HB1011 relegated to Study Committee

IndyGo bus passing the Statehouse (image credit: Curt Ailes)
IndyGo bus passing the Statehouse (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Urban Indy has kept up to the minute with the goings-on of HB1011, mass transit, which was introduced in the Indiana House this year. Friday April 26th, it was reported that Representative Jerry Torr, author of the bill, had signed off on the Senate adopted version of the bill; that being all referendum authorizing language the original bill covered was stripped and replaced with a bi-partisan study committee being established to look into the issue over the summer.

As written, the study committee has a December 2013 deadline to report back to the state legislature its findings. Presumably, after this study is concluded, it will inform another bill next session which would attempt to authorize a citizen referendum in November of 2014. The sausage making it appears, still needs the right mix of ingredients to make it through the Republican dominated Senate.

This brings up a key point. HB1011 enjoyed considerable success early on in the session passing out of the house after steamrolling through two sub-committee hearings. However, the Senate immediately showed it’s conservative slant by taking shots at the bill at every stop.

Also, much like last year when transit legislation died in the right to work debate, HB1011 did not play well with SB621, which is a bill that passed eliminating the 4 at large Indianapolis City Council seats in 2015. It also grants expanded power to the Mayor’s office and city controller. Democrats were steaming mad at the actions and intent behind SB621 and threatened to vote against HB1011 which is kind of counter-intuitive since ultra conservatives have been cool to this bill since the beginning of the session. These tactics certainly weren’t moving the opposition.

The debate however, illustrates just how tenuous the legislative process can be. There is a lot of give and take.

Along the way, we learned a lot about the people deciding the fate of this bill. When the study committee amendment was introduced, post hearing press indicated the high level of ignorance involved with the decision making going on here. With cost as the backdrop, post conference comments seemed to indicate that the committee took zero stock in the figures used to construct the original bill; figures which were assembled by the coalition of business groups pushing this bill.

Why were these financial recommendations not taken seriously? Time after time, senators made comments about how they were not educated on the bill, asking if private business was willing to pay for the requested funding instead of a tax increase and other questions which only steered the conversation away from what really was being asked for. Senator Waltz of the south side of Indy, claimed he had been studying mass transit on his own and used his obviously different findings as a basis for not supporting HB1011 & Indy Connect. What those findings were, have never been revealed to my knowledge and certainly do not pass as official findings on the topic.

Another question in conference committee, asked my Marion County Democrat Senator Breuax, really served to underscore how little of importance this bill carried when she asked, “Where are the routes planned to go?”. For a Marion County senator to be asking these questions underscores the level of involvement local officials have had in this process.

So where do we go? Will the study committee this summer come to the same conclusions as Indy Connect? Will conservatives involved arrive at the same solution as the private sector; that tax dollars are the only sustained funding source capable of funding local, public transportation?

How can we convince our conservative elected officials to not derail an intended 2014 citizen referendum? Perhaps equally as important, how many of the same vocal cheerleaders of this bill will still have the energy and drive to sustain that needed to get this funding approved? Will they even live here then? This all remains to be seen months from now, when the 2014 session begins in January.

Comments 17

  • At this point, I think Indy needs to start thinking about a smaller scale project (e.g. streetcar). Get the same businesses to start fundraising, and then we will have a better shot at getting some federal funding. We can probably do something similar to what Cincinnati is trying to do. If businesses take a lead, and get some serious fundraising going, I think they can get Mayor behind.

    I am not saying that the regional initiative won’t eventually happen, but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon. Getting this passed was supposed to be the easiest step, and even that is turning out to be a mess.

  • Some of the most irritating things I’ve seen during all this HB1011 mess is the ignorance and misinformation floating around.

    Half the comments in various places (IndyStar comments, Nuvo comments, here, articles, blog posts) continue to talk about how Indy doesn’t need rail. The most recent version of Indy Connect mentions nothing about rail (possible exception – the Nickelplate line which already exists). Yet that myth keeps floating around.

    The other myth is that with the passage of HB1011 the government is suddenly going to be spending tax payer money. Somehow the fact that it authorizes a vote by the public is lost on a huge swath of the population. Let the people who stand to benefit the most vote on the dang thing! I don’t understand why this is so hard!

    • But I haven’t heard a compelling argument for streetcars or light rail on this website. The purpose of streetcars in the model cities cited by advocates is to aid revitalization in an underserved area immediately adjacent to downtown. In Indy, the Cultural Trail is viewed as that catalyst. So since there isn’t an endless supply of money available for these major infrastructure projects, it would seem that, for now, Indy has chosen biking and the Cultural Trail.

