The Herald Bulletin

February 4, 2014

Senate passes mass transit bill

By Zach Osowski
The Herald Bulletin

---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate voted to pass a mass transit bill allowing Marion County and surrounding counties to pursue mass transportation programs if they chose to do so.

Madison County is one of the counties that could choose to make its own transportation system, but it will be up to the county's Council of Government and voters.

Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, authored Senate Bill 176 with the goal of improving Indianapolis' transportation routes as No. 1 priority. The bill passed 28-20.

"I think our mass transit is woefully inadequate for being the capital city of Indiana," Miller said. "We have bad routes and we don't have the high-quality new type of buses that are available."

She said she thinks the city's bad transportation underserves not only the residents of the Indianapolis area but also visitors to the city. She said countless other cities the same size as Indianapolis have much better transit systems.

"I think we need to improve and I think we should improve it," Miller said.

The bill now moves to the Indiana House where Miller said she is hopeful it will pass.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, signed on to the bill as one of the co-authors because of the impact it could have on Madison County. Although he said he supports most of the provisions in the bill and likes the concept, he voted against the bill Tuesday.

"I still support this bill in concept," Lanane said. "But there are still some things we need to work on."

Lanane supports the idea of communities being able to build rail or light rail tracks as part of a transit system if voters are in favor. While in committee, an amendment was added to specifically forbid light rail as an option.

"There were some people who thought the rails would be too expensive," Lanane said. "But I thought we should leave them as an option since it's ultimately up to the voters to decide what they want."

Despite some of the drawbacks, Lanane said he still supports the bill and thinks a mass transit system is critically important for central Indiana.

As for the chances of mass transit being created in Madison County, Lanane said officials he's talked to would enjoy having the opportunity to talk about it.

In addition to Marion and Madison counties, Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock and Johnson counties will also have the option of adding the mass transit system. Miller said she expects Hendricks County to be added when the bill gets to the House.

She said the fiscal body for a county that wants to join would have to adopt an ordinance. The ordinance would then go to the voters as a referendum where they could approve it or vote it down. The voters would also get to choose how much of a tax increase they would be willing to tolerate. Miller said the scale could go from a 0.1 percent increase all the way up to 0.25 percent.

If voters approved it, the ordinance would then go back to the county's fiscal body for further approval.

Under the bill, those using the transportation would have to pay 25 percent of the costs through their ticket. The additional 75 percent of the costs for building a transit fleet would come through funding, taxpayers and money from corporations.

How it's being funding didn't sit well with some lawmakers. Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said he doesn't think the 25-75 split is fair to taxpayers.

"I pay enough in taxes," Young said. "I don't want to pay more. If it works, it ought to be able to pay for itself."

Follow Zach Osowski on Twitter @Osowski_THB, or call 640-4847.

Counties who could create mass transit programs under new law - Delaware County - Hamilton County - Hancock County - Johnson County - Marion County - Madison County