In 1986, when I moved to Marion County to attend law school, I was surprised at the relatively primitive mass transit system. One had to wait an hour at a stop for a bus. I had lived in Chicago, where buses were frequent and dependable, fares cheap enough to make driving a car a much-less-preferred option for daily transportation, and everyone rode the bus. By that I mean there was no stigma to riding the bus. I rode the 151 Sheridan bus for about a year, from a stop in Lincoln Park a couple of blocks from our apartment. Part of the route included The Gold Coast—the stretch of several blocks of apartment buildings that face Lake Michigan, just north of The Drake Hotel.
People in Chicago were used to mass transit as a part of their daily lives. There were as many expensive clothes on the 151 when I rode it as there were denims.
In Indy, there was a stigma, amongst people with whom I spoke, about riding the bus—the bus was for poor people.
There is a move afoot in Indianapolis to persuade people to take the bus. We are told the number of bus routes and buses will be increased. The “red line,” a bus line to go from 66th Street to downtown on College Avenue, hovers behind it all. The last report I saw on the budget for IndyGo—the mass transit authority for our fair city—was a little under $70 million.
The problem is residents of Marion County need to become acculturated to “taking the bus.”
“Acculturation” is defined as “the process and result of adopting the culture traits of another group.” The American College Dictionary, 1962 ed., p. 9.
If mass transit is to become successful in Indianapolis, we must give people incentives to ride the bus. After all, we give hundreds of millions of dollars to professional sports franchises.
Here is my proposal for mass transit:
1) Increase the number of bus routes to optimize the number of potential riders. We should have bus routes in areas where the numbers of potential riders is greatest.
2) Increase the number of buses on those routes so that during peak hours, especially, someone need wait no more than ten minutes for a bus.
3) Make sure the buses run on time and are functional.
AND, HERE IS THE DRUM ROLL----
4) Abandon, for one year, bus fares.
This City urinates away enough money on projects for wealthy sports franchise owners. We should be able to afford a year of bus fares. This is not to say riding the bus would be “free.” We shall pay for it through our taxes. Perhaps we can get some Federal grant money to experiment—and hopes the Simons or the Irsays or both do not sniff out more public money they would view as more rightfully in their already-bulging pockets.
At first, there might be a bump in ridership. There would be a lot of people who would eschew the bus because of ingrained prejudice. Eventually, I think we would see people ride on an increased basis. Perhaps we would have enough people ride the bus to make an expanded system practical
We would not need a “red line.”
We probably shall pay more money, in the long term, for a mass transit system that is unequal to the demands of a major—or middle-sized—city. The year of “no fares” would give people time to adjust. To ride the bus would be cheaper than to drive downtown. At the end of one year, fares could be reinstituted at a rate to operate with a balanced budget.
Maybe my idea would not work. If it doesn’t, we always could sell the extra buses. One thing we do not want to do is privatize mass transit, or, worse, somehow fund it through TIFs. In the meantime we have to acculturate people to riding the bus. I know if buses here were dependable and frequent, I would ride the bus more often than I do at present, usually for an Indians’ game.
I would hope a lot of other people would begin to ride the bus, too. After a year, they could become accustomed to riding the bus.
The long-term benefits might outweigh the short-term costs.