Finally…..Mass Transit Bill Passed


Last night, the Indiana General Assembly closed the 2014 session by passing SB176, otherwise known as the central Indiana mass transit bill.  After being scaled back, stripped, and amended here and there, an effort three years in the making now heads to Governor Pence for final approval before being placed on the ballot this fall for local voter approval.  Voters will finally have the option of approving an income tax increase, of anywhere between 0.1 and 0.25 percent, to help cover the operating costs of expanded transit in their counties.  The following counties are eligible for participation under this bill: Delaware, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson, Madison, and Marion counties.  Fares must cover at least 25% of the operating costs.  Once the bill is signed off on by the governor, transit planners will have their work cut out for them in the months ahead to convince people that this is the next best step the metro area can take right now in improving mass transportation.

In order to find a compromise between Senate and House leaders, certain controversial aspects of the bill were removed.  One area of controversy was an amendment that would have created a tax on corporations to cover 10% of operating costs.  That provision was amended out and replaced with a requirement that revenue generated from sources other than taxes and fares “must equal at least 10% of the local option income tax revenue and cover at least 10% of operating costs” (pg. 34).  The fact that a corporation tax was even suggested seems puzzling due to Governor Pence’s efforts this session to decrease as much of the business tax as possible.  In other news, the general assembly did sign off on a bill that cuts Indiana’s corporate and financial institution tax rates and creates an opening for the business personal property tax rate to be decreased even more.

The most controversial portion of the transit bill prohibits an eligible county from using funds to create a “light rail project” (pg. 36).  Light rail, as defined in SB176 and by the American Public Transportation Association, is “a mode of transit service on fixed rails in right-of-way that is often separated from other traffic for part or much of the way, and may have either high platform loading or low level boarding using steps”.   This seems very contradictory due to the fact that the bill states that a county may establish the type of transportation it sees fit.  Yet, an entire mode of transportation has been prohibited.  Once again the state officials seem to be acting in a manner that is significantly behind the times; a ‘father knows best’ type of way with state representatives citing their worry on the taxpayers possibly having to foot the bill for rail transit that may not meet expectations.  Upon further research however, it appears that Indiana is not the first state to have such a ban.  In 1991, the then Los Angeles County Transportation Commission purchased an abandoned commercial rail line in hopes of expanding mass transit to the San Fernando Valley.  However, due to opposition, the California legislature passed a bill which “prohibited the construction of any above-ground rail transit project” along the corridor.  LA’s metropolitan transit authority instead moved forward with the construction of a bus rapid transit (BRT) route which is now known as the Orange Line.  The line was completed in 2005 and since then has dramatically exceeded expectations.  Initially projected at 16,000 riders per weekday, in 2012 the line averaged 31,787 riders daily.  With no feasible way of expanding capacity along the BRT route, LA city council leaders are now taking steps to repeal the 1991 law and hopefully bring light rail transit to the Orange Line.  One councilmember stated, “The orange line right of way was once rail and should be rail again” (Clough, 2013).

photo credit: LA Orange Line;
photo credit: LA Orange Line;

Sound familiar?  In the Indy Connect plan, and in accordance with SB176, the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority corridor, or Green Line, will undergo the same transformation from rail to bus way as the Los Angeles Orange Line did.  Will ridership expectations exceed those projected by transit planners?  Will we have to wait 20 years before the light rail ban is repealed?  Well, only time will tell.  However, one might wonder how much thought went into creating a provision like this in the first place.

For transit supporters this bill has been a long time coming.  Though the bill may not be perfect, it at least gives metro area counties or townships (should an eligible county as a whole opt out) the ability, somewhat, to enhance or create a transit system that fits their needs.  With gas prices fluctuating, Indy Go ridership reaching record levels and the efforts of the MPO, Downtown Indy Inc., and local mayors citing infrastructure improvements as a necessity to creating vibrant and livable communities, the Indiana Legislature has finally taken a necessary step in passing this bill.






Conference Committee Report Digest for ESB 176

Featured Image. Central Indiana Transit Plan – Long range map. Retrieved from

Clough, Craig. (Oct. 2013). City council supports building light rail on orange line bus route. Sherman Oaks Patch. Retrieved from

2014 Session concludes. A look at key issues. Retrieved from

Comments 19

  • The funny thing about this is that if they had left Light Rail in I would have definitely voted for it, now, I probably won’t.

    • So it’s “my way or the highway” then, right? I’m not happy about the world’s worst legislature taking out LRT either, but as a Midtowner, I at least want to see improved bus routes and BRT. And as easy as it is to get frustrated with speed of progress in this city, let’s take the little bit we can get and work hard to get more.

    • I guess I’m not sure why you would vote down a proposal that could easily be amended to add light rail back in the future if things turn out well with the line.

