Waiting is Not the Answer for Regional Mass Transit

Originally posted: July 2, 2008

Four DePauw University students — Elizabeth Lunik, Tiffany Nichols, Anthony Baratta and Craig Melancon — wrote this letter to the editor in response to an Indianapolis Star column on the city’s mass transportation future.

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In his June 22 column, Star Editor Dennis Ryerson presented 10 reasons why mass transportation in Central Indiana would not succeed. Here are our counterpoints for why Indianapolis will seize the opportunity to invest in mass transportation.

Indianapolis does not have to choose between IndyGo, cars and a light rail system. The inadequacies of city bus systems can be cooperatively addressed when more people with a vested interest, such as Northeast Indianapolis communities, put positive pressure on the General Assembly and private industries for additional funding. More brainpower and financial support equals more creative and quick solutions.

Hoosiers like being independent and having choices, and that’s why a mass transit system will succeed. People would have an alternative to paying $4 a gallon gas to commute to work every day, and it would also give autonomy to a greater population such as the young, the elderly and those who cannot afford a car.

More people will benefit from mass transit than from highway improvements. According to the Indiana Department of Transportation, Indiana will spend $12 billion on highway construction and repairs between 2006-2015, highways that not every citizen in Indiana will drive on. Comparatively, mass transportation brings benefits to each region and paves the way for future regional integration, not to mention the added tourism, better land use and cost savings from gasoline.

Isolated suburban growth has become too expensive, both economically and environmentally. Expensive commutes limit potential employees who cannot travel to the city or suburbs when they live too far.

We need a better mass transit system before congestion becomes a sore point. According to the Indiana Business Research Center, the five fastest-growing counties in Indiana between 2000 and 2007 all surround Indianapolis.

Congestion is not the only issue. Mass transit would save people money. According to an ICF International 2007 report, public transportation in the United States reduces gasoline consumption by about 4.2 billion gallons a year. Furthermore, mass transportation would improve air quality. A 2008 State of the Air study by the American Lung Association gave Marion County the grade of “F” and reported that 865,000 people from the county qualify as “at risk” from the particle pollution.

Indianapolis is one of the most affordable housing metropolitan areas in the country, with faster population growth than larger metropolitans like San Diego. Concurrently, demand for smart-growth development is also rising; smart-growth communities should be available and affordable to anyone who wants to live there. The standard of secluded, single-family homes is becoming less prevalent, but we must stop favoring sprawling, automobile-dependent development. Greater density requires more mass transit. Second, there is growing potential for brownfield redevelopment in Indianapolis and elsewhere that will need to be supported by more buses. Smart-growth communities and brownfield redevelopment projects will soon become as integral to our cities as are mass transit systems.

Mass transit will help prevent the “brain drain.” College graduates will look for jobs in states that have good mass transportation, and Indiana should be one. Because of high fuel costs they will want to have the option of not having a car or minimizing its use.

Indianapolis is demanding mass transit by its use of IndyGo. According to IndyGo reports, ridership in April increased by 24 percent compared to a year ago, and May saw sustained growth with a 16.2 percent increase compared to last May. Some stops are showing even greater demand, with the 50 Red Line stops increasing by 48.7 percent.

Although it will take patience for the mass transit systems to be built, we know there has to be a starting point and that waiting is not the answer. A June 25 report by the Energy Information Administration found that world energy demand will grow by 50 percent over the next two decades and that oil prices could rise to $186 a barrel. Even if Americans begin to drive less, the modernization of China and India will offset reduction, keeping fuel costs high and creating a continued demand for mass transportation.

Clearly, a mass transportation system would benefit Indiana greatly. We encourage Indiana citizens to use their public bus system, debate and discuss the complexities of mass transit, and let their legislators know these facts as they allocate funding during the General Assembly in January.

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