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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Transit is already big business in Indiana

Kent McDaniel
Kent McDaniel
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, March 27, 2015 12:01 am
If you’ve seen a wheelchair lift on a public bus, odds are good it was made by a Hoosier. If you were to look under the hood of a shuttle or paratransit bus, you might see an Indiana-made hybrid engine. In fact, if you were to disassemble just about any transit bus on the road today, you’d have a good chance of finding a number of parts manufactured, assembled, distributed or sold by fellow Indiana residents.In all, more than 60 transit manufacturers and suppliers operate in Indiana, employing thousands of Hoosiers. An additional 3,500 people work for transit systems. Transit is big business in Indiana.

And that means that investments in transit help to create jobs for Hoosiers — at the same time those investments help other Hoosiers get to their jobs. So, why has transit spending in Indiana been stagnant for seven years, and why does it face the threat of actually being cut this year?

The truth is, transit is a good investment for Indiana: Every dollar we invest in public transit delivers more than $3.11 in benefits. Nonetheless, the state’s Public Mass Transportation Fund has remained flat at $42.5 million for seven years.

Now Gov. Mike Pence wants to cut an additional 3 percent from transit this year — even though doing so could cost Hoosiers jobs and stifle Hoosiers’ ability to get to work.

The Indiana Transportation Association and our partners at the Indiana Citizens’ Alliance for Transit are proposing a better solution.

• First, because of the increasing ridership and trend toward a more transit-reliant society, Indiana needs a $60 million PMTF budget to meet basic transit demands.

• Indiana also needs legislation that would allow communities to create local funding initiatives to design, build, operate, finance and maintain existing services for local public transportation. This would help establish new, stable local funding sources.

• And, because so many Indiana companies manufacture either buses or parts, Indiana should create a grant program that provides funds to communities that purchase transit vehicles that are either made in Indiana, assembled here or use parts that are made here.

Measures like those would have an impact from the Michigan border to the Ohio River. For example, they would help the 1,000 employees at Winamac’s BraunAbility, which manufactures and sells wheelchair lifts used on buses and other vehicles. They would give a boost to workers at Princeton’s Nidec Corp., who supply components that Cummins subsidiary Cross­point Kinetic uses to develop hybrid-power systems for paratransit and shuttle buses. And they would help dozens of other transit-related businesses grow and employ more Hoosiers.

Of course, the impact goes well beyond the transit industry to affect local and state economies. According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, Indiana has annually accrued at least $466.5 million in benefits due to fixed route transit in Indiana, and 60 percent of Hoosiers who use transit do so to get to work (to earn a living) or to school (to improve their earning power).

Getting people to work means creating tax revenue for local and state governments. More reliable transportation means less turnover for employers. Taking commuting workers out of individual cars means large institutions, especially colleges, can reduce costs associated with parking. And creating incentives works: When Ivy Tech Community College Northwest and Gary Public Transportation Corp. created a partnership offering discounted fare to students, ridership increased 130 percent. Similar programs in Lafayette with Purdue University and in Bloomington with Indiana University have proved to be just as successful.

Put all of this together, and the case for an increased investment in transit in Indiana makes sense. Transit creates jobs and gets people to their jobs. In a time when our elected officials say, “Jobs are Job One,” transit offers a way to get the job done.

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