Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Fill 'er up and fund mass transit

On NPR today I caught the end of a story discussing fuel prices and the growing demand for mass transit. In several cities there are active discussions of whether to raise gas or other taxes to fund mass transit, whether it's trolley, light rail, bus systems or other methods of transportation.

In Indianapolis, we're faced with crappy public transportation. We have a bus system that can't get people to hospitals or many jobs. No carpool lanes. Few bike lanes. People are as glued to their cars as they are their Steak 'n Shake. Perhaps a gas tax, in this instance, could pay off in spurring development of mass transit.

It's an idea that's finally being explored here. The Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority is holding a series of public meetings later this month to discuss the concept of what they call a "mass transit starter system."

What do you think? Is it worth a few extra dollars each time you fill up for the long-term gain of better mass transit?


Corie said...

In a perfect world, we would have rail systems from all of the major suburbs/outlying "donut" counties to downtown Indy, in addition to a comprehensive system within the city. But in reality, that seems at least decades away. Living in a suburb of Indy, I don't know about a gas tax to fund mass transit, to be honest.

I think the idea of developing our mass transit system is critical for the longterm stability and health of our environment, but a gas tax seems counter-productive. After all, we're paying a fortune for gas already, and in theory at least, we could be moving away from our dependence on gas at a faster rate than we could benefit from the tax. In other words, it would likely take years of gas tax benefits to have enough money to improve mass transit on a large scale, and in those years, hopefully gas consumption will decrease.

Additionally, people in the suburbs would be paying for a system that doesn't benefit them, at least not for several years, and that will be a hard pill to swallow for residents who already feel penalized for the benefit of Lucas Oil Stadium and other projects we're paying for but not really benefiting from. (I know that is a controversial topic/comment, too. Didn't mean to open that wound.)

I say, go for the mass transit, but maybe we should consider another (I can't believe I'm suggesting this) property tax increase or sales tax increase for the counties who will benefit immediately. (So if there are improvements being made in Marion County, then Marion County would have the tax.) That way, we would have some sustainable and reliable income for the project, but neighboring counties wouldn't be taxed until the benefit of mass transit came out this way.

Of course, there are always heated debates about property taxes and sales taxes, so that's not an easy answer, either.

Hmmm...long post, and I know it doesn't sound this way, but I don't have very strong opinions on the matter. Just my two cents. True, broad-scale mass transit seems like such a far stretch from reality for Indianapolis right now. It's so sad!

Robbie said...

I guess I liken it to the state's raising the cigarette tax to fund health care and anti-smoking programs. The Star yesterday commented on how cigarette purchases have dropped 20% in a year.

If we have a similar problem in Indy - or any metro area - where people start rethinking their gas usages because of a small increase in the gas tax (which, given $4 a gallon prices, really doesn't amount to a huge difference), it might actually be a good thing!