Mayor, lawmakers clash over need to expand bus service, possibly add light rail

Legislators question need for expansion

INDIANAPOLIS - Mayor Greg Ballard and mass transit advocates are pushing for more bus lines and possibly light rail service in central Indiana. 

Ballard held firm and said it's essential to keep Indianapolis alive. 

The long-delayed mass transit hearings were held at the Statehouse on Monday, with Ballard and other advocates trying to convince skeptical legislators that something has to be done to improve the system.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers refused to allow a referendum in central Indiana on setting up an expanded transit system, but they agreed to further study the issue.

That's why Ballard was back with horror stories on the difficulty of dealing with the poor service here.

"A lady in Devington. Her doctor is in 56th and Georgetown. I know both of those areas very well,” Ballard said.  “I used to live in one, and I now live in the other. Two and a half hours one-way to get to the doctor. She has to take the day off to get to the doctor. That's what has to change."

But some lawmakers appeared more concerned with the impact of a tax increase on non-riders.

"We want to be very sensitive to anything that would impose a higher tax burden on them, regardless of the merit of the goal in and of itself," Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said.

Ballard raised the possibility of Indianapolis becoming another Detroit if it can't provide the services people want and need.

"If we do not become a city that is attractive to young families, young professionals, young businesses, then we are going to die. That's just the way I see it," Ballard said.

Some legislators are hostile to light rail and questioned IndyGo President Mike Terry on whether funding meant for buses might be shifted to trains.

"I wouldn't look at it as taking one away from the other as much as I'd look at, are you funding a comprehensive transit system and using the funding appropriately for whatever that mode would be in those corridors," Terry said.

Lawmakers were sympathetic to the need for more transit, but only so far. 

One lawmaker pointedly asked Ballard how much the system would have to be expanded and how much it would cost taxpayers to reduce that woman's two-and-a-half hour trip to the doctor. 

Ballard said there are many options for improving service.

If advocates can convince lawmakers to pass a transit bill in the next session, Marion and Hamilton county residents would vote in November, 2014 on whether to set up a transit district and increases taxes.

Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6

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