IndyGo’s 2012 budget is $6 million short

IndyGo bus on Indiana Ave (image credit: Curt Ailes)
IndyGo bus on Indiana Ave (image credit: Curt Ailes)

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.

Short Term Proposed IndyGo route changes (image credit: 2010 IndyGo COA)
Short Term Proposed IndyGo route changes (image credit: 2010 IndyGo COA)

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.

Comments 17

  • Some insight into IndyGo (and to a lesser extent, library) funding:

    One of the points I often heard from state legislators was that there was no need for a referendum or additional tax source since COIT can already be used, either by increasing the COIT or by giving the existing point a percentage of revenue to IndyGo.

    Back when IndyGo and the library had sudden funding shortfalls in 2010, one of the ideas some came up with was tapping the consolidated downtown TIF for a temporary relief. The Mayor’s office said that it’s not proper or legal to use TIF money for anything not related to the TIF. This year, in the city budget, several million dollars is being “transferred” from the downtown TIF to pay for ongoing operational IMPD expenses such as office supplies, toilet paper, and the helicopter.

    There is money available for IndyGo. This current bunch has more revenue coming into the city, between COIT, sales tax, property tax, and selling everything that isn’t nailed down (and some that are, in fact, nailed down!), but are choosing not to use it.

    The other political consideration that needs to be kept in mind is that, even though the legislature has the ability to craft Indianapolis-specific legislation (since Indianapolsi is the only “first class city” in Indiana), they are often very reluctant to do so. Reasons as to why they’re reluctant to do so depends on who you ask, but that’s the reality of the situation.

  • Yet the city can find $6 million to give to a private developer to build a parking garage in Broad Ripple and $35 million to give the Pacers team owner.

  • *start sarcasm*
    IndyGo is just more welfare. We need to cut it and make those people work harder for their benefits.
    *end sarcasm*
    In the Tea Party world, I fear that the sentiment above may be the majority view even in Marion County. It sure seems to be the majority view of the Republican legislative leadership that refused to allow a referendum on dedicated funding for the IndyConnect plan. (Afraid that some future opponent would count it as a “tax increase”, no Republican could support that?)

    • It seems like in Indy, a large number of people make an unfair conclusion that making money automatically equates to you desiring to own a car; transit is then seen as only the last resort.
      NEWSFLASH: there are plenty of us who would willingly put the keys down in favor of the bus/train pass to go get groceries, get to work, etc.
      I know I do not have to convince you of this Chris.

      • You do not. I am one of the people who would put down the car keys at least part of the time if IndyGo service were better.

      • The perception problem is very real. I have a secretary who has worked for at my office for just a few months, and a while back I overheard her on a call with her son, while admonishing him to take care of her car: “it’s the only car I’ve got. What am I supposed to do if you wreck it? Ride the bus to work?!” (She does live in a location where that would be possible). I didn’t have the heart to tell her that one of her bosses stoops so low.

  • one big problem is the linking of IndyGo improvements and support to starting light rail, lines to Noblesville, etc. Many people would tolerate a moderate amount of money to upgrade bus service so kids, poor people, and the disabled can get around – especially to work low wage jobs vs. welfare. Beats the heck out of paying them higher wages. Link it to people who want us to invest in giant boondoggles of mass transit AND those who wish mass transit because they PREFER to ride to work (widely viewed as eccentric and hobby oriented) and you drag the bus system down. This in turn drags the people who must use bus into the dirt. Just running modern buses on moderately extended routes with longer hours and weekend service, and perhaps providing a bus shelter instead of a tree to protect you from the rain and lightning would be a substantial improvement.

  • Define “modern buses”. The way I see it, IndyGo is ALREADY offering modern buses. Have you seen the new hybrid buses? Those are modern. Even the new conventional buses are an improvement. They are quieter, look newer, etc. I don’t buy your “invest in giant boondoggles” arguement. From my perspetive, investing the billions into 465, I69, US31, etc are all tremendous boondoggles which are all 100% taxpayer funded. So that perspective carries nothing with me.

