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October 31, 2013

POLICY REVIEW: The folly of Indiana mass transit

The Carmel Chamber says that Indianapolis needs a regional transit system — which inevitably means higher taxes — so Indianapolis can compete with communities such as Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. In fact, since 1990 the Indianapolis urban area has grown more than twice as fast as the Minneapolis or Salt Lake urban areas, and faster than any other major urban area in the Midwest, so Indianapolis seems to be competing just fine without those higher taxes.

The Chamber would like you to believe that spending more tax dollars on transit means better transportation. But that’s far from true. It is important to understand that transit can have two quite different goals: first, moving people who, for one reason or another, can’t drive; and

second, getting people who can drive out of their cars. Indianapolis transit at present mainly provides service for the former, those who can’t drive. But the need for that is small. The Census Bureau says that just 7 percent of Indianapolis-area households lack cars, and just 17,000 workers live in households that don’t have cars (nearly half of them drive to work alone anyway, presumably in borrowed cars).

Nearly all of the region’s car-less households are in Indianapolis itself and won’t benefit from regional transit. Advocates of regional transit, then, are mainly interested in promoting the second goal: getting people, and particularly suburbanites, out of their cars.

Ever since Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” Americans have been barraged with claims from anti-auto groups that cars are evil, gas-guzzling, polluting monsters. There may have been some truth to that in 1965, but since then auto fatality rates and air pollution have declined by more than 80 percent, and cars today are 40 percent more energy efficient.

Nationally, cars and transit are about tied for energy consumption per passenger mile. IndyGo actually uses more energy and releases more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than the largest sport utility vehicles.

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