Dear Editor,
One measure of a healthy economy is unemployment figures. The lower the number, the better the health of a community, state or nation. That’s why we celebrate when a company announces a major expansion, and when a company decides to move jobs to Indiana.
The thing is, getting jobs to Indiana is only a part of the challenge. We also need to get people to the jobs. If we can’t do that, we’ll lose jobs. Employers will bypass us for other markets.
That’s why we need to strengthen our public transportation system.
This is not a theoretical problem. All across the state, employers are concerned and challenged by the fact that they have jobs they can’t fill. In many cases, those jobs are not far from qualified people who are looking for jobs. But there’s a link missing: transportation.
One way we can address this problem is by increasing Indiana’s Public Mass Transportation Fund (PMTF). That Fund, which supports public transportation across the state, has remained relatively flat – at $44 million – for 10 years, even though demand for and interest in transit has grown considerably.
As you’d expect, the PMTF funds mass transit systems (e.g. IndyGo) in big cities. But the PMTF also supports transit providers in nearly every Indiana county, serving people in smaller cities, towns and rural areas all across the state.
Take Hamilton County, for example. Janus Developmental Services operates Hamilton County Express. While the service is open to anyone, most riders are seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to drive.  All rides require a reservation, and reservation requests are granted on a first-come, first-served basis.
The problem is, the services can’t provide enough rides to fulfill all of the reservation requests.
What does that mean? It means some people who can’t afford to own a car won’t get to medical appointments. Some people with disabilities might not receive needed services. Senior citizens might not get out to do grocery shopping. And too many people will be isolated, cut off from their community and its amenities.
This problem is repeated in county after county, all across Central Indiana. Ridership is increasing and demand is up, but, because state funding is flat, trip denials are increasing as well.
Some of us who have been around a long time might find this problem surprising. We think of Indiana as a state where public transit isn’t needed. But things have changed. For a wide variety of reasons, more people need transit. They need it to connect with their communities, to enjoy community services, for daily basic necessities.
And they need it to get to jobs.
If the economic health of our state relies on employment, then we should be doing all we can to make sure that all available workers can get to jobs. We don’t want willing workers to be cut off from employment opportunities, and we don’t want employers bypassing Indiana because we can’t get workers to their workplaces.
Let’s make sure we stay in the game. Let’s increase Indiana’s PMTF funding.
-Bill Ehret, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority board of directors