    • “Half the comments in various places (IndyStar comments, Nuvo comments, here, articles, blog posts) continue to talk about how Indy doesn’t need rail. The most recent version of Indy Connect mentions nothing about rail (possible exception – the Nickelplate line which already exists). Yet that myth keeps floating around.”

      How it is a “myth” when Indy Connect prints the word “rail” on their own system map? They are the ones promoting up to five possible rail lines. Possible because the map specifically states “Bus Rapid Transit or Rail Transit.” Here is a link where you can see for yourself:


      Also, there has been numerous reporting that the plan where the rail was in play for Noblesville to downtown, that half the entire price tag was due to the rail cost. Yet here we are, with an alleged bus only project, yet the same price tag. The bill likely would have passed had they just requested a simple tax hike of .15% to increase bus service. Of course, greed on all sides is what has killed the bill. State lawmakers are showing greed because I think they want more power than some unelected board. The folks that stand to benefit personally from the billions of dollars taken from others are showing their greed by refusing to lower the requested .3% increase in income taxes.

      To get this passed is very simple:
      First, get rid of the unelected board that will be made up of politically connected hacks who will have taxing authority. The board should be made up of elected representatives from the governments involved in Hamilton and Marion County. Second, ask for only a .15% income take hike instead of .3%. Wait ten years, then maybe ask for another .15% since pro-mass transit folks can’t stand non-rail mass transit.

      • If this line were constructed as BRT, a complete tear up and rebuild of the line plus additional right of way purchase to accommodate both travel lanes would be required. In the end, capital costs would be similar for the entire length.

        In the long run, it could cost more to operate more buses to meet the capacity that fewer trains would offer.

        The cost of constructing would not be that much different. This line, due to it being a large construction cost either way, is why it consumes such a large portion of the estimated budget.

        I fail to understand why we are arguing about this anyway. What about the cost of upgrading US31 through Carmel & Westfield to freeway standards? Is that project not costing a similar amount to what the Green Line would?

  • You’re going to have to leave Indiana if you want anything other than buses.

  • I wouldn’t categorize a streetcar as a small-scale project. If we’re talking about doing something at a smaller scale, why not start a BRT project of sorts. Or maybe better characterized as a limited stop/express bus route. There’s no reason a Washington Street, Keystone Avenue, or College/Meridian limited stop service couldn’t be implemented with stops every half-mile to a mile and with ticket machines at the stops. It would cost a bit more money than IndyGo is spending now, but maybe the Rebuild Indy fund(i.e. water company sales proceeds) could be tapped to start a demonstration project/route. It’s a big jump to go from nothing but local routes to building a system of world-class BRT routes. Why not get started with something more practical in the meantime? Since we (IndyGo) haven’t even proven that we can get the details right running a small local bus system, there might even be some benefits gained from taking it a little slower with simply creating an efficient limited stop/express route first.

    • In my mind, the first phase of the streetcar would not stretch beyond Fountain Square or IUPUI. So, that would be considered small scale when compared to the regional $1.5 billion transit project. It can probably be done for roughly 1/10 of that cost (based on what Cincinnati quoted for their expected costs). I don’t think you want to settle for a small incremental improvement that will not be a game changer. The streetcar is doable and it’s a game changer. Once you get it started, it is almost given that it will grow density and property values and therefore create the need and financing for additional mass transit. I kind of see it a a Trojan horse that will in the long-term favor of the mass transit. Since it very unlikely that our Mayor would initiate this kind of project (hard sell politically), it’s really crucial that the initial push comes from the private sector. There was a “streetcar group” formed a couple of years ago that included some big names, but it doesn’t seem that it gained any traction. Their website (http://indianapolisstreetcar.org) hasn’t been updated lately.

      • Other than providing a minor tourist attraction, what advantage would a streetcar offer over an improved bus or shuttle route serving downtown? Answer: Nothing.

        I understand how a light rail system, given the right circumstances and built to the right specifications can serve a practical purpose, but a street car offers nothing a good bus system cannot provide, and it has the disadvantages of much less flexibility to alter routes depending upon the time of day or changing commuter needs while costing much more than a good bus system. There is a reason streetcars were replaced first with electric trolley buses beginning in the early 1930’s and then later with regular buses.