  • “Invest in giant boondoggles” is a typical argument that you always hear from the opponents of public transit. I don’t think this debate is framed correctly. We should not be debating for or against public transit. We should be debating about more (streetcars, buses) vs. less (cars) efficient public transit. As long as you don’t pay a true cost of driving a car, then your way of commuting is supported by public dollars (therefore, for all purposes of this discussion, it fits the description of public transit).

    Btw, streetcar initiative is getting some traction (however modest it might seem). And there are a lot of well known names involved, so there might be something there.

  • I haven’t taken a city bus in several years – so they may have improved somewhat. HOWEVER,I used to take the College bus downtown for a midnight shift office job and rode it home in the morning. I had uncrowded streets and FREE off street parking provided by my employer. Neither my home nor work were right on a bus stop and I had a perfectly good Volvo and drivers license. So I feel I have paid my dues, especially as everyone I worked with thought it quite stupid to avoid the quick, convenient, and Safe drive. Buses certainly were not luxury items and the 1 I last rode 2 years ago was not either. And yes, the costs of a highway are not fully allocated nor reflected in gas tax. However, I stand by my statement that most US rail transit systems are giant boondoggles, and come nowhere near cost and ridership projections. They will be late, overpriced, poorly planned, and poorly executed. Overdue and over budget might be partially excused in a military project where you push the edge of technology in a combat situation. As Renn in the Urbanophile has often pointed out, overpriced and underperformed should not take place in a relatively simple mass transit system. An RDC to Noblesville is not part of Indianapolis busways, nor should it be. If you tie bus improvements to these billion dollar projects then you damn a lot of needy people to inferior transport while you are waiting for the millenium.

  • It kills me that in a mass production society, we focus all of our transportation efforts and funding into a single user. individualist infrastructure. Obviously, living where you work and play is the most efficient followed by biking distance and infrastructure, but how can we have an arguement that it is inefficient to run mass transit. Efficiencies are the very reason for mass transit. I ride opposite the commute everyday and see lines of cars with a single user waiting for traffic. They are all essentially headed to the same places and coming from the same areas, but I’ll be damned if i will get out of my car! The money thrown away at highways and road expansions is mind blowing and we write it off as business as usual. When Indyconnect came out, people exploded over $2B for a completely new transit mode and upgrades to existing bus systems, but never mentioned the $8B proposed for roads and highways! Eventually we will no longer be able to conform to our SOV lifestyles due to lack of fund. Even the once powerful suburbs are struggling massively with funding there roads. It can’t continue and Republicans of all parties with their “conservative” lable should be on board to find better solutions……though I guess when your biggest backers are road and oil lobbyists then it reduces the sense of urgency!

    Indygo works great for how poorly it is funded. The main issue is having to live by its schedule, but I make do. I am a choice rider.

    • I dont think that I could have summarized it better Joe. You touch on a huge social issue though. How can we convince the people who are all about cheap prices via cheap labor, to pick up the torch and live the same sort of lifestyle?
      Do what I say, not what I do…

  • Have any private parties, such as Carey Limousine, tried to run a commuter route? I’m thinking of how certain bus lines run from the airport to Bloomington or West Lafayette. And no, this is not in any way a solution to long-term transit issues. I’m just curious if anyone on the private side has seen a business opportunity for a select route they would run daily.

    • many years ago my cousin and uncle tried exactly that – a nicer semi luxury bus coach to Greenwood from downtown. Running on an economic shoestring despite some smart people it lasted only a short time. Gas, etc. was cheaper, but more people were used to bus riding AND more folks lived in suburb but worked downtown, unlike today.

  • The Fishers Express Bus has been operated by a private luxury/charter motorcoach service under contract. (I think the name on the buses is “Miller”.)

  • When traveling to other cities I admire their public transportation. I know that no city is perfect but I think we can do better.

    • I admire your admiration. However, facts and data matter beyond emotion. Buses / mass transit should all be privatized. Get govt out of everything.

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