  • I wonder how the light rail ban will affect votes. I would suspect that a fair share of Hamilton County votes are going to be lost from people who would support light rail, but aren’t personally keen on riding “the bus”. On the other hand, it’s a little harder for anti-tax, anti-government types to get opponents as upset about funding buses (generally seen as needed) versus funding a train (more often viewed as unnecessary and illustrative of wasteful big govt spending).

  • What happens if Hamilton doesn’t approve the referendum but Marion does? I’m assuming Red Line and Green Line don’t make sense without Hamilton county.

    • According to the bill, adjacent townships would be able to opt-in even if the county as a whole opts out.

      “Authorizes the fiscal body of a township that is: (1) located in an eligible county in which the county fiscal body does not adopt an ordinance to place a local public question on the ballot; and (2) adjacent to a township in which a public transportation project is approved; to adopt a resolution placing a local public question on the next general election ballot in the township concerning the establishment of a public transportation public project in the township. Requires the county fiscal body to carry out a public transportation project approved by the voters of the township and fund it through local option income taxes imposed only upon the county taxpayers who reside in the township.”

      So if Hamilton county as a whole disapproved the referendum and Marion county approved it, adjacent townships in Hamilton county such as Clay, Delaware, and Fall Creek townships could vote to approve expanding transit. Then townships adjacent to those townships such as Washington and Noblesville could approve it as well.


  • This wasn’t a mass transit bill, it was a bus bill. The overall positive economic development benefits will be minimal. Ans as such, I won’t vote for it. This isn’t moving the city forward, it’s moving us into the 1970’s. Do you really think BRT is going to spur a revival of the commercial corridors?

  • All that work to still be behind two states right next to you that you think you’re going to steal jobs from. So glad I got out of central IN.

  • Thanks Shayla for the article. Good stuff. When you do your next update, could you try to find some of the more current maps that show the BRT routes more accurately? The map you’ve shown for this article was from a long time ago, before they clarified where the routes would go. For example, the map in this article shows the red line going straight south and then angling onto Madison Avenue. In reality, it will go southeast from downtown through Fountain Square and then south on Shelby Street to Madison Ave and then continue running south. There are new maps — so it would be good to see those and let people know what they are really getting.

    • Hey TJ,
      Thanks for reading! I’ve been checking the Indy Connect website to see if there was a comprehensive map that reflects the alignment options they’ve chosen, but so far, the only one I’ve seen is the one that highlights the increase in regular bus frequency

      I was trying to wait until they had an updated BRT map only, but I think you’re probably right in just showing the people what they get in the first phase. After all this does have the BRT routes too, just the focus of the map specifically highlights the bus frequency.

  • I am glad some form of public transit bill passed and just got signed by Governor Pence, but I cannot say I find the news terribly encouraging for mass transit supporters. Many elected officials in the counties where a local refrendumn would be allowed have flat out said they either will oppose approving any refrendum or are at best lukewarm to the idea.

    Best case scenario, you are looking at potentially having a public vote in 2015 on a mass transit plan in Marion and Hamilton County, and likely only the southern townships of Hamilton County. And, I am sure there will be plenty of fear-mongering and deliberate misinformation campaigns waged by the anti-tax groups before any public vote, so who knows how things will turn out?

    There is quite a long road to trek before Indianapolis sees any sort of improved mass transit system.

    • The IBJ reported today that Christine Altman doesn’t anticipate a referendum in Hamilton County until at least 2016. Perhaps this is because they want time to lobby the legislature to revise the law to allow LRT on the Nickel Plate (Green Line).

      Another interesting point in the IBJ article was that if voters approve of an income tax increase it would be part of the state authorized maximum allowance for county income taxes, rather than being a separate additional authorized amount. The implication being, for example, if Marion County votes for 0.25% transit tax, this would limit the county’s ability to raise its local income tax for other future needs such as streets, sidewalks, police, or anything else. I always presumed the transit tax would be in addition to the maximum allowed county income tax. Does anyone know if this is actually correct?

  • Paul, I think the statutory limit for county income taxes is fairly high, either 2.5 or 3%; there are several different types (which are each for either specific or general purpose) and each has its own cap like the potential transit tax.

    But the dynamic of “why are we passing a tax for [fill in your least favorite government expenditure here] when we need [fill in your biggest perceived government spending priority here]” is certainly set up.

  • If the Politicians finally get their brains out their butts & get with the program to see Light Rail Rapid Transit will be Great for the Metro Indy Economy bringing a lot of Jobs,people get around places, attract more visitors,etc Indy will attract more events besides Basketball & Auto Racing, Indy will Boom quietly!

    • If only the government would stop turning useful rail right of ways into trails we would already have a service from Noblesville, fishers to downtown.

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