        If Indianapolis ever wants to persuade the GOP controlled General Assembly to allow it and surrounding counties to form a regional mass transit authority, then first it needs to get the basic infrastructure of its local public transit system working. The city has the authority to raise local taxes to fund an efficient and robust bus system.

        Get Indy Go operating a decent bus system, then go back to the General Assembly and ask for a referendum to form a regional mass transit system, and that plan can include BRT and light rail.

        • I don’t know why would ou think that the streetcars are only good for providing a minor tourist attraction. That’s not true. There are countless cities worldwide that rely on streetcars to povide transit to its citizens. From my experience, nothing else comes close to it. Lack of flexibility to alter routes is actually an advantage…

          • I have traveled all over the United States and around the world, and I have used many different historic and modern public transit systems. Also, I am someone who prefers to take public transit or walk instead of driving whenever it is possible.

            While I believe both light rail and heavy rail are effective forms of transit in certain places, I have never heard a compelling argument for a streetcar, aside from the tourist appeal of maintaining or in certain limited cases restoring a historic streetcar line. Other than hearing they “look cool,” I have yet to hear any argument for installing a streetcar in a modern city which lacks one.

            Again, I ask street car advocates to specifically state how a street car–and I don’t include light rail in this description–offers any advantage over an effective modern bus system–it simply doesn’t. Also, not being able to alter a route is a distinct DISadvantag. Yes, I’ve heard the attempt, again and again, to spin this shortcoming into something positive. But, the argument that inflexible routes somehow “offer certainty” to riders that there will always be public transit in an area is frankly BS.

            Also, while I agree investing in public infrastructure, including public transit can be part of a redevelopment plan, I think the “if you build it, they will come” mentality of streetcar advocates is simplistic and illogical. When a streetcar (or any form of public transit for that matter) is pushed as the foundation of a redevelopment plan, rather than simply one component, it simply means someone is trying to snow job the public. Yes, new development may occur along a streetcar route, but if it does, it is always because of MASSIVE taxpayer subsidies (including in urban “hipster” poster-child places like Portland), not because of the streetcar.

            Yes, I support building a quality public transit system, but I support building a system that serves primarily to get riders where they need to go, not one that functions as a political scheme to gift public funds to the construction trade and big developers who look forward to receiving huge taxpayer subsidies for “transit oriented development” as part of the package.

            At the next City-County Council meeting, Indianapolis legislators could vote to raise local taxes to fund a better Indy Go system, and the Mayor could sign this spending bill into law. There is nothing stopping them from do it. The city should improve and expand the bus system. Only after an effective county bus system is established should regional leaders again approach the General Assembly and ask for a referendum to create a regional transit authority. And when one is finally created, the first order of business should be to construct BRT, and where it makes sense, high-capacity light rail. Nowhere on the list should be a plan to build a streetcar system downtown, when a circulator bus with attractive shelters, ticket machines/transit cards, and GPS tracking can serve the area quite nicely. Or, if you must have a “fixed” way system, then take advantage of the many millions already invested in the People Mover currently serving IU and Methodist. Run the People Mover line down to Lilly’s corporate campus and improve the public access to the stations as part of the expansion–viola, you have a fixed way system that is much faster and efficient than building a replica of a pokey old streetcar.

          • Chris does raise some compelling pragmatic arguments in terms of the street car. Whether a city has one long in place (New Orleans) or it has installed legitimate/pseudo streetcars in recent years (Little Rock, Memphis), they often do serve more as a tourist novelty than a legitimate method for locals to get around. Fortunately, at least in New Orleans, tourism is sufficient that the streetcars often generate high ridership, but what about the other two? Perhaps these aren’t the best examples, but I see little evidence that the Cincinnati streetcar, if implemented, will achieve more than recreational/novelty transit. And if so many small and medium sized cities embrace streetcars, how much longer will it even work as a novelty?

            I’m less convinced by Chris’ statement in his third paragraph. Frankly, it is not BS to say they “offer certainty”–even in cities that are reliable. The very presence of track (both heavy and light) or catenary vastly elevates the visual prominence of rail beyond what a bus (or even a busway can hope to achieve). Any time any of us have gone to a large city with both rail and bus, we gravitate first to the rail: it’s usually much easier to distinguish the routes since there are fewer and their presence is obvious. Still, it the lines don’t pick up more than marginal ridership among locals, it is difficult to justify that investment over the long run.

