Two things you may not have noticed about the new two-year state budget: the disregard of transit funding and the cutting of intercity rail travel (specifically the Hoosier State line). Whether we use it or not, public transportation and rail transit are two things that are the backbone of our communities. Without proper transit, we damage economies, leave the non-wealthy out to dry, and create uninspiring, unconnected places to live in. Let’s look at these two systems that are important to all Americans, especially Hoosiers.
I. Public Transportation
A good public transportation system is a key aspect of any city or town. Even smaller, more rural counties and towns should have the ability to provide some kind of transportation to those who are sick, elderly or can’t afford a vehicle. Some might ask why the government should be responsible for funding quality transit systems in cities and towns. Well, first, a community’s investment in public transit is an investment directly in its citizens.
- Public transportation provides personal mobility and freedom for people from every walk of life.
- Access to public transportation gives people transportation options to get to work, go to school, visit friends, or go to a doctor’s office.
- Public transportation provides access to job opportunities for millions of Americans.
Second, public transit is not just a lifeline for some. It can be an economic driver as well. Public transportation drives community and economic growth. The following facts come from research done by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
- Every $1 invested in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns.
- Home values performed 42 percent better on average if they were located near public transportation with high-frequency service.
- A two-person house can save more than $10,174 a year by downsizing to one car.
- Public transportation use in the United States saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.
As you can see, public transportation investment in Indiana is a must for all communities.
II. Intercity rail travel
Another important transit investment for our state should be intercity passenger rail. How can passenger rail help Indiana? Well, we already saw the beginnings of success with the Hoosier State line for a year and a half. The privately run but publicly funded Hoosier State Line saw huge increases in ridership and ticket sales after only a year of operation. This shows the demand that exists for quality rail transit; we just need the public investment necessary to do so. Unfortunately, the state was not willing to invest more into the line, resulting in Iowa Pacific pulling out of its contract and leaving a train with far less amenities and on-time performance.
Now, the new state budget cuts funding for the Hoosier State completely. The train ran its last route last month. Republican budget-makers cited low ridership numbers as a main reason for cutting the rail line. But, the Hoosier State was the victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy created by the supermajority. Unwillingness to invest in a successful public-private partnership led to fewer amenities and lower on-time performance. This led to lower ridership which ultimately resulted in GOP lawmakers wanting to cut funding for said low ridership. You can’t blame a service for having few people use it when legislators aren’t willing to adequately fund that service.
As the “Crossroads of America,” Indiana has the perfect alignment to support passenger rail lines. The Indianapolis to Chicago corridor, where the Hoosier State ran, is ripe for both business and pleasure travel. We see these desires already with the plans to expand I-65 though this area. It makes sense that Hoosiers are concerned about increasing economic activity and reducing interstate congestion through this corridor. Well, a properly-funded rail line can do both and more! (facts from APTA)
- Building high-speed passenger rail will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Every $1 billion in investment creates 24,000 jobs.
- Every $1 invested creates $4 in economic benefits. Upgrading passenger operations on newly revitalized tracks, bridges and rights of way can spur business productivity along our Indy to Chicago corridor.
- Congestion on our nation’s roads costs $140 billion in lost time and productivity. The U.S. population is projected to grow by another 100 million people in the next 40 years; however, we cannot build enough highway capacity or airport runways to meet demand.
- According to the International Association of Railways (UIC), high-speed passenger rail is eight times more energy efficient than airplanes and four times more efficient than automobile use
- A high-speed rail line could deliver people from one downtown to another as fast as or faster than air travel. Imagine the ease of travel from Indy to Chicago!
For more transit facts, check out this article about the cost of not having good rail transit.
It seems as if Indiana is ready for more statewide rail investment. We have already seen the demand for rail travel with the Hoosier State when it was properly funded. We know the economic and environmental benefits that such a rail line would bring to the state. All we need now is the public investment to support capable passenger rail lines and safety systems. Whether it’s run by a public entity like Amtrak, or a public-private partnership like the previous iteration of the Hoosier State, passenger rail will be a huge benefit to all Hoosiers.
Let’s keep all Hoosiers mobile!