As some you know, I am not from Indianapolis. I am from that big city about 180 miles north on I-65, Chicago. Now when I say Chicago, I do not mean a milquetoast suburb; I mean I am from the city part of the city, the south side. I grew up near 79th and Western, went to White Sox games and did all the stuff that city kids do. I also rode the bus to high school and to just about anywhere else. And even when I moved to Europe for a few years after I graduated, my life was buses and trains; in fact, I didn’t own a car until I was 23. I had to get one because I was moving to a place where mass transit really did not exist.
I bring all this up because the Indianapolis City-County Council is about to take up the mass transit issue. The Council will hear an ordinance that would raise the local income tax up to 25 cents for every $100 a resident earns and expand mass transit by 70 percent.
The logic for expanding transit is pretty clear:
With the proposed transit plan, 45 percent of Marion County minorities will be near a frequent route (bus every 15 minutes).
The Marion County Transit Plan brings 46 percent of households in poverty within 10 minutes of frequent transit.
If the Marion County Transit Plan is implemented, 48 percent of all Marion County jobs will be near a frequent route.
79 percent of Indy’s seniors have poor transit access. The Marion County Transit Plan’s increased access serves them.
65.5 percent of Marion County’s total population will be within a 10-minute walk to transit, if proposed plan is approved.
The Marion County Transit Plan will shorten wait times for buses and increase morning, evening and weekend hours. You’ll also get every route, every day.
Despite that, some folks still want to play games with the transit issue, particularly City-County Councilors Joe Simpson and Monroe Gray. Simpson has used procedural tactics to delay the measure from getting the proper hearing. And Gray, well … he’s just Gray. I don’t understand their logic, because their constituents overwhelmingly approved the referendum last November. It passed in Simpson’s district with nearly 69 percent of the vote, and it won in Gray’s district with nearly 68 percent of the vote.
And even if you take out the overwhelming vote totals, this doesn’t take a whole lot of brainpower to figure out. If people don’t have a means to get to where the jobs are, that means there will be more of them on the public dole. And that means more welfare, more social services, more food stamps and lot of other things that I really don’t enjoy paying for. Also, when we have a stronger economy, we can get stronger families, which means a better society overall. And here’s a thought: Expanded bus service can also be used by high school students. The school districts can buy year-round bus cards for their juniors and seniors. The kids can use the bus to get to school and then use it to get to their part-time jobs. In other words, the best social program is gainful employment; it solves a multitude of issues.
What’s even more disturbing is looking at Simpson’s and Gray’s backgrounds; they of all people should understand how mass transit will impact their constituents. Simpson served on the Washington Township Board that oversaw the distribution of poor relief. He’s served with the NAACP and has gotten a number of awards for his community service, including the United Way You Care Award, so you would think he’d support mass transit so those less fortunate could become self-sufficient. And Gray serves on the board of Flanner House, and his bio on his website says, “He has a great respect for the role of the Council in the community and the need for Council members to sometimes rise above purely political considerations to do what is best for the citizens of this great city.” Did I miss something?
I don’t know what Simpson, Gray or any other councilor’s problem is. They need to either get on the bus or go to the back and let the adults do the driving.
Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, political commentator and publisher of IndyPolitics.org. You can email comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.