          • People will always argue the practicality of comparatively slow modes of transportation, such as streetcars. I suppose to best appreciate each mode, we have to understand what goal it is serving. Subways obviously serve an easy to decipher service. Rapidly moving people over long distances without disrupting the surface network of transportation and land use.

            Lightrail is a good compromise to subway since it is cheaper.

            Streetcar however is sort of a developing mode in modern times. It is comparatively slow when graded next to light rail or subways, and often times, automobiles and buses. Simply saying, “A bus can do all that a streetcar can do” is not quantitative.

            What is this based upon? That all US based streetcars operate with mixed traffic or on a timeline which makes them only accessible for tourists? Sure, those will have limitations.

            Also, as a tourist, one is not likely to appreciate the utility of a streetcar. If you live close to a streetcar, in an urban environment and choose not to own a car, this can be a valuable if not essential mode of getting across town to work, school, grocery store, etc.

            This brings up another point. Chicken or egg? Streetcar or dense development? One can beget the next but as we are seeing, many cities are looking at streetcars as development tools to assist with redevelopment of inner city neighborhoods. It also aids in driving down expensive parking requirements. There are now developments going up in Portland with absolutely ZERO parking, and it is because of the streetcar. Think how much a developer can save, if he does not have to provide automobile parking. Think how much lower those rents could be now that they do not have to support the capital investment made for parking in the initial construction?

            There is value in streetcar planning and implementation. However, it must be framed in the proper context; just like any other mode of transportation.

  • Chris,

    Before I go on defending the tram/streetcars, I wanted to mention that Indy is focused on regional transit, when it should be focusing more on strengthening the urban core (let’s not forget that Marion county continues to lose population and growth to the surrounding areas). Also, I am all for a significant increase in IndyGo funding as you suggested. However, that’s not going to happen (there is no money in the current budget, and there is zero support for a tax increase).

    I grew up in Europe where many cities rely on streetcars for transportation. In many cases, buses and regional rail naturally supplement the tram systems. There are many cities in Europe with 50-100 years of data on streetcars, and one can see that it’s typically a very good long-term investment. Everyone wants to live close to the streetcar line, and property values reflect that. It’s true that many tram systems across the world (and especially in North America) have been dismantled in the 20th century (and not necessarily due to economic reasons). However, it also true that they are making a comeback. It would be a mistake to think that the streetcars are a minor tourist attraction. I am not talking about SF cable cars here. I am talking about modern tram systems in cities like Vienna or Berlin.

    Also, you are talking about some imaginary subsidies for the development along the streetcar lines, while currently Indy has to subsidize pretty much every other development downtown. We can talk about subsidies all day long since they are everywhere (from home ownership and cars to sugar and cotton), but I don’t think your math there is accurate.

    • JP, first none of my post had any math, so if you want to question/analyze/challenge numbers (whatever they may be), bring up the numbers and we can discuss/debate.

      Second, yes, most downtown development in Indianapolis is publicly subsidized–another issue to address. But, my point was not limited to Indianapolis downtown development, rather I was challenging the argument often made that new streetcars somehow bring about new development in cities where they are built. For example, Portland, OR is often held out as an example of successful “streetcar redevelopment,” but what is left out of the example is the fact that most of the urban development in Portland over the past several years has been heavily subsidized with tax breaks and subject to relaxed zoning regulations. In other words, developers built new buildings mainly because the city relaxed zoning regulations and heavily subsidized their development, not because the city built a street car system.

      Third, if there is no political support in Indianapolis to raise local income taxes to better fund Indy Go, then why would there be political support for the General Assembly to pass legislation to create a whole separate body of government for the express purpose of levying additional taxes that would be subject to a public vote? Presumably the lack of will to raise taxes by the City-County Council rests on the belief of Council members and the Mayor that their constituents would not support a tax increase to better fund public transit. Yet, we are told to believe the same constituency would vote to raise taxes on themselves to give it to a regional authority to provide better public transit?? Do you realize the complete lack of logic in your argument?? If Indianapolis cannot get a tax increase passed by its local elected governmental body, then why should it expect to get a tax increase, or more precisely the right to vote for a tax increase, through the state legislature?

      Finally, I am pretty certain the data you mention “from Europe” (though you don’t offer any links to it) doesn’t differentiate between living next to a street car and living next to any other form of public transit. I am NOT arguing against providing better public transit, what I am arguing against is pushing one particular form of transit over another just because one form of public transit is viewed as “sexy” or “hip” and one form is not.

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