Mass Transit referendums delayed

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The governor signed a law recently that paves the way for county referendums to raise taxes for mass transit but there will be no referendum this year and there will be no referendum next year, either.

The earliest a referendum will take place will be in November of 2016.

Better bus service is even farther down the road.

There may be new bus routes and construction will begin soon on a new downtown transit center but significant upgrades in bus service are still far from reality. Civic leaders decided that the referendums required to fund improvements didn’t make sense this year.

“I think there are a lot of moving parts right now,” says Marc Lotter, spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard. “This year is definitely too soon and so the next opportunity would be in ’16.”

When asked if it will happen in ’16, Hamilton County Commissioner Christine Altman said, “It depends on how far we get with the planning process, quite honestly.”

Those plans for a concept called bus rapid transit also require coordination with the federal government.

The circumstances that prompted a 32-to-16 state Senate vote on the final night of the General Assembly when Senator Pat Miller called the bus system inadequate won’t change anytime soon.

“We don’t have enough buses, we don’t have enough routes, they don’t run often enough,” said Miller.

Referendums are possible in as many as six counties but likely will take place first in Marion and Hamilton counties.

“I’m trying at this point to pull together the mayors and the planning members of our communites,” said Altman, “to look at where growth is going in Hamilton County, where we want growth to go if we had transit.”

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of the actual planning at this point,” said Lotter.

If and when a referendum passes it could still take a couple of years before commuters see a difference.

Part of the planning involves a big advertising campaign in support of higher taxes for mass transit.  That will require fundraising and that also takes time.

Additionally, mass transit has been a big priority for Mayor Greg Ballard and he will face re-election before a referendum takes place.

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