Another year, another round of budget shortfalls. The same old story for IndyGo, Indianapolis’ municipal transit provider. For the 2012 fiscal year, the short fall is expected to be $6.4 million short. At the core of the issue is existing funding sources drying up vs rising costs to do business mostly in the form of employee health care and gasoline expenses. Indeed, IndyGo has to fight for the same reasons that the Indianapolis Library system does. The recently passed property tax caps have put all taxpayer funded programs in a pinch this year. So, what do we do? According to a story in the Indianapolis Star, the IndyGo board decided to put the questions again to the Indianapolis City Council. Last night, the IndyGo board voted to adopt the 2012 budget and according to IndyGo President Mike Terry, “The IndyGo board adopted the balanced budget for 2012 which incorporated an excess property tax levy of $.023/100 assessed valuation which will net $6.4M necessary to fund the revenue and expense gap. The board’s decision was supportive of the public’s desire to not increase fares or reduce service for fixed route or para transit. The next step involves review by the city council via the municipal corporations committee. The council can approve the budget as presented, deny and leave us to operate within the 2011 revenue limits (service reductions/fare increases), or amend with revenue combinations and/or expense reductions.”
Perhaps one of the more interesting scenarios could come in the form of a denial from the council on the budget. If that were to happen, a multitude of cuts could come from reduced service, to higher fares, etc. With the coming Indiana session will come a renewed effort to create a local funding option for dedicated transit funding. Our local transit partners IndyGo, CIRTA & the MPO under the umbrella of Indyconnect will make another strong push to our state legislators to allow us to have a referendum to more fully fund transit. Could a reduction in service or rise in boarding fares create a favorable condition for legislators to vote YES on such a bill? That could be a key question facing our local transit leaders. St. Louis experienced a similar situation a couple years ago where a major cut in transit service resulted in a successful referendum campaign to raise taxes; that lead to a restoration of bus service as well as funding for new light rail lines.
Kevin covered what the potential cuts in service COULD look like a few weeks ago when he examined the 2010 IndyGo Comprehensive Operational Analysis. That document assessed the state of IndyGo’s system and how cuts to funding (or conversely new funding) could affect the system’s design and operation. While that plan serves as a good foundation to ask what if?, the reality is that it could be a difficult political sell to make these changes.
It remains to be seen what will actually happen if IndyGo is denied any help to their 2012 operating budget.
In full disclosure, I should note that Urban Indy was one of the first organizations to adopt a measure supporting dedicated transit funding.
On July 13th, 2011, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved the lease of the water utility to Citizen’s Energy. While this has been debated vigorously over the past year and a half locally, what it means is that when it goes through, over $425 million will become available to put towards Rebuild Indy; a program that I have given praise to as well as been highly critical of.
The crux of why I have been critical, is that none of this money has thus far been diverted, at least in principal, to addressing our horrendous transit situation. Indeed, Indyconnect has done much to address this yet with no means of putting shovels in the ground, the receipt of this much money could provide an excellent opportunity for the city to step in and help fund some of the innitiatives. What the Rebuild Indy program HAS done for transit thus far has come in the form of new sidewalks along existing bus corridors as well as funding bicycling infrastructure which also appears in the Indyconnect plan. However, no real money put towards replacing aging IndyGo bus fleets, addressing the large expense of advance engineering & environmental studies for some of the BRT, rail and light rail routes hinted at in the Indyconnect plan. These tasks can be funded separate of the fact that funds for building and operating them have not been found yet and themselves are significant costs associated and required for their implementation. How about throwing some money IndyGo’s way for a real time GPS tracking system? This is in the works, but will not be funded until 2013 per current plans. Additionally, funding a study of the belt railroad relocation could be a good use of the funds. Furthermore, there are a lot of streetcar systems being planned or are under construction in many of Indianapolis’ peer cities.
Would taxpayers find the use of Rebuild Indy funds put towards projects like this a good use of the money? While not as glamorous in appearance as say a newly paved road or a greenfield sidewalk, this funding could go a long way to making Indyconnect a real possibility or to funding a downtown streetcar circulator route. Even though I have laid out a number of suggestions, there are plenty of other mass transit related items that are just as worthy of expense as another road being repaved.
If you agree with any of this, I encourage you to not waste any time and click on the link on the right hand side of Urban Indy. Contact your City Council representative and voice your opinion. Devoid of any real portal for communicating this to the city, your representative is the best pipeline to providing input on this subject.