Civil Discourse Now

Where the far left and far right overlap for fun and enlightenment

Mass transit: Is Indianapolis culture ready for it?

   The costs of ownership of an automobile are significant. First, one faces the purchase price of the vehicle. Second, the car has to (should) be insured.  Third, there is a liquid to be poured into the tank on a regular basis. That liquid is not cheap. Fourth, if the car is bought new, in Indiana the plates are more expensive and sales tax higher. The "up" side is most repairs are covered by warranty. Fifth, one has to worry about where to park the vehicle. Work downtown? Parking can be very pricey. Don’t have a garage at home? If one parks on the street, one faces the problem of vandalism.

   To own a car is expensive, but convenient. In Indy, buses are wide-flung and, where one finds routes, run on the hour. In major cities, during rush or other peak hours, the wait for a bus is only a few minutes. If one rides the bus and wishes to go across town, in many instances one first must take a bus downtown, get a transfer, and get a bus to the destination.

   Indianapolis once had streetcars. The city was developed, however, with dependence on automobiles as a built-in element. The culture of Indianapolis has been one of reliance on the automobile. The Stutz and Duesenberg motor cars were manufactured. Their demise did not mean Indianapolis, home to the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing, was bereft of auto manufacturing. Ford, Chrysler, and GM operated facilities here, too.

   I was born in Kokomo and raised on a farm outside that town. During one year, after college, I rode a bicycle for a short period for transportation, not simply exercise. Kokomo, ten, relied for its prosperity upon General Motors (Delco Radio) and Chrysler for the bulk of the community’s jobs. Several times I was yelled at by passing drivers to buy a car. The tone of voice those individuals used was not pleasant—and I was on the side of the road. I did not block traffic.

   In Indy, there was little encouragement for public transportation in the 1960s through the 1990s and up to today. Politicians have paid lip service to the need for mass transit. But lately, there is a call for a multi-billion dollar development of public transportation that includes light rail to be built to Noblesville.

   A major problem in these plans is the culture of Indianapolis. One does not re-configure people’s lives overnight to acceptance and use of public transportation. One matter to face is the perception that only poor people ride the bus. Somehow, it is a step "down" to ride public transport. In Chicago I rode the 151 bus from Lincoln Park each morning down to Chicago Avenue. There were stops along Chicago’s Gold Coast. In cold weather, people got on in fur and other coats of expensive materials. In other words, everyone rode the bus. That public transportation system had operated, however, for decades and was a part of the culture of the city. If a public transportation system is to be successful here, the culture must change.

   About ten years ago, I read a report of a meeting of the board of IndyGo. A member of the audience asked how many people on the board rode the bus to work. None did.

   This week on Civil Discourse Now we will discuss public and mass transit in Indianapolis and in Indiana. The Show will stream "live" from Harry C’s at 5055 South Dearborn on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. We have confirmed as one guest panelist Sheila Suess Kennedy. You can listen to Civil Discourse Now on Indiana Talks, part of Live365. Or you can tune in on this website. Better yet, you can go to Harry C’s, order some good food, and see The Show for yourself.

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