go, unless it’s say, Carmel.  If they’re at all interested in places like that, they should just live there.  


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