Citilink is working to restore some of the service it was forced to cancel several years ago because of funding cuts. But whether the local public transportation system is successful rests largely with state lawmakers.
Despite a 23 percent increase in ridership, Citilink was forced to increase bus fares and make service cuts in 2008 because of a budget deficit.
Ridership has continued to increase, by an average of 3.4 percent each year. Citilink needs to be able to meet that growing demand for service by extending hours of service, running routes more frequently and adding additional routes in the future.
The arrival of five new hybrid buses will help Citilink’s effort.
Hybrid buses get 50 percent better fuel efficiency compared to regular diesel buses. That savings will help significantly with fuel costs. Citilink now has 14 hybrid buses in a total fleet of about 50 buses.
But a more stable source of state funding is also needed.
It takes a consistent funding source, not just a one-shot deal, because it doesn’t really do anyone any good to restore service only to have to yank it away again because of another funding shortage, said Betsy Kachmar, assistant general manager at Citilink.
Like most local units of government, Citilink has to deal with the decreased revenue that was a result of the state’s property tax caps.
Citilink officials, along with public transportation supporters throughout Indiana, are urging state lawmakers to make the state’s Public Mass Transit Fund a dedicated funding source in the state budget. They also want the fund increased so that it keeps up with inflation and the increase in the number of public transportation providers.
Indiana had 18 public transportation companies in 1980; that has grown to 66.
Over time the number of public transportation systems has increased, Kachmar said. The concern is that everybody’s piece of the pie gets smaller.
Citilink officials are also closely watching the progress of House Bill 1011, which would allow a city or county council to adopt an ordinance to give public transportation agencies revenue from that council’s share of income taxes. And public transit advocates have a rally at the Statehouse scheduled for Wednesday to push their case.
The wisdom of Citilink’s effort to expand service and its argument for increased funding received some empirical support from studies released Monday by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
The reason why the Indiana Transportation Association chose Ball State is because they’ve done similar economic modeling for other industries and have a reputation for being conservative and doing quality work, Kachmar said.
The research found that even using conservative assumptions, ridership is expected to more than double by 2035.
It also concluded that a significant portion of that increase would likely come from affluent urban and suburban residents. Currently, only 9.6 percent of the riders surveyed had an income exceeding $50,000 annually.
The research also showed that for each dollar spent on public transit, more than $3 of benefit